Category Archives: Baseball

Random Numbers for the Memorial Day Weekend

As the Cardinals get set to entertain the Atlanta Braves over the holiday weekend, we’ll take a look at some very random numbers (none of which have anything to do with memorial Day) of varying significance that have shaped the season to this point.

May began in Washington, after the Cards finished April winning the first two games of that series.  Game Three on May 1 also went to the Cards, 5-1.

That was the last time St Louis has won either a game three or a game four.  They wrapped up the National series losing game four 2-1.  They have since lost Game Three to the Cubs, 13-5 (May 5), Game Three to Philadelphia, 5-0 (May 8), Games Three (2-1) and Four (10-6) to Pittsburgh on May 11 and 12, Game Three to Atlanta, 10-2 (May 16), and to Texas, 5-4 in 10 innings (May 19).

Good thing the Kansas City series was only two games.

They were 6-1 in game threes and 1-1 in game fours in March/April.

Twenty games into the month of May, the Cards have been shut out three times, and held to fewer than three runs 10 times.  They have lost all 11 games this month where they have scored less than five runs.  They were only held to fewer than four runs 5 times in March/April – and managed to win one of those.

Meanwhile, they have allowed at least five runs 9 times this month – losing all 9 games. They have allowed five runs or more 23 times in their first 49 games this year.

They have scored at least ten runs 3 times this month (and 6 times for the year).  They have also allowed at least ten runs 4 times this month (and 6 times this year).  They scored ten or more runs just 12 times all year last year, and allowed ten runs or more just 8 times in 2018.

In 12 of the first 20 games this month St Louis as failed to score the first run of the game.  They have lost 11 of the 12.

On May 9, Michael Wacha took the mound at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  After he retired the first two batters in the first, Gregory Polanco drove a home run to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh.  Wacha got out of the inning with no further scoring.  St Louis then rebounded with four runs in the bottom of the second and never looked back on their way to a 17-4 victory (box score).

That was the only game this month that St Louis has come from behind to win.  They had 10 come-from-behind wins in March/April.  They have also lost 11 games this season (5 in May) in which they had a lead at some point.

Schizophrenic Cards Win and Lose in Doubleheader

Yesterday afternoon the cross-state neighbors dropped by for their annual visit to St Louis.  The entire St Louis portion of the matchup between the Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals played out in a double-header yesterday – thanks to the unyielding rain that washed out Tuesday’s scheduled contest.

As the Cardinals have been two entirely different teams this year, it is only fair that the Royals got to play them both.  For the afternoon tilt, the home team trotted out its May version – a team that was appropriately spanked 8-2 (box score).  In the night-cap, the vintage March/April version of the team dropped by, orchestrating a 10-3 victory (box score).

What to make of the schizophrenic Cardinals will be a mystery that we will probably be all summer unravelling.  The question of this teams’ character, though, continues to hover over this franchise.  The victory in the second game brought a temporary respite to a losing streak that had reached 14 of their previous 18 games.  The Cubs went through an early season skid in which they lost 8 of 10 before regaining their footing.  Sometime later, the Brewers lost 12 of 18 before rebounding.

It remains to be seen when (or if) the team in St Louis can turn itself around.

This is one reason I’m fond of the “After a Loss” statistic.  In baseball, everybody loses games from time to time.  That’s unavoidable.  But teams with championship character are hard to saddle with a second loss.  That’s the test.  How do they respond?

In the Cardinals’ case, the answer here is as schizophrenic as their season has been.  The March/April Cardinals were 7-3 the game after a loss.  In May, that team is 5-9 after a loss – leaving them an even 12-12 for the season.

Much of the recent damage has come at the hands of the Braves, Phillies and Cubs.  Those three teams are next up, so if St Louis has a response in them, this would be a good time.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna had a productive double header.  He drove in the Cards only two runs in the first game, then drove in 3 more in the night-cap with a three-run first-inning homer.  With 2 hits in the last Texas game, Marcell is hitting .417 (5 for 12) over his last three games.  He has only 8 hits over his last 8 games, but 6 have been for extra-bases (3 of them home runs).  He has driven in 11 runs in those games.

Michael Wacha

If there is one recurring theme in this lost month of May – especially when it comes to games after a loss – it is the continuing struggles of the rotation.  Michael Wacha was, in this sense, a microcosm of the season in yesterday’s first game.  He lasted almost 5 (4.2 innings to be precise), but after the Royals battered him for 6 in the third, the outcome was never in doubt.  In the 14 games after a loss this month, Cardinal starters hold a 6.26 ERA, with a .281 batting average against.  This is no way to stop a skid.

As for Wacha, he is now 2-2 in 4 starts this month with a 6.64 ERA.  Three of those starts have followed a Cardinal loss.  He has lasted 15.1 innings in those three starts, yielding 16 runs (14 earned) on 22 hits and 8 walks.  It’s an 8.22 ERA with a .349/.417/.556 batting line against.  Certainly a trend to be concerned about.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright struggled through 5 innings in the second game.  He gave 6 hits and 4 walks, but only 3 runs to be awarded the victory – however shaky.  This hasn’t been Adam’s best month. He threw 7 excellent innings against the Pirates on May 10, but his other three starts have been more or less a mess.  He is 1-2 in his 4 May starts with a 6.43 ERA.

Additionally, the three worst starts have come after a Cardinal loss.  He has lasted just 14 innings in those 3 games, allowing 14 runs.  For the season, Adam has made 5 starts after a Cardinal loss.  He is 2-2 in those games with a 7.13 ERA and a batting line against of .287/.387/.494.

More consistency on offense would be greatly welcomed.  However, without notable exception, everyone close to this team understands that the Cardinal fortunes hinge on the development of the starting pitching.

NoteBook

With the paid crowd of 42,529 in the second game, the Cardinals surpassed the 1,000,000 mark in home attendance (1,038,590) in their twenty-fifth home game.  They average 41,543.6 per home game.

Marcell Ozuna’s first inning home run stood up as the game-winning RBI.  He has 7 already this year.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.

Marcell doubled in both games – bringing him to 11 for the season.  He doubled just 16 times all last season.

He also grounded into double plays in both games.  Marcell has now tied his double-play total from all of last year at 10.

Kolten Wong’s late home run brought his season RBI total to 25.  He drove in just 38 all of last year.

Figuring Out the Outfield and Other Lineup Notes

The St Louis Cardinals head into these final days of May having experienced unusual consistency in their lineups (infield more so than outfield).  With 47 games already played, the Cardinals have six players who have started at least 42 games at the same position.

Last year at this point – for example – Kolten Wong had only made 32 starts at second.  Matt Carpenter had made 11 starts there, and Greg Garcia had started 4 times.

Paul DeJong had made just 39 starts at shortstop – with Garcia and Jedd Gyorko taking the other 8 games.

Carpenter had manned third base 24 times – somewhat more than the 18 starts that Gyorko had there.  At this point last year, Gyorko had made a total of 20 starts.  This year, he projects to get 21 starts all year.

Tommy Pham had started 39 games in center, and Dexter Fowler was the starter in right 37 times.

Yadier Molina – out with an injury – had started just 29 games, with Francisco Pena his primary backup making 12 starts.  Matt Wieters is Yadi’s primary backup this year.  He is projected to make 10 starts all season.

At this point last year, only two players had made as many as 42 starts at the same position – Marcell Ozuna making 43 starts in left and Jose Martinez making 42 starts at first.  All things being equal, DeJong would probably have made that many at shortstop, but he was already on the shelf with a broken wrist at this point last season.

This is one of the main cultural differences between this year’s team and the 2018 squad (that was 26-21 after 47 games).  In previous years, management has made a concerted effort to get the bench involved.  Gyorko, Munoz and Wieters are all counted on as being important pieces of the 2019 puzzle.  They have had 39, 35 and 20 at bats so far, respectively.

The Outfield Puzzle

With Molina catching 44 games so far, Paul Goldschmidt making 46 starts at first base, Wong making 44 starts at second base, DeJong making 46 starts at shortstop, Carpenter making 42 at third and Marcell Ozuna starting 45 times in left field, there are only two defensive positions (center and right) that have seen any real flux at all – and that only because Harrison Bader missed a few games with a hamstring.

But, Harrison’s recent resurgence at the plate has complicated the outfield picture.  In effect, Mike Shildt has four outfielders who all deserve to start and all need to play, but only three openings.

My suspicion is that Bader will be on the bench when the season resumes tomorrow afternoon.  Before that happens, it’s worth pointing out that he and Fowler have been the principle centerfielders this year, with Bader making 22 starts there, and Fowler 20.  The Cards are 13-9 in Bader’s starts, and 9-11 when Fowler starts in center.  The offense does improve if Dexter is starting.  St Louis averages 5.25 runs per game with Dex in center, as opposed to 4.68 runs per game with Harrison.  But the team ERA is almost a run and a half lower (3.50 to 4.99) with Bader in center.

Right field has been mostly Martinez (30 starts) and Fowler (16).  The record is slightly better with Jose out there (16-14 vs 8-8).  Offensively, the team scores a bit more with Martinez (5.17 runs per game to 5.06).  As you might expect, the defense favors Fowler, 4.23 ERA to 4.59.

Putting together a team is one of the great challenges in baseball – or, indeed, of any sport.  Maintaining that team over the long stretch of 162 games is maybe even more challenging.  I am not even suggesting a major outfield re-shuffling. My suggestion here is that maybe more people should have more chances to contribute.

Texas Lefty Leaves Cards Less than Smyly

After an encouraging 8-2 victory on Saturday (box score), the St Louis Cardinals faced the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon, needing any kind of win to halt a four-series losing streak.  They would give the ball to young Jack Flaherty (who would turn in a strong effort).

But, standing in the way was veteran Texas left-hander Drew Smyly.

It’s funny how some tendencies follow a club over the course of decades – regardless of the makeup of the club.  In St Louis, the boogeyman has been almost any flavor of left-handed pitcher, but especially the soft-tosser.  In this context, Smyly isn’t the softest of soft tossers, but with a fastball that topped out at 92.6 (according to Brooks Baseball), Drew doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters with sure speed.  But it’s enough fastball to tantalize and to set up his curve and changeup.

On a superficial level, you tell yourself that it doesn’t just happen to the Cardinals – that these guys are getting other teams out as well.  But someone is hitting these pitchers.  Smyly entered the game with a 6.85 ERA.  And, in the early going, it looked like the Cards had him solved.  In quick succession, Drew allowed a double, a walk, and a two-run double.  Quickly, it was 2-0 St Louis.

But that would be it.  Smyly would face 16 more batters before ending his four-inning stint.  St Louis would score no more runs and manage just one more hit against him.  Drew wouldn’t figure into the decision, of course (a 5-4 Texas win in 10 innings – St Louis’ thirteenth loss in its last 17 games).  Along the way, he would walk 3, but he would also strike out 4 of those last 16 batters faced.

It doesn’t stand as a dominant game, per se, but by the end it fell along familiar parameters.  St Louis finished 3 for 15 (.200) against Drew, and just 5 for 29 (.172) during the three-game series against Texas’ left-handers.  They are down to .235 against them for the season.

Offensive Struggles

While losing two of three in Arlington, St Louis did manage to score 15 runs in the series, but hit only .236 (26 for 110) and couldn’t cash in on other opportunities.  The Cards are hitting just .241 this month.

Harrison Bader

St Louis’ complex outfield picture got more complex over the weekend.  With Jose Martinez moving into the DH slot in the American League park, Harrison Bader was able to start all three games in center.  Bader was nothing but spectacular.  He, of course, made several sparkling plays in center.  He also went 7 for 12 (.583), including a home run and 2 doubles (a 1.000 slugging percentage) at the plate.

Harrison started the season as the regular centerfielder.  But he started off slowly at the plate, and when he went down briefly with a hamstring pull, Martinez found his way into the lineup and hit his way into a permanent spot.

While his opportunities have been infrequent, Bader has hit .326 (15 for 46) since his return, and is now hitting .306 (11 for 36) for the month.

Bader had multiple hits in all three games in Texas, and it seems hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup when the season resumes Tuesday night.

Harrison was only 1-for-4 against left-handed pitching in the series, but was 6-for-8 against the righties.  While not qualifying, yet, as a regular, Bader is hitting .357 this month (10 for 28) against righties – the highest on the team for anyone with more than 20 plate appearances against them.

Paul DeJong

As you might suppose, St Louis isn’t overburdened with batters who are flourishing against left-handed pitching.  One who has been succeeding all year is Paul DeJong.  The righty was 2-for-3 against Texas’ left-handers in the series – his hits being a double and a home run.  For the season, Paul has the team’s second highest average against lefties.  In 32 plate appearances against southpaws (and there haven’t been an awful lot of lefties to face the Cards so far this season), Paul now has 2 singles, 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 6 walks.  He has driven in 7 runs against lefties so far, with a .346/.469/.769 batting line against them.

Yadier Molina

Everyday catcher Yadier Molina – who has been so consistent all season – had a tough series in Arlington.  He was just 2 for 13, going hitless in two of the games.  Over his last 5 games, Yadi is hitting just .150 (3 for 20) with no runs scored and one run batted in.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler had his one big moment.  Capping a nine-pitch at bat in Sunday’s ninth inning, trailing by one, Dexter lined a game-tying home run into the upper deck in right.  The home run (clutch as it was) broke an 0-for-15 streak.  Fowler – over .300 for much of the season – is hitting just .195 this month (8 for 41).  Bader had almost as many hits in the Texas series as Dexter has had all month.

Fowler – a switch hitter – is getting fewer and fewer opportunities against lefties.  He is hitting .208 against them this season (5 for 24) with no extra-base hits.  Lately, though, he has been struggling against right-handers as well.  He is 6 for 32 (.188) against them this month.

Kolten Wong

In the Saturday victory, Kolten Wong was held hitless in 5 at bats – breaking his encouraging little five-game hitting streak.  Wong – who has struggled lately – was 6-for-18 (.333) during that streak.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt walked 4 times in the 3 games in Texas.  He subsequently scored 3 runs and drove in a run with a ground ball.  But he had no hits in the series (0-for-10).  Paul hasn’t had the best of starts.  He is 16 for 65 (.246) this month with 2 extra-base hits (1 home run).  He has driven in 5 runs in 18 games in May.  He is 6 for 28 (.214) this season against left-handed pitching.  Paul has 1 home run against lefties this year.

It’s safe to say that there is an explosion coming from Mr Goldschmidt.

Cheers for the Rotation

As we approach the end of May, almost any good news from the pitching staff in general and the rotation in particular is cause for celebration.  The overall numbers from the Texas series are not particularly warm or fuzzy.  The staff finished the series with a 4.73 ERA, and the starters finished at 7.43 and a .327/.383/.582 batting line.

The actuality wasn’t as bad as the numbers.  Game One starter Miles Mikolas was driven from the mound after 1.1 innings, having allowed 7 runs on 9 hits (including 2 home runs).

From the moment Mikolas left the mound through the end of the series, the Cardinal pitching staff contained the Texas offense to just 7 more runs in 25.1 innings.  Their 2.49 ERA was backed by a .195 batting average against.  Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty followed Mikolas with quality starts, and the bullpen – pitching as many innings as the starters in this series – were flawless (until the end of the Sunday game).

As I said, any hint of light at the end of the tunnel is welcome.

Mikolas

Miles Mikolas had tossed three consecutive quality starts – throwing a total of 20 innings – before his meltdown in the first game.  He had pitched three straight games without allowing a home run.

Hudson

Dakota has also been steadily improving.  He served up 8 April home runs in just 24 innings – contributing to a 5.63 ERA.  In 23 innings over 4 starts (3 of them quality starts) in May, Hudson has allowed just 1 home run and holds a 3.13 ERA (that ERA figure is a little deceptive in that it doesn’t include the 6 unearned runs he allowed a couple of starts ago).

Among the most encouraging notes from the Saturday win was Dakota Hudson dominating lefties.  Until that night, the 101 lefties to face Hudson had owned him to the tune of a .388/.475/729 batting line with 8 home runs.  Saturday night they (lefties) finished with just 4 singles in 21 at bats against Hudson (.190).

NoteBook

In the Saturday game, Paul DeJong – in addition to getting two hits – drew a walk.  It is already his twenty-fifth walk of the season.  All last year he drew 36 – his current career high.

Then in the Sunday game, Paul drilled his seventeenth double of the season.  All of last year, he only hit 25.

With their fifth straight series loss, St Louis (holding a 10-14 road record) is now 2-5-1 in road series.  They are also 2-5-1 in series when they lose the first game.

This was also their eighth series so far this year against a team that had won its previous series.  They are also, now, 2-5-1 in those series – going 11-13 in those games.

(This post was originally composed Monday, May 20).

Struggles Against Winning Teams Continues

May began in Washington DC, with the Cards finishing up a series against the Nationals.  They began the month facing Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  St Louis split the two games, and headed off to Chicago with the best record in the National League (20-11) and tied with Tampa Bay for the best record in baseball.  And feeling pretty good about themselves.

That was 13 games ago.  Things have changed a bit.

Last night’s 10-2 beating at the hands of the Atlanta Braves (box score) marked St Louis’ tenth loss since they left the nation’s capital.  They have lost, now, four straight series – the last three of them after winning the first game of the series.

One of the aspects of this recent struggle that maybe hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves is the schedule itself.  Two of the lost series came against first place teams, and they lost another to a second place team.  The softest opponent (by record) that the Cardinals have encountered since the Nationals was division foe Pittsburgh.  The Pirates are a fourth place team, but still 21-20 on the season.

One of the consequences of playing in what is perhaps baseball’s deepest division (they are the only division at the moment with four winning teams), is an unrelenting schedule.  As they open a series tonight against a struggling Texas team (the Rangers are 19-22) the Cards have played winning teams in 32 of their first 44 games.  They have been – and will continue to be – thoroughly tested, as their schedule offers very few soft touches.

Games against winning teams is one of my litmus tests for a team.  In losing 10 of 13 against the Cubs, Phillies, Pirates and Braves, St Louis doesn’t look – at the moment – like they are ready for higher level competition.  However, they were 12-7 in March/April against winning teams (including Milwaukee and the Dodgers).

As with everything else about this very strange team, it’s a little hard to tell right now what is real and what’s a mirage.

After the Rangers, St Louis will have a couple games against another currently losing team in Kansas City (the Royals are 15-29).

After that, they better be ready for most of these same teams again, as they have three games each against Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Cubs.  They would do well to flip whatever switch as quickly as possible, because this season will not wait for them.

Paul DeJong

Probably the team’s most consistent hitter all year, shortstop Paul DeJong seems to be slowing down for the first time this season.  He is still drawing walks – he drew another last night – but is hitting just .154 over his last 4 games (2-for-13) with no extra-base hits or runs batted in.  He hasn’t hit a home run in 9 games, and has fallen to .245 for the month.

Dexter Fowler

Another of the Cardinals having great seasons who has seen his numbers drop lately, Dexter Fowler went hitless in 3 at bats last night.  He is now without a hit in 3 of his last 4 games and his season averaged has settled at .288.

Dexter is hitting just .226 this month.

Luke Gregerson

Embattled reliever Luke Gregerson came into the game in the sixth inning.  Already trailing 5-1, Luke inherited a runner at first, with one out already recorded.  Gregerson did, in fact, take care of the last two outs of that inning, but not before allowing four singles and 3 more runs.

Following an injury compromised 2018, Luke missed the first 32 games this season with a right shoulder impingement.  He pitched a few minor league inning in a rehab setting, but doesn’t look ready at the moment to face real hitters.  It hasn’t helped that Luke was activated just in time to face the Cubs and all the teams that have followed.

One of the runs he surrendered belonged to Tyler Webb.  He was charged with the other two, and has now allowed 5 in 5.2 major league innings.  The 27 batters he’s faced are hitting .423 against him.

Gregerson – who might still turn into a productive reliever – is in a tight place.  With Carlos Martinez set to be activated soon, Luke is one of those in jeopardy of losing his roster space.  He would truly profit from an extended minor league stay where he could establish some rhythm.  But the mechanics of that would be complicated.

Dominic Leone

Dominic Leone is another reliever whose position is precarious – all the more so after he allowed 2 more runs last night.  After an excellent start (Leone allowed just 2 runs over his first 11 innings), Dominic has become a bit unhinged.  He has now allowed runs in 5 of his last 9 games – a total of 17 runs in 10.1 innings.  The damages include 20 hits (including 4 home runs) and 6 walks.  His ERA over that span is an alarming 14.81 with a .400 batting average against and a .760 slugging percentage allowed.

Jordan Hicks

Inactive for 5 days, closer Jordan Hicks made just his third appearance of the month, as he came on to record the last out.  Between losses and blowout wins, the Cardinals are still looking for their first ninth-inning save opportunity this month.

At this rate, monitoring Hicks’ innings won’t be nearly as difficult as keeping him sharp.

On Again, Off Again Offense Off Again

The story is told of three statisticians who went duck hunting.  As the first duck flew overhead, the first statistician shot at him – but his bullet flew 50 feet too high.  Before the duck could disappear from sight, the second statistician also fired.  His bullet went 50 feet to low, prompting the third statistician to declare, “What do you know, we got him.”

The St Louis Cardinals will take the field tonight having outscored their opponents over the last six games (four games against Pittsburgh and two against Atlanta) 39-25.  This is a dominant enough differential that you might the Cards had won at least 5 of the 6 if not all of them.

Certainly, you would think the Cards would have won more than the two that they have, in fact, won.  But, like the duck in the story, the Pirates and Braves have taken little lingering damage, and the Cardinals have only statistics to comfort them.

One week ago tonight, the Cardinals battered Pittsburgh 17-4 and promptly lost the next three games as the offense disappeared.  On Tuesday evening, they landed on the Atlanta Braves to the tune of 14-3.  Last night they struggled to come up with three hits in a 4-0 shutout loss (box score).

For all of the fact that they managed so few hits, St Louis did have opportunities.  In a game that was just 2-0 until Atlanta’s last at bat, St Louis added 5 walks and a hit batsman to the mix.  They had 12 plate appearances with at least one runner on base, including 6 with two or more – highlighted, of course, by Paul Goldschmidt’s bases loaded opportunity with one out and the game still scoreless in the third.

Including the double-play that Atlanta starter Mike Soroka got from Goldschmidt, St Louis was 1-for-8 batting with a runner on base, 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and 0-for-4 with 2 double plays with two or more runners on.

Through March/April this team averaged 5.45 runs per game, scored at least once in every game, and managed at least four runs in 24 of the season’s first 28 games.

Beginning with the last game in April, this offense has been shut out 3 times, and has failed to score as many as four runs 8 times over the last 15 games – 7 times over these last 13 games.  Yet, for the 13 games, St Louis is still averaging 4.38 runs per game, thanks to the intermittent outbursts.

As the losses mount, the frustration level climbs.  But answers are hard to come by.  So is consistency.

Marcell Ozuna

While not disappearing completely, Marcell Ozuna has certainly faded recently.  He did hit the home run that started Tuesday’s onslaught, but that has been his only hit over the last 4 games (he is 1 for his last 17).  He is just 7 for 52 (.135) over the last 13 games, and is now hitting .179 for the month of May.

Matt Carpenter

The Cardinals are still waiting Matt Carpenter to find himself.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Matt has 1 hit over his last 5 game, and is hitting .115 (3 for 26) over his last 8 games.  His average for May has faded to .192 (only slightly lower than his season average of .199).  Yes, there are still the walks – he walked once last night and has 8 for the month.  But at some point, the Cards will need some hits from Carpenter.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul’s third-inning double play might have been his most telling at bat.  Goldschmidt did also draw a couple of walks, but otherwise went 0-for-2.  It brought a halt to Goldschmidt’s baby five-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Paul hit .476 (10 for 21).

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha failed to deliver the team’s fourth consecutive quality start, but he did give the team five innings on 90 pitches and left trailing 2-0.  For the season, Wacha has been pretty good at working out of messes with runners on base (hitters carry just a .236 average against Wacha with runners on base).  That success carried over last night, as the Braves were 0-for-8 against Michael with runners on.

His problem, of course, was keeping Braves off the bases in the first place.  Of the 13 batters that faced Michael with the bases empty, 2 walked, 2 singled, 1 doubled and Austin Riley collected his first major league home run.  While the Braves only touched him for 2 runs (1 earned), the constant traffic on the base paths added to the stress of Michael’s evening and hurried his exit.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos isn’t a reliever we’ve paid a whole lot of attention to – and with some reason.  Giovanny has had his ups and downs.  He pitched a perfect seventh last night, striking out two – an inning that highlighted two things that Gallegos – in his limited opportunities – has done quite well.

First, is keeping people off base.  With his perfect seventh, only 3 of the last 19 batters to face him have reached.  For the season, his .244 on base percentage against with the bases empty is the second lowest on the club – behind only Tyler Webb’s .240.

The two strikeouts bring his season total to 29 in 17 innings – an average of 15.35 per nine innings.

Cards Ride Another Big RISP Night to a Win in Atlanta

It was last Thursday that your St Louis Cardinals put on one of the most impressive displays of batsmanship with runners in scoring position (RISP) in their recent history.  Finishing the game with 25 at bats with runners in scoring position, the Cards slapped out 11 hits (none of them home runs).  They ground the Pittsburgh Pirates that evening to the tune of 17-4.

Last night in Atlanta, it looked like a similar team taking the field.  They rode a 6-for-10 RISP performance to a 14-3 win.

The Cards are now hitting .292/.397/.491 this month with runners in scoring position, and rank second in the National League and fifth in all of baseball, hitting .278 on the season in these situations.

The Cardinals have now had 13 games this season with at least 10 RISP at bats, hitting over .400 in those at bats in three of them (they were also 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position in a 13-5 battering of Milwaukee on April 22).

It’s a great skill to have – getting that hit with the ducks on the pond (as they say).  But this number also shows the all-or-nothing nature of the Cardinal offense of late.  In the three games after the bludgeoning of Pittsburgh (all losses to the Pirates) St Louis was just 3-for-21 (.143) with runners in scoring position.

Yadier Molina

Among the offensive heroes of the night – as usual these days – was catcher Yadier Molina.  He finished with a double and a three-run home run (one of three, three-run homers hit by St Louis on the night).  Especially lately, I’m not sure that there is anyone that I would rather have at the plate than Yadi.  He has now hit safely in 6 of his last 8 games, going 11-for-30 (.367).  Five of those 11 hits have been for extra bases, and he has driven home 7 runs in the 8 games while slugging .667.

Yadi is up to .333 for the month (15-for-45) with 10 runs batted in in 13 games (12 starts).

Molina’s home run came on his only plate appearance of the game with runners in scoring position.  He is now 6 for 13 (.462) this month in RISP opportunities.  For the season, Molina is hitting .395 (17 for 43) with runners in scoring position.

Dexter Fowler

In mid-April manager Mike Shildt moved Dexter Fowler from sixth to seventh in the lineup, and Fowler has thrived there.  He singled, homered, and walked twice last night, and is now hitting .368 (25 for 68) in the 22 games since the move.  He has also drawn 13 walks and has been hit by pitches twice – leading to a .482 on base percentage.

Jack Flaherty

Gradually but surely, the Cardinal starters are serving up fewer home runs.  In April, the starters served up 34 home runs in 151 innings – 2.03 per nine innings.  The April batting average against the St Louis rotation was .264 – unexpectedly high against a good-stuff rotation.

Thus far in May, only 6 home runs have been hit against Cardinal starters in 76.1 innings – just 0.71 per nine innings.  The batting average against these starters has also fallen to a more expected .241.

Jack Flaherty has been prominent in both trends.  Jack allowed only 3 hits and no home runs over his six innings.  He has now allowed just 1 home run over his last 4 starts (23.2 innings), while holding opposing batters to a .185 batting average.  Walks have been a problem for him recently, though.  He walked 5 last night and has walked 12 over his last 16.2 innings.

While Cardinal batsmen have done well – mostly – in RISP situations, of late the Cardinal pitchers have not been so fortunate.  One of the numbers underpinning the 4-9 start to the month of May has been a general inability to get people out with runners in scoring position.

Atlanta scored 3 runs last night on only 3 hits because they were 2-for-4 against Flaherty in RISP situations.  Thus far in May, opposing hitters are 5 for 12 (.417) against Flaherty with runners in scoring position, and 28 for 81 (.346) against the entire staff in those situations.

NoteBook

Marcell Ozuna’s first-inning home run held up as the game-winning-hit – his sixth this season.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.

With his 3-run homer in the ninth, Kolten Wong now has 22 runs batted in this year.  He had 38 all of last year.  His career high is just the 61 he drove in in 2015.

Kolten has also already drawn 20 walks this year.  Last year he walked only 31 times, and has never walked more than 41 times in a season.

Shildt Brings Lineup Stability to St Louis

The war of attrition that is the regular baseball season will always test the plans of spring.  Slumps, hot streaks and injuries will force managers and fan bases to consider and reconsider lineup constructions and pitching rotations.

Usually at about this point of the season (roughly the one-fourth mark) managers of teams who aren’t clicking on all cylinders will start getting pressure to make adjustments.  This is one of the annual tests of managerial patience.  In general, the patient manager will be rewarded – but history must prove him right.

In Mike Shildt’s case – navigating through his first season at the Cardinal helm and with his team fighting through a 2-9 stretch – the advice has been plenty and loud.  Drop Matt Carpenter from the leadoff spot – or from the lineup entirely.  Drop everyone but Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright from the rotation.  Release Luke Gregerson and Dominic Leone – it comes with the territory.

Fans, by nature, have short memories and shorter attention spans.  On the other hand, sometimes the spring plan is bad and needs to be adjusted.  The manager’s art is to know when to stay the course and when to say “we were wrong.”

Forty-one games into the 2019 season, we have seen some of both from Shildt and the Cardinal management.

As far as the patient Mike Shildt, we have seen him stand by his starting rotation through its rough start.  Through this point, he remains doggedly committed to all of them.

The top four spots in his lineup have also gotten the full benefit of the doubt.  Of these top four, only Paul DeJong (who has hit third in 38 of the first 41 games) has answered the faith of his manager with an outstanding start.  As to the rest, well, Mike continues to believe that better days are coming.

Carpenter has fought through a season-long slump, but has still been the leadoff hitter in 37 of the first 41 games.  Paul Goldschmidt has hit second 40 times already.  Paul hit more than a few home runs early, but then went through an extended dry spell where he contributed little.  His resurgence in the recent Pirate series might suggest the beginning of a hot streak from Goldschmidt.

Marcell Ozuna has been written into the fourth slot 39 times so far.  He had a torrid couple of weeks toward the end of April, but has tailed off since then.  As with the others, though, Marcell maintains Shildt’s complete confidence.

In all of this, I would have expected nothing less from Mike.  Mike believes in all of these players, and belief is the managerial bottom line.

At the same time, other spring plans have already been discarded.

The first to bite the dust was the “closer-by-committee” plan.  There were supposed to be three primaries at the back of the bullpen – any one of which might get the save opportunity on any given night.

But Alex Reyes and Andrew Miller both began the season in uneven fashion, and Jordan Hicks – who many might not have felt was ready to be “the man” – stepped into the void and hasn’t looked back.  There hasn’t been “closer-by-committee” talk since the first week of the season.

The other major policy change occurred 14 games into the season when centerfielder Harrison Bader went out for a few games with a right hamstring pull.  The very mild injury opened an opportunity for Jose Martinez, and he has made it impossible for Mike to return him to the bench.

For the moment, the starting outfield consists of Ozuna, Dexter Fowler and Martinez, with Bader as fourth outfielder.  This, though, will be a developing story.  The Cards are 12-7 (.632), although they score just 4.63 runs per game when Bader starts.  With Martinez in the lineup, St Louis is 16-12 (.571), scoring 5.14 runs per game.  They are 20-19 in Ozuna’s 39 starts – scoring just 4.87 runs per game.  St Louis is 15-15 with Fowler in the lineup, although the 5.17 runs per game they score when he is in there is the highest of any of the outfielders.

The outfield picture – trust me – isn’t settled by a long shot.  This and other lineup shuffling will be something to keep an eye on as the season unfolds.

There is still – of course – a long way to go and a lot of baseball to be played.  More injuries will alter the landscape.  At some point some struggling players may be re-fitted.  But in the ups and downs of the early season, we’ve been given some idea of who Mike Shildt is – some insight into his patience and loyalty.

The rest of the season, now, will have to prove him right.

Miklas and Waino and Three Days of Raino?

Back in 1948 a sports editor for the Boston Post coined the enduring phrase (“Spahn and Sain and two days of rain”) adopted for more than half a century by teams that don’t seem to have enough starting pitching to safely make it back to the top of the rotation (in 1948 baseball teams used four-man rotations).

It seems a little strange to be adapting the ancient ditty to the 2019 St Louis Cardinals.  Questions certainly abounded as the team came out of spring training.  Mostly questions about offense and defense.  More than a bit of insecurity regarding the bullpen.  But where most felt the team would certainly be the strongest was in the rotation.

Jack Flaherty emerged through the midst of the 2018 season as one of the most exciting young prospects in baseball.  Joining him in the rotation was Dakota Hudson – who had been one of the top starters in AAA last year until he spent the last half of the season pitching with great effectiveness out of the Cardinal bullpen.  And, of course, there was Michael Wacha – finally healthy.

In fact, if there were questions about the rotation at the beginning of the season, they might have centered on Miles Mikolas and especially Adam Wainwright.  Mikolas had been brilliant (18-4) in 2018, but in some ways he kind of came out of nowhere – and baseball history is full of these kind of one-year wonders.  They have a brilliant year, and the league makes an adjustment to them.

Wainwright, of course, has been in a perpetual battle against injuries and father time for the last several seasons.  Now 37, there were serious concerns whether there was anything left in Waino’s tank.

Fast-forward to the end of the first quarter of the 2019 season, and the Cardinals are enjoying (if that is the correct word) their first off day in the month of May.  They are coming off a brutal 1-3 series against the Pittsburgh Pirates that closed out a disappointing 2-5 homestand – which, in turn – was the centerpiece in a 2-9 stretch that dropped St Louis from being in first place, three games ahead of the pack, down now to fourth place, 3.5 games behind the surging Cubs.

The offense and bullpen – though hitting an inconsistent patch of late – have proven to be mostly capable.  But that rotation.  The spring pride of the Midwest, the Cardinal starting five have fallen to fifteenth out of baseball’s 30 teams with a 4.35 ERA.  The struggles have been general, except for Mikolas and Wainwright.

One of the highlight’s of course, of the recently concluded Pittsburgh series was the 17 runs the Cards scored in the Thursday contest (their only win of the series).  Immediately after that outburst, the Birds lost consecutive 2-1 games (box score 1, box score 2), in which they wasted consecutive excellent starts from the twin lynchpins of the rotation.  Mikolas has tossed 5 quality starts out of his 9 starts.  Waino also has 5 in 8 starts.  The rest of the team, in 24 starts, has 6.

Adam Wainwright

Six pitches into the Friday night game, Waino trailed 1-0, courtesy of Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run.  That would be all the damage surrendered by the great Cardinal veteran.  He would leave after 7 innings, allowing just that single run on 5 hits.  He walked no one and struck out 8.

Of the 8 strikeouts, 5 were called third strikes.  It’s the curveball, of course – a nasty thing to contend with when you’ve got two strikes on you.  But it’s more than that.  All year, Adam has been confidently throwing that cutter to the corners of the zone.

To this point of the season, Waino leads the team in called strikeouts with 17 and in percentage of strikeouts coming on called third strikes (45.9%).  The team average is 24.6% of their strikeouts being called third strikes.

Of Waino’s 92 pitches on Friday, the Pirates only offered at 35 of them (38%).  This has been another benchmark of Waino’s renaissance season, as opposing batters only offer at 39.5% of his pitches this season – also the lowest percentage on the team.

Miles Mikolas

The afternoon after Wainwright tossed his gem, Mikolas answered with one of his own – 7 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts and no home runs.  The result was similar as well.

Miles actually staggered a bit out of the gate.  His first 6 starts were less than encouraging.  Over his first 34 innings, Miles allowed 21 runs (20 earned) on 34 hits – including 8 home runs.  He was 2-2 at that point, with 5.29 ERA.  He was only getting ground balls from 48% of the batters who put the ball in play against him, while those same batters missed on only 14% of their swings against him.

Over his last three starts, though, Miles has fully resembled the pitcher that took the league by surprise last year.  Over his last 20 innings, there have been only 3 runs scored on 13 hits and 2 walks (and no home runs).  He is 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA his last 3 times to the mound.  Batters are now hitting .183/.205/.225 against him, hitting the ball on the ground 58% of the time and missing on 20% of their swings.

Dakota Hudson

Slowly but surely, Dakota Hudson seems to be turning the corner.  He had some early-season difficulties, but he is 2-1 with a 3.57 ERA over his last 4 starts.  Granted, those numbers include 6 un-earned runs scored against him two outings ago.  Dakota – who didn’t allow a home run all last season – gave up 8 in his first 18.1 innings this season.  There has only been 1 hit against him over his last 22.2 innings.

Even though he allowed 3 first inning runs on Sunday, Dakota still finished 6 innings giving up no more runs.  In so doing, he gave the Cards their third consecutive quality starts for only the second time all season (Waino, Mikolas and Hudson had earlier turned the trick in Washington from April 30 through May 2).

When he’s right – and Dakota has been closer to that recently – he is as severe a ground ball pitcher as the Cardinals have.  Over his last 2 games, batters are hitting ground balls 72% of the time.  On Sunday, he was able to make it through 6 in spite of allowing 9 hits, walking 2 and hitting another batter because he didn’t nibble with the batter at the plate.  He faced 28 batters throwing just 84 pitches – 3.00 per plate appearances.  Opposing hitters missed on only 9.1% of their swings, and put the ball in play 52.4% of the time they swung at Dakota’s pitches.

This month, he is averaging just 3.35 pitches per plate appearance – the lowest of any Cardinal starter.

Michael Wacha

The date was April 6.  It was opening weekend against San Diego.  After Flaherty had started the home opener, it was Michael Wacha’s turn in the second game.  But Michael found himself in a bit of first-inning difficulty.  After an RBI double from Hunter Renfroe put San Diego up 1-0, Wacha found himself facing Wil Myers with the bases loaded and one out.  Michael got out of it, when Myers grounded the first pitch to Paul DeJong, starting a 6-4-3 double play.

That was the last time this season that Michael Wacha has induced that double-play ground ball.  Wacha has now pitched to 26 consecutive batters with an opportunity to get a double play, and has been unable to get a ground ball.  (One of those opportunities, by the way, came against the Cubs’ Taylor Davis in his last start in Chicago.)  He faced 8 batters in his 5.2 inning struggle against Pittsburgh on Thursday who could have eased his labor by grounding into a double play.  He got none of them.

Wacha – who throws that heavy sinking fastball – was helped last year by only 4 double-play grounders in 65 such opportunities.  If Michael could figure out a way to get the occasional ground ball, it could make a noticeable difference in his season.

John Gant

John Gant – who earlier this season pitched a relief no-hitter – has now gone 7 straight appearances and 6.1 innings without being scored on – although he has surrendered all of 3 hits in those innings.  He has struck out 11 in those innings.  Gant – who hasn’t walked a batter in his last 11 games – covering 11.2 innings – is throwing 72% strikes over his last 174 pitches. 

He worked in two of the Pirate games – tossing 1.1 innings.  In those innings, the 5 Pirate batters he faced swung at 11 of his pitches – missing 5.  In the month of May, John has the team’s highest swing-and-miss percentage – 44.0%.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller also pitched in two of the Pirate games – earning the game two loss.  Very different with Miller in May is that everything he is throwing either is a strike or looks enough like one to compel the batter to swing.

He threw 22 pitches to the 8 Pittsburgh batters he saw this weekend.  They swung at 14 (63.6%).  Of the 8 that they didn’t swing at, 5 were called strikes.  Only 3 of his 22 pitches ended up being called balls.

For the month of May, Miller has thrown 31 pitches to 11 batters, getting 17 swings (54.8% – the highest on the team), and getting 9 of the 14 taken pitches called strikes (64.3% – best, again, by far on the team).

It’s kind of two steps forward, one step back, but there is some evidence of Miller returning to form.

John Brebbia

After allowing just 1 run over his first 18.1 innings, John Brebbia has given up runs in 2 of his last 4 games – losing both.  The damage is 4 runs in 4.1 innings – including 2 crushing home runs.  The last 21 batters to face him have a line of .316/.381/.737.

Offensive Roller-coaster

In losing three of four to Pittsburgh, the offense turned in their most Jekyll and Hyde performance of the season.  After a 17-run eruption on Thursday, they totaled 2 runs in the next two games combined.  Sunday they scored 6 times in the first two innings and then nothing after that (on their way to a 10-6 defeat).  They finished outscoring Pittsburgh for the series 25-18 – for all the good that did them.

Still, there are positive signs for some hitters who have been struggling recently.

Paul Goldschmidt

One of the most encouraging signs to come out of the otherwise lost weekend were the hits off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt.  It’s no secret that he has been frustrated with his contributions so far.  In the Pirate series, he hit safely in all four games – getting multiple hits in three of them.  He finished the series 9-for-17 (.529) with a double a home run and 4 runs batted in – pushing him to .298 for the month.

Jedd Gyorko

A big part of the team the last few years, Jedd Gyorko is finding it hard to get at bats.  He did get a few against Pittsburgh, going 3-for-6.  Jedd is now 5-for-14 (.357) for the month.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz is another of the bench players who gets infrequent opportunities that had some moments in the Pittsburgh series.  He went 3 for 9 in the four games, and is 9 for his last 19 (.474).

Jose Martinez

The defensive limitations of Jose Martinez showed up again a few times over the weekend.  Pretty much any line drive hit to right field is going to be an adventure.

But Jose continues to hit.  After his three-hit game on Sunday, Martinez has started 24 of the last 25 games, hitting .365 (31 for 85) in those games.

Behind a Lot Lately

There is this moment in Groundhog Day.  Phil (the Bill Murray character) has just driven his truck off a cliff, where it landed upside down at the bottom of a gorge.  Andie MacDowell’s character (Rita) shudders a bit at the horror, and Larry (played by Chris Elliott) tries to comfort her by saying, “He . . . might be okay.”  One second later the truck explodes in fire.  Larry then adds quietly, “Well, no.  Probably not now.”

There was a moment like that in last night’s game.  The Cardinals began the top of the second by throwing the ball around a bit, and gift-wrapped the first two runs of the game for Philadelphia.  The bases were now loaded with one out, but with the score still just 2-0, one could reasonably think “we might be okay”.  Of the 20 batters to put the ball in play against Cardinal starter Dakota Hudson on this evening, 17 would hit the ball on the ground.  A well-placed ground ball here could very well stop the bleeding.

But Philadelphia’s next hitter – Bryce Harper – turned out to be one of the three who got the ball in the air.  When it finally came down (in the right field bullpen), the Phillie lead grew to 6-0.  Well, no, probably not now.

May has been playing a little like Groundhog Day for the Cardinals.  Especially the last week or so.  In losing 5 of their last 6, the Cards have been falling behind early and often.  Thursday night in Washington they fell behind 2-1 in the fourth and never recovered.  Friday in Chicago, it was 3-0 Cubs after 3.  The Cards went quietly after that.  On Sunday, it was 1-0 Chicago after 2.  St Louis would never catch up in that one either.

Up until the point that they were waxed by Cincinnati 12-1 on April 26, this edition of the Cardinals had never trailed by as many as ten runs in a game, and had faced a deficit as large as five runs only once.  They have now trailed by double-digits three times in the last 12 games.  Last year’s team – on its way to a modest 88-win season – only trailed by as many as ten runs three times all season (a 13-5 loss to Jon Lester and the Cubs on June 15, an 11-4 loss to Max Fried and Atlanta on June 30, and a 17-4 spanking at the hands of Rich Hill and the Dodgers on September 15).

By way of comparison, the 2018 Cardinals pitching staff faced 6,246 batters.  They faced 2,558 of them while holding a lead (41.0%), faced another 1,671 (26.8%) with the game tied, and 2,042 (32.7%) while trailing in the game.  All last season, the pitchers faced just 21 batters (0.3%) with a deficit of ten runs or more.

In March-April of this year – even including the blowout against Cincy, the Cardinal pitching percentages were: ahead – 44.1%; even – 22.3%; and behind – 33.6%

Over their last six games, they have one win – the 6-0 win on Monday during which they never trailed – and have had brief leads in 2 of the 5 losses.  All included during this losing skid, the Cards have only been ahead 16.9% of the time and tied another 29.6% of the time.  Cardinal pitchers have trailed in the game 53.5% of the time.  In just the last six games, they have already pitched to 4 batters (1.9%) while trailing by at least ten runs.

I have quoted the pitching staff numbers.  The hitters in all these cases, of course, will be similar.

One of the immutable baseball truths is that you are never as good as you look when you are winning and never as bad as you look when you are losing.  Truly, this team isn’t as helpless as it has seemed over the last week or so.  But the losing is taking, I think, an emotional toll on this young team.

In April, this team hit .281 when they were trailing in a game.  They erased one four-run deficit, and came close to doing that on two other occasions. 

Recently, though, the bats have been very quiet once the team has fallen behind.  Over the last six games, they are hitting just .231 while trailing in games.  Over their last 5 defeats, they have scored just 7 runs after they have fallen behind.  Only three of those runs scored while the games were close enough to matter.

Of course, you would like to see the team stop falling behind early.  You would also like to see some of that early season bounce-back from the bats on those occasions when they do fall behind by a few runs.

Dakota Hudson

In spite of last night’s debacle, Dakota Hudson has been trending upward over his last several starts.  After beginning the year with a 6.08 ERA, a .350 batting average against, and a .633 slugging percentage against (courtesy of 5 home runs allowed over his first 13.1 innings), Hudson has been better over his last 4 starts.  He still surrenders more home runs than he should (4 over his last 21.2 innings), but with a more palatable 3.74 ERA.

Paul Goldschmidt

Things will certainly start looking better once Paul Goldschmidt figures things out a bit.  After another hitless evening (0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts), Goldschmidt has sunk to .245 for the season.  Over his last 10 games (9 starts) Paul has had 41 plate appearances.  He has 6 singles, 15 strikeouts and a groundball double play to show for it – a disappointing .146/.146/.146 batting line.  It has been 12 games since Paul’s last extra-base hit, 13 games since his last run batted in, and 14 games since his last home run.

Marcell Ozuna

After a torrid early-season streak, Marcell Ozuna is another Cardinal who has fallen on hard times of late.  After his 0-for-3 last night, Marcell is now 2 for 19 (.105) over his last five games.  He falls to .222 for the month (6 for 27).

Marcell did have a first-inning opportunity – while the game was still scoreless – with a runner at first and two outs.  He grounded out to end the inning.  Over the last 6 games, Ozuna is 0-for-9 when the game is tied, and 6 for 31 (.194) for the season in that situation.

Harrison Bader

When he first returned from the injured list, Harrison Bader provided a little pop with his bat.  Lately, though, he has been affected by the general offensive downturn.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Bader is 3 for 16 (.188) so far this month.

Kolten Wong

The disappearing act of second baseman Kolten Wong also continued.  Hitless, again, in 3 at bats, Wong is now 0 for his last 13 and is hitting .091 (2 singles in 22 at bats) this month.