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Tougher Than You Think

I will admit that, at the time, it didn’t really seem like the season hung in the balance for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans. There was still 8:58 left in the third period in what was – at that moment – a four-point game (KC leading 21-17).

As the Houston Texans had done the week before, Tennessee had opened up an early lead on the Chiefs. They carried a 17-7 lead till there were about 5 minutes left in the first half. But, as they had done the week before, the Chiefs re-took the lead on a highlight-reel 27-yard touchdown scamper from quarterback Patrick Mahomes (channeling his inner Lamar Jackson).

But, even against the frustration of blowing a ten-point first half lead, Tennessee had largely achieved the thing that they needed to achieve in the first half. They had stayed close enough to continue to run the ball.

Tennessee’s conquest of Baltimore in the Divisional Round was rather typical of the way their offense goes about its business. The NFL’s third-leading running team went into the locker room at halftime of that game having rushed for a modest 68 yards – 56 by the NFL’s leading rusher Derrick Henry. In the second half alone, Tennessee tacked on 149 rushing yards on 24 carries – 139 of the yards and 19 of the carries coming from Henry. It was that dominant second-half running game that had propelled the Titans from a 2-4 start all the way to the AFC Championship Game. With Kansas City getting the ball first, they would need to get an early stop so they could put the ball back in Henry’s hands.

There were some tense moments, as KC controlled the ball for the first 3:59 of the second half, picking up three first downs along the way. But the stop finally came when Mahomes third-and-10 pass bounced off the shoulder of receiver Tyreek Hill.

Now the Titans were on the move. They had answered with one first down, and now as they broke the huddle on their own 41 they had second down and one to keep the drive going. Henry, at this point, was going to get one, maybe two – maybe even three cracks at picking up this one measly yard.

Perception v Reality

When one thinks of the Kansas City Chiefs, one thinks of a high-scoring aerial circus – of Mahomes easily flipping football from every conceivable arm angle – of Hill burning through defenses at almost supersonic speeds. You think of the only team ever to score 51 points in a game – and lose.

Your first thoughts of the Chiefs probably won’t be of their running game. They only finished twenty-third in the league on the ground. Defensively, they finished seventeenth overall and twenty-sixth against the run, so you probably wouldn’t think of the defense first.

The perception is that the Chiefs are new-age flash and dash, with more speed and finesse than any defense can match up too. Most fans, though, wouldn’t perceive the Kansas City Chiefs as a tough team – a team capable of slogging it out in the trenches with a team like the Titans. That was the advantage Tennessee thought it had.

It is presumptuous to say that if had picked up that yard that the Titans would have won the game. There were still a myriad of different things that could have happened. But one thing that would have happened would have been more Derrick Henry runs, resulting in more time on the field for the Chief defense, and more time for the Chief offense on the sideline on a frigid afternoon in Missouri. Gaining that yard would certainly have been a large step in the right direction for the Titans.

But, of course, they didn’t get it.

A six-year, journeyman defensive tackle named Mike Pennel – who had played in only 14% of the Chiefs defensive snaps all year – penetrated through right guard Nate Davis to meet Henry head on at the same time that Frank Clark – rushing unblocked from the other side of the formation – caught Derrick from behind.

Pennel made the play again on third-and-inches, but it didn’t matter. Clark drew a holding call on Dennis Kelly, and the drive would end one play later after a Ryan Tannehill scramble came up short.

Even as Tennessee punted the ball away, it didn’t feel like the end of the world. It was a missed opportunity, but there was still enough time to believe that Henry and the running game would still be a factor. But, now, the Chiefs would get the ball, and the defense would need to come up with another stop to keep this a one-score game.

As it would turn out, Henry would never take another hand off. Given the ball back, Kansas City would proceed to take control of this game in the most un-expected of ways. They ran the ball right down the Titans’ throats.

Over the next amazing 7 minutes and 8 seconds, the Chiefs plowed 73 yards on 13 soul-draining plays – 10 of them runs. None of these were long-gainers. The longest run of the drive was an 11-yard scramble from Mahomes. It was all three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of stuff.

Along the way, the team not perceived as especially tough converted first downs running the ball on third-and-one, third-and-two, second-and-three, and second-and-goal from the three, where Damien Williams slashed through for the touchdown that altered the rest of the game.

When Tennessee got the ball back, the third quarter was over. There was only 14:50 left in their season, and they were now down by eleven points. Whether they over-reacted to the situation is an argument that can be made. The result, though, was that Tennessee retired their dominant second half running attack and spent the rest of the game throwing.

Called on to carry the offense, Tannehill didn’t do poorly. Ryan was 9 of 12 in that fourth quarter for 81 yards and a touchdown – a 120.49 rating. It wasn’t enough to keep Kansas City from advancing to Super Bowl LIV, though, as the Chiefs held on to a 35-24 victory (gamebook) (summary).

The believe it or not number that emerged from this contest comes from the opposing running attacks. Eight times the Chiefs ran the ball in short yardage situations: three times on second-and-three; twice on second-and-two; once on second-and-one; once on third-and-two; and once on third-and-one. They converted the first down on every single one of those plays. In contrast, the Titans had four such opportunities: a first-and-two; a second-and-threes; a second-and-one; and officially one third-and-one. Tennessee converted just one of those.

Titan’s coach, Mike Vrabel, will be less than pleased with those numbers. And he’ll be even less jolly when he reviews the game tape. Here are a couple of mysteries that will likely keep him awake at night for the next several months.

Can’t Anyone Tackle Mahomes?

In the signature moment of the AFC Championship Game, Mahomes took the snap from center with 23 seconds left in the first half. His team was still trailing, 17-14, but Kansas City had reached the Tennessee 27 in position to at least tie the game by intermission.

With the Titan’s in man coverage, and Kansas City running three vertical routes and one deep cross, an enormous void opened up between the line of scrimmage and the closest of the down-field defenders. When tackle Eric Fisher rode linebacker Harold Landry well to the outside of the pocket, a lane opened up before Patrick that led directly into that void. With no one open downfield, Mahomes pulled the ball down and skirted through the opening.

And that is when the fun began.

Rushing from the other side of the formation, linebacker Derick Roberson would have the first shot at Patrick. But running straight across the line of scrimmage, Roberson had a poor angle and was only able to make a desperation grasp at Mahomes’ ankles at about the 32-yard line.

The man with the angle was linebacker Rashaan Evans – who had been assigned to spy on Mahomes.  Rashaan ran toward him on a trajectory that would have him dropping the KC quarterback for about a three-yard loss. But the moment before impact, Patrick gave him just a little juke – an ever so subtle feint as though he were going to turn his run up-field. It was just enough to get Evans to stop his feet ever so briefly. It was all Mahomes needed. Evans ended up lunging for Patrick’s hips. But he came up empty as he tumbled into the Kansas City sideline.

Now it was a foot race to the goal line. Nose tackle DaQuan Jones tried to establish an angle that would allow him to catch Patrick, but Mahomes outran his angle. And then there were just two to beat. At about the six-yard line, cornerback Tramaine Brock stood directly in Mahomes’ path, with safety Amani Hooker on the dead-run from centerfield, arriving at that part of the six-yard line about the same time that Mahomes did.

If he had it to do over again, Tramaine would probably not station himself so close to the sideline. Had he presented Mahomes with an opening down the sideline, he could probably have pushed him out of bounds. As it was, his position caused Patrick to turn to the inside as he tried to split the narrow opening between the two defenders. He didn’t actually make it, as Brock and Hooker converged on him. But Brock lost all his leverage as Patrick turned away from him, and, in a move that won’t gain him any votes for great tackles of the first 100 years of the NFL, Tramaine reached out as Mahomes passed him and grabbed Pat by the back of his jersey.

With a firm grip of the top part of the “5” on Patrick’s back, Brock tried to pull Mahomes away from the goal line. All he succeeded in doing, though, was spinning Patrick away from the onrushing Amani Hooker, who went tumbling harmlessly to the sideline. The final moments of this electrifying run featured Brock’s futile attempt to rip the ball out of Mahomes grasp as Pat worked his way free of Tramaine and fell over the goal line just seconds before Jones re-appeared.

It was a head-shaking moment for the Titans, to be sure. But this could be written off as one of those things that sometimes happens during the course of a game. Even more haunting might be the other question that will linger after this loss.

Can’t Anybody Block Clark?

In the days before the game, much was made of the return of Frank Clark to the Kansas City defensive line. I was less than convinced that he would be a positive addition. Don’t get me wrong, Clark is a top pass-rushing end. But those guys are almost always liabilities in the running game. I’m afraid I rather expected Tennessee to exploit that weakness. The Titans, I think, felt the same because they did test him several times. But they never beat him.

With 8:35 left in the first quarter, the Titans ran their stretch play to the right side. But Clark denied Henry the corner as he stopped tackle Jack Conklin in his tracks. Derrick was forced to turn the play back toward the middle, where he was held for a two-yard gain.

On the next play, Tennessee tried the exact same thing, with a very similar result. Clark threw Conklin out of the way, while linebacker Damien Wilson exploded past center Ben Jones. Henry managed just one yard on that run.

They tried him for a final time on their first scrimmage play of the second half. This time they moved tight end MyCole Pruitt over to Frank’s side to help secure the edge. But even with the double-team, Clark didn’t yield the corner, and Henry turned the play back inside again for a gain of three yards.

While there is no telling what might have happened had Tennessee continued to run the ball, it is evident that for the time that they did, that Kansas City was extremely disciplined in denying Derrick Henry the edges. Derrick carried the ball 19 times, clearing the left end just once (for 13 yards) and the right end just once (for 5 yards). In all other carries he was funneled back inside by a Kansas City run defense more tough and tenacious than many would have expected.

Trying to Solve the KC Passing Game

With the running attack not achieving the same proficiency that it did against Baltimore, the Titans also found that their pass defense wasn’t as effective against Mahomes and his crew. Without an obvious weakness to attack, Tennessee was left with the same dubious options that everyone has against the Chiefs – cover their receivers or sack their quarterback.

For their part, the Titans mixed their coverages, playing slightly more zone (21 snaps) than they did man coverages (16 snaps). The results were mostly predictable. The zone defenses did well enough preventing the big passing plays. Pat averaged just 10.38 yards per completion, with no touchdown passes against the Tennessee zones. But he was able to move the chains at an alarming rate, as he completed 76.19% of his passes against that zone (16 for 21). Knowing that the Tennessee linebackers would chip on the receivers going deep before dropping into their zones, Mahomes and his outlet receivers – mostly running back Damien Williams – took repeated advantage of the opening in the short zones. All of Williams’ 5 receptions came against zone coverages.

When they switched to man defenses, the easy, short passes mostly disappeared. Of the 16 snaps in man coverages, Mahomes was sacked twice and completed just 7 of his 14 throws. But the 7 completions went for 128 yards and 3 touchdowns.

The best moments that Tennessee had on pass defense were those moments when the coverage would hold long enough for the Titans to mount enough pressure to force Mahomes to throw the ball early – or throw it away entirely. This was something they managed to do with some frequency. Of Patrick’s 37 drop-backs, he faced significant pressure 15 times (41%). He was just 4 of 13 on those attempts, with the two sacks.

Pass pressure is something that San Francisco does very well, and they will view those plays with special interest.

They should be put on warning, though. The team they are about to face is not only very fast and very skilled. They are also considerably tougher than they appear.

Andy Reid

I haven’t yet made a prediction for the Super Bowl. I will want to spend a little time reviewing the 49er-Packer game before I do that. But I do have a sentimental root in Kansas City’s head coach Andy Reid.

Andrew Walter Reid has been a head coach in this league continuously since 1999, coaching 336 regular season games and 28 playoff games. He has coached long enough and well enough to have established a record as the winningest coach all time that has never won a championship.

There is a reason for this. Andy is a fabulous coach, but for the first 19 years of his career he never had that quarterback that had that super-hero gear that you almost always need if your team is going to climb the mountain.

He has had some good and some very good quarterbacks play for him: Doug Pederson, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Alex Smith. But none of them were special.

To this point, all the evidence suggests that the guy under center for Andy now is as special as it gets. This would be an excellent opportunity for Reid to get the Super Bowl monkey off of his back.

Brewers Batter Bird’s Bullpen

Holding a four-game lead in the division, the St Louis Cardinal’s penultimate home stand began emphatically last Friday night when Paul Goldschmidt broke a scoreless third-inning tie with a grand slam home run.  Goldschmidt followed up that shot with a three-run homer three innings later as the Cards cruised to a 10-0 win in the opener (box score).

Sunday afternoon, the first series of the home stand ended just as emphatically when Ryan Braun drilled a ninth-inning grand slam of his own to send the Brewers to a 7-6 win (box score) and a 2-1 series victory.  With a chance to put their foot on the throats of a dangerous division rival, the Cards instead saw their division lead sliced in half.  They wake up this morning holding a two-game margin over Chicago, and, now, just a three-game cushion on the Brewers – who they will face no more this season.

The most troubling development from the lost opportunity was the fact that Milwaukee feasted on the St Louis bullpen – heretofore the team’s greatest strength.

In the Sunday afternoon contest, Milwaukee scored all 7 runs (6 of them earned) on 7 hits, 3 walks, a hit batsman and two home runs – all in the last four innings against the bullpen after starter Michael Wacha had shut them out on five hits through the first five innings.

The three Cardinal starters in the series worked 17 innings allowing just 3 runs on 12 hits – including just 1 home run.  They walked only 5 as they fashioned a 1.59 ERA.

In 10 innings during the series, the pen was solved for 9 runs (8 earned) on 7 walks, 2 hit batsmen and 9 hits that included 3 home runs.  Their ERA during the series was a sobering 7.20.

Over the ebb and flow of a baseball season, this kind of thing happens, and as such is nothing to be too concerned about – until a pattern starts to develop.

And sadly, this melt-down wasn’t quite an isolated incident.  Over the last 11 games, the rotation has delivered 60 innings of 1.80 ERA baseball, allowing 21 walks, 5 home runs, and a .201 batting average against.  Over those same 11 games, in just 36 innings, the bullpen has blown 4 leads, allowed 44% of their inherited runners to score, while posting a 5.50 ERA.  They have walked 19 batters (and hit 3 others) in those innings, serving up 6 home runs of their own.

In the sixth inning of the Saturday contest, Milwaukee turned two walks, a single and a ground-out into the run that gave them a 3-2 lead.  In the 10.1 innings that the St Louis starters pitched with the games tied, that was the only run scored against them. – an 0.87 ERA.  The starters did a remarkable job holding the Brewers down until the offense could get a lead.

The problem was holding that lead.  In 12.1 innings pitching with any kind of lead, the St Louis ERA was 5.84.  If that lead was less than four runs, the team ERA during the series was 11.37 in 6.1 innings.

Needless to say, a situation to keep an eye on.

Junior Fernandez

Junior Fernandez had made 7 consecutive scoreless appearances, totaling 7.2 innings, before serving up the hanging slider for Braun.  It was the first home run hit off of Fernandez in his major league career.

John Gant

John Gant set the game-winning rally in motion on Sunday afternoon.  He had pitched a devastatingly good seventh inning on Saturday, striking out all three batters to face him.  On Sunday he couldn’t throw a strike, walking the bases loaded (the Brewers who would score in front of Braun).

It has been a while since Gant was consistently good.  A revelation early in the season, Johnny has now served up earned runs in 10 of his last 26 games.  Over his last 23.1 innings, he has given 20 runs (18 earned) on 28 hits and 21 walks.  He has a 6.94 ERA over that span, with a .308 batting average against and a .438 on base percentage allowed.  His second half ERA is now 6.41 over 19.2 innings.  He finished the first half at 2.22 over 44.2 innings.

Tyler Webb

Tyler Webb is also slipping back after a sustained run of excellent pitching.  Tyler served up the home run that put the Saturday game out of reach (box score).  He has now given runs in 3 of his last 8 games.  In his last 4.1 total innings, Tyler has yielded 7 runs on 4 hits – 2 of them home runs).  He has also walked 6 batters in those innings.

Adam Wainwright

Even as the bullpen has had some recent struggles, the rotation had had an impressive resurgence – none more impressive than Friday’s starter (and winner) Adam Wainwright.  Adam tossed six innings of 2-hit shutout ball, and has now given just 1 run in 20 innings (0.45 ERA) over his last 3 starts.  The last 73 batters to face him hold a .174/.219/.217 batting line.

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty’s start on Saturday wasn’t as dominant as most of his recent performances.  He still delivered a quality start, and struck out 10 in 6 innings.  He is 6-3 over his last 13 starts with a 1.07 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 84.1 innings.  Over those last 13 starts, Jack has gotten more than two runs of support just 3 times.

Flaherty’s ERA is still at 1.23 for the month, and 1.05 in the second half.

Michael Wacha

With his five scoreless on Sunday, Wacha’s September ERA slides to just 1.64 – albeit for just 11 innings over 3 starts.

Kolten Wong

As much as anyone else, Kolten Wong continues to be the offensive catalyst.  He was 5 for 12 against Milwaukee, and is hitting .438 (7 for 16) over his last 4 games.

Kolten is hitting .309 (17 for 55) for the month, and .351 (65 for 185) since the break.

Tommy Edman

With hits in all three games, Tommy Edman extends his current hitting streak to five games, during which he is hitting .333 (6 for 18).  Edman also has hits in 9 of his last 10 games, hitting .308 (12 for 39) but slugging .744, as those hits include 3 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs.  Tommy has driven in 8 in his last 10 games.

Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt’s two-homer game on Friday extended his hitting streak to five very noisy games – Paul was 6 for 15, with 5 extra-base hits and 3 walks.  He drove in 10 during the five games, with a batting line of .400/.500/1.000.  Goldy had also hit in 8 of 9 at that point, going 11 for 28 with 9 walks in those games.  He would go hitless in the last two games of the series, but after driving in 15 runs over his previous 9 games, while hitting .393/.541/.821.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong hit a clutch home run that gave the Cards the lead in the Sunday game, but it was one of only two hits for DeJong in the series.  Over his last 7 games, Paul is just 4 for 27 (.148).

He has hit, now, 3 home runs this month, but is just 11 for 54 (.204) while drawing just 2 walks against 17 strikeouts.


The Friday grand slam held up as the game-winning hit for Goldschmidt – his thirteenth of the season – tying him with Marcell Ozuna for the team lead.

DeJong’s two-run seventh-inning home run Sunday afternoon briefly gave St Louis a 3-2 lead.  No one on the team has more late-inning, game-changing RBIs than Paulie – who now has 9.  The next closest on the team are Matt Carpenter and Goldschmidt with 5 each.

As mentioned, Flaherty struck out 10 Brewers in 6 innings, bringing his season’s strikeout total to 206.  Jack is just 23 years old and in just his third season.  He struck out 182 last year, and now has 408 for his career in 346.2 career innings.

Friday night’s attendance of 47,075 was the largest crowd to see a Cardinal game since the last game in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.  That August 7 game was attended by 48,994.  Friday was the largest home crowd since 47,117 showed up on June 23 – the last night of Albert-stock when the other LA team was in for a visit.

The Friday game – which St Louis led 10-0 after 6 – was also the first time St Louis had carried a double-digit lead into the seventh inning since May 9, when a five-run sixth gave them a 16-4 lead over Pittsburgh on the way to an eventual 17-4 victory (box score).

The Cards scored first in all three games (for all the good it did them).  They have now scored first in 5 straight games, and 11 of 13.

This was the twenty-sixth series this season when the Cards won the opening game, and only the seventh time in those 26 series that they’ve been forced to play a rubber game.  St Louis has now lost 5 of the 7 rubber games.

After Saturday’s loss, St Louis has lost two of their last three quality starts.  For the season, the Cards are 47-21 when their starter throws a quality start.  At 30.9%, they are losing quality starts at the highest rate since the 2014 team lost 31.9% of their quality starts (62-29).

Things Get Better Once You Chase the Lefty

July ended on something of an apprehensive note.  Dominated by Chicago right-hander, Kyle Hendricks, the July 31, 2-0 loss marked the third loss in the Cards’ final four games that month.  Their one-game lead in the division had disappeared, and the current home series against the Cubs was now even at one game each.

The good news was that for the rubber game St Louis would give the ball to Jack Flaherty.  The bad news was that he would be opposed by lefty Jon Lester.  Like most left-handers, Mr. Lester had enjoyed consistent success against this organization.  Even though this has now become a lineup dominated by right-handed “impact bats”, their recurring issues with left-handed pitching hadn’t seemed to get any better.

But a funny thing happened on the way to watching the Cubs take over first place.  The Cards drove Lester from the mound.  Jon lasted just 5, giving 5 runs on 9 hits – more than enough offense for Flaherty and the Cards (box score).

Considered an outlier at the time, batting around lefties has become almost a meme this month.  Yes, there was a start against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw that didn’t go so well, but the birds recovered to cuff around the Pirates’ Steven Brault and the Reds’ Alex Wood.

In addition, the Cards had big moments against lefty relievers Derek Holland (Cubs) and Wei-Chung Wang (A’s).

All of this made for interesting context ahead of last night’s game against Milwaukee lefty Gio Gonzalez.  As Dexter Fowler stepped in to face him, St Louis carried a .312/.353/.523 batting line against left-handed pitchers this month.

But Gonzalez didn’t get the memo.  On the seventh pitch of his start, Fowler struck out swinging at that slider that ends up low and out of the zone.

It wouldn’t all be that easy.  Gio faced a number of long grinding at bats – to the point where he left the game after 5 innings having tossed 92 pitches.  He walked 4 during his outing, but struck out 6 (all on that slider), gave only 3 hits and just 1 run.

Belying their earlier success, St Louis finished 4 for 23 (.174) against Gonzalez and left-handed reliever Drew Pomeranz.  Things were actually looking pretty bleak, as Milwaukee held a 2-1 lead when they turned the game over to their bullpen.

But what Milwaukee’s left-handers were able to so easily achieve turned out to be much more difficult for the right-handers.  The Cardinals bruised Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra and Matt Albers to the tune of 6 for 10 with 4 walks and a hit batsman.  They scored 4 runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings to secure a 9-4 victory (box score).

While the early innings still leave questions about St Louis’ comfort level against left-handed pitching, the win gives them victories in 9 of their last 11 games, and keeps them a half-game in front of Chicago.

Over the course of this streak, the offensive numbers have certainly perked up.  Over the last 11 games, St Louis is averaging 5.45 runs per game, and hitting .261.  The numbers are a bit deceptive, though, as there has been no consistency whatsoever in the Cardinal attack.

They have, in fact, spent the last two weeks trading good games with bad.  Beginning with the first game of the Pittsburgh series that began on August 9, the Cards hit the Bucs with 6 runs in a 6-2 win, followed that up with just 3 runs in game two (enough for a 3-1 win), and then finished up the sweep with an 11-9 slugfest.  But in the first game against Kansas City they were held to just 2 runs (again, enough for a 2-0 win), but then bounced back with 6 runs the next night (a 6-0 win).  The four games against Cincinnati held form.  One run in the first game (a 2-1 loss), followed by the 13-run eruption against Luis Castillo, followed by 1 run in a 6-1 loss, followed by 5 runs in the finale (a 5-4 win).

This series began with St Louis scoring just 3 runs on 5 hits in the opener (another shutout win), and now 9 runs last night.

You will forgive the pitching staff if they’ve gotten a little seasick.  It has been 21 games since the Cardinals scored at least 4 runs in consecutive games (July 22 through 26).

One hundred and twenty four games into the championship season, and this team is clinging to first place.  And this, in spite of the fact that the question marks still heavily outweigh the certainties.


Marcell Ozuna paced the offense last night with three hits, his second 3-hit game in his last 5.  Ozuna is 8 for his last 21 (.381), and is 13 for 40 (.325) over the last 11 games.


A revelation early in the season, John Gant has regressed sharply.  In 16.1 innings over his last 18 games, Gant given 12 runs (11 earned) on 22 hits – a 6.06 ERA and a .338 batting average against.  He has allowed runs in 8 of the 18 games.

Throughout the season’s first half, Johnny dominated left-handed hitters.  They were only 7 for 50 against him (.140).  But lefties are clocking him at a .400 clip in the second half (6 for 15), with 4 of the hits going for extra-bases, including a home run – an .800 slugging percentage.  John surrendered an RBI single to Eric Thames that tied the score in the sixth inning.


Andrew Miller contributed a scoreless seventh inning last night.  Miller has had a very, very solid second half, with a 3.14 ERA over 14.1 innings.  This is in spite of the fact that – after last night’s walk – he has walked 11 over those innings.

The first two batters that Miller faced last night were right-handers.  He walked one (Lorenzo Cain) and got the other (Yasmani Grandal) to bounce into a double play.  In the season’s second half, right-handed batters are just 3 for 30 (.100) against Andrew.  That being said, 2 of the 3 hits have been home runs, and there have been 4 walks mixed in.


Miller pitched in his fifty-seventh game last night – tying his total from 2017 (he had already surpassed last year’s 37 games).  Miller is on pace to pitch in 70 games for the third time in his 14-year career.

Balmy days in St Louis in August are a rarity.  The 77 degrees that was the official game time temperature made this the coolest game in St Louis since July 15, when the birds pushed past Pittsburgh 8-0 in 74 degree weather.

Reds Have Just Enough to Subdue Cards

The slider was high (at the very top of the strike zone), and Eugenio Suarez – Cincinnati’s slugging third-baseman – didn’t quite square up on it.  The pitch wasn’t stung – but it was enough.  As his looping liner dropped safely into center field, Nick Senzel raced around third to score the second run of the inning.  And of the game.  And, as it turned out, the last Cincy run of the night.

Again, it would be enough as the Reds held on for a 2-1 victory (box score).

With 7 hits, 2 walks and a hit batter, the Reds had sufficient opportunities.  Of the 34 Reds that came to the plate in their 8 innings, 15 hit with at least 1 runner on base, and 6 had opportunities with multiple runners on base.  But Suarez’ flare was the only hit they managed.  Cincy hit .333 with the bases empty, and .083 with anyone on.

Most of the time, walking off the field having allowed just two runs should be good enough for a victory.  But these days, the only certainty for the Cardinal pitching staff is to throw shutouts.

For the eighth time in 12 August games, the Cardinals were unable to score as many as four runs.  They are hitting .231 this month as a team.  Stretching back to the end of July, St Louis has been held to fewer than four runs 12 times in their last 16 games.  It’s a stretch that has them scoring just 3.13 runs per game with a team OPS of .646.

One game after being nearly no hit in Kansas City, the birds added four more hitless innings in this one, ending up with just two hits for the evening.  Offensive innings have been awfully quiet lately.

To their credit, the pitching staff has held their own under this adversity.  In 12 August games, they are holding forth with a 3.24 team ERA and a .231 batting average against.  It’s been enough to keep the team afloat (6-6) this month.

And they have done it largely the way that last night’s starter Michael Wacha did.  By toughening up once runners reach base.

Since the All-Star break, Cardinal opponents are hitting .259/.332/.382 with the bases empty, but just .227/.317/.371 once they put a runner on.  Over the month of August, these numbers have tightened up even more.  While batters are slashing .248/.335/.360 with no one on base, Cardinal pitchers are allowing just .209/.283/.331 once a runner does reach.

Wacha has had some difficulties recently.  Even though they couldn’t prevent his sixth loss in his last nine decisions, his five strong innings were nice to see.  But as we slog through the mid part of August, this club is still waiting for its offense to show up.

Matt Carpenter

Starting at third base last night, Matt Carpenter played his tenth game since coming off the injured list.  He was hit on his shoe-top with a pitch and struck out twice in his three at bats.

Of all the bats in the lineup that the Cards are holding their breath for, Carpenter’s is one of the most critical.  Mike Shildt is convinced that Matt is still the Matt Carpenter of old, and one of the most dynamic bats in baseball, so Carpenter is going to play.  Let’s hope Mike is right.

Since his return, Matt is hitting .233 (7 for 30) and is slugging .300.  He has 2 doubles in those games.  Matt is hitting .222 (10 for 45) since the break, with only those 2 doubles – a .267 slugging percentage.

Stretching back to before his injury, it has been 23 games since Carpenter’s last home run.


The second run surrendered by Michael Wacha last night was the 400th off of him during his career, and the sixty-first this season.  Michael’s career most are the 86 runs he allowed in 2016, one of two seasons in his career in which he has allowed 80 runs or more.

His 2 walks bring him to 44 for the season.  He has never before walked more than 58 in a season.  That happened over 181.1 innings back in 2015.

Kolten Wong played in game number 117 last night.  He played in only 127 all last year.  His 3 at bats in the game bring him to 368 this year – already more than in any season since 2015 – the only year so far in his career in which Kolten received 500 at bats.

Moreover, his double was his 100th hit of the season.  Since he racked up 146 hits in 2015, Kolten has crossed the 100-hit mark only once in the last three years – he finished 2017 with 101.

The 2 total bases from last night bring Kolten to 146 for the season.  Already with more than in all of 2018 (137), Wong now ties his total from 2017.  His next total base will give him more than in any season since the 215 he fashioned in 2015.

His run batted in – his forty-third of the season – is also his most since 2015 when he drove in a career high 61.

With the walk he drew, Wong is now up to 39 this season.  His career high is only the 41 he drew in 2017.  Yesterday’s strikeout brings him to 62 this season – again, already more than in any season since 2015 when he fanned 95 times.

Kolten’s stolen base career high is 20 – achieved in 2014.  Last night he swiped his sixteenth of this season.

The Cardinals had held a lead at some point in seven consecutive games before last night – every game since their August 5, 8-0 loss in Los Angeles (which was also the last time that Wacha started).

Runners, Runners Everywhere – But Not a Hit to be Had

Cardinal nemesis Kyle Hendricks took the mound last night against his favorite patsies.  Kyle struck out the side in order in the first.  Still in there in the seventh, Kyle retired all three batters to face him on little pop ups.  It took him ten pitches.

In the five innings between Hendricks’ first and last innings, the Cardinals advanced a runner into scoring position in each inning.  They would finish the game with 9 hits – including 5 doubles – on their way to 15 plate appearances with a runner in scoring position (RISP).

They ended the game with no runs in a 2-0 loss (box score) that dropped them back into a first place tie with the visitors from up North.

In many offensive areas, this team has improved considerably since the break.  Taking nothing way from Mr. Hendricks, who made it look easy last night, hitting with runners in scoring position is not a skill that the Cardinals are getting better at.

For the season, they are hitting .250 in RISP opportunities (second worst in the league to Milwaukee, according to baseball reference).  Their .744 OPS in these situations leads only Miami’s .704.  They have driven in 286 runs with ducks on the pond.  The Marlins, again, are the league worst, just 13 behind the Cards at 273.

In the month of July, these numbers got even worse.  In spite of the fact that St Louis finished the month with a 16-9 record, they were only 39 for 173 (.225) in RBI opportunities. Nine of the 39 hits were of the infield variety – with 5 of those failing to deliver a run.

Both of their RISP hits last night fall into that category.  Infield dribblers by Miles Mikolas and Tyler O’Neill.  Before the evening was over, St Louis would advance two runners to third – in both cases with less than two outs.  In all, five Cardinals had opportunities with a runner at third.

But the zero on the scoreboard never did go away.

I can’t speak to games before 2012, but for the eight seasons that I have been tracking RISP at bats, this was the most in any game in which the Cards were shut out.  Previously, they have had three games in which they had 11 at bats with runners in scoring position and were shutout anyway.  Two of those three occurred in 2015 (May 22 – a 5-0 loss to Kansas City and August 22 in an 8-0 loss to San Diego).  That 2015 team was also shut out by Atlanta 4-0 on October 2 in a game when they had 10 RISP at bats.

Many of you may remember that series right at the end of the season.  The Cards had their division title wrapped, and ended the season with three meaningless games against the Braves.  They were shutout in all three games, a harbinger to their losing the division series to the Cubs that year.

So this game was – I suppose – somewhat historic.

After rolling through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh on the road, the Cards have returned home to face contenders in Houston and Chicago – and abruptly have lost the ability to get that hit with the runner right there.  In losing three of the last four, St Louis is 3 for 39 with ducks on the pond – with none of those hits accounting for runs.  Two of those happened last night.  The third came on Sunday afternoon against the Astros.  It was the third inning, and the Cards already trailed 2-0, but had runners on first and second with one out against Wade Miley.  O’Neill delivered the single to left, but Tommy Edman running from second couldn’t advance past third.

As it turned out, he never would get home.  Paul DeJong struck out and Matt Wieters grounded out.

For those of us who still have concerns about this team’s character, this is an unsettling trend.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt has been on quite a tear lately.  He has been hitting lots of singles and home runs, but almost no doubles.  Curiously, a hitter who is annually over 30 doubles had only hit 10 coming into last night’s game.  He slashed 2 against Hendricks – getting left on base both times.

The hits extend Paul’s hitting streak to 9 games – games in which he is hitting .378 (14 for 37) with 9 extra base hits (7 of them home runs).

With that, Goldschmidt wraps up a month that might very well get him some votes for player of the month.  Goldschmidt hit 11 home runs and drove in 27 runs for the month (25 games), while batting .308/.360/.725.

Ironically, the red-hot Goldy was the only Cardinal starter not to get a RISP opportunity last night.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong also ended July on a strong note.  While his hitting streak hasn’t been as noisy as Goldschmidt’s it has been encouraging.  With his 2 singles last night, Kolten has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 starts – hitting .390 in those games (16 for 41).

Wong ended the month as the Cardinals’ leading hitter.  Kolten hit .357 in July (25 for 70).

Miles Mikolas

As with Adam Wainwright the night before, Miles Mikolas came within one out of a quality start.  Also, like Waino, Mikolas allowed just one run.  That’s where the similarities mostly ended.  Mikolas’ run was unearned, and the run Waino allowed wasn’t enough to get him beat.

Miles took another tough loss, but wrapped up an excellent month of July.  In 5 starts he tossed 3 quality starts (and almost a fourth).  In his 30.2 innings, he maintained a 2.93 ERA.  Miles walked just 4 batters all month, while allowing just 2 home runs.

Over his last 8 starts, Miles has pitched to a 2.64 ERA.

On the reverse end of the RISP discussion, much of Mikolas’ improvement has come in this situation.  Miles is a guy who gives up a lot of hits, so there are almost always RISP opportunities against him.  Through the end of June, opposing hitters where battering Miles to the tune of .296 (21 for 71) when they had those shots against him.

Last night, the Cubs were just 1 for 6 against Miles in RISP situations.  For the month just ended, batters were only 4 for 23 (.174) against him with ducks on the pond.

Giovanny Gallegos

As with the night before, Giovanny Gallegos relieved in the sixth with runners on base (only two last night) and ended the inning getting a flyball from Kyle Schwarber.

Gallegos ends July with an 0.69 ERA in 13 innings for the month.  He closes the month on a 9-game scoreless streak in which he’s allowed 2 hits over 12 innings – leading to an .053 batting average against.

Giovanny has stranded all of the last 10 runners he has inherited, and has been absolutely brilliant when pitching with runners in scoring position.  In July, batters were 0-for-12 in RISP at bats, and for the year they are just 3 for 39 (.077) in this vital situation.

John Gant

Although the run was unearned, John Gant surrendered a run in his third straight outing.  He was also touched for 2 doubles in 1.2 innings.  Gant finished July with a 4.50 ERA over 10 innings.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia gave the Cards at least the chance of a comeback with a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth that featured 2 strikeouts.  Since returning from paternity leave, John has pitched 15 innings over 11 games with a 2.40 ERA and a .170/.214/.226 batting line.


Miles Mikolas may not get enough credit for his durability.  Miles made his twenty-second start of the season last night – after making 32 last year.

While Miles has been much better since the break, his rugged first half has him on the brink of re-setting most of the career highs he set last year.  The 6 hits allowed last night bring him to 133 for the season.  He allowed 186 last year.  The run scored off him was the fifty-ninth of the season – he allowed 70 last year.  The walk he allowed was just the twenty-first he’s given up this year, but he walked only 29 last year.

Kolten Wong, having his healthiest and perhaps best season, played in his 105th game last night.  The 127 he played in last year were the second most of his career.  In the only other “complete” season Kolten has had in the big leagues, he played 150 games in 2015.

Mostly because he is playing everyday, but also because he is having a better season, Kolten is already about to eclipse (and in some cases has already eclipsed) last year’s numbers with still two months left in 2019.  He already has 334 at bats after getting 353 last year.  With his two hits last night, Wong has equaled last year’s 88 hits.  After rolling up 137 total bases last year, Wong has 131 already this year.

With his stolen base last night, Kolten has not only more than doubled the 6 he stole last year, but has matched the 15 he stole in 2015.  His career high is the 20 he stole in 2014.

St Louis has now surrendered the first run in each of the last five games, and in seven of the last eight.

A Little Quick Follow-up

Briefly picking up some threads of recent conversations.

Yesterday, I pointed out the team’s difficulties in hitting while their games are tied.  Last night against Pittsburgh they had seven offensive innings when the score was tied.  They were 3 for 23 in those innings – with no runs scored.

The last time Jack Flaherty pitched, I noted the frequency with which this team lost games in spite of getting a quality start.  Last night’s effort was the Cardinals’ sixth straight quality start.  They are 3-3 in those games.

Finally, it was at the 93 game mark last year that the Cardinals changed managers.  Mike Matheny‘s team was saddled with, arguably, the worst bullpen in baseball, but was still considered underachieving.

For those of you who love irony, I point out that the Cardinal record at the 93 game mark this year is exactly the same as last year at 47-46.