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Houston’s Night to Remember

Even on the replay it wasn’t overly clear.  There was Will Fuller in the end zone, with the football in his hands, turning and about to make that final step that would legitimize the catch and the touchdown.

And then, there was Jonathan Jones with his hand knocking the ball free.  Was he too late?  Or was this another one of those Patriot plays that we’ve seen so often over the years?  How often have the Patriots been a finger-tip or a fraction of an inch away from disaster when someone makes a nick-of-time play to save the day?  (Remember the tackle that kept Jessie James out of the end zone in the Championship Game against Pittsburgh a few years ago, or the seeming touchdown pass that was batted away in last year’s Super Bowl?)

When the play originally happened – and it was called a touchdown on the field – the Houston crowd erupted.  After years of frustration – especially against New England – they had finally driven a dagger through the monster’s heart.  The touchdown had made it 20-3 with just 5:49 left in the third quarter, with the extra-point pending.

But, after a small eternity in the review booth, referee Tony Corrente came back with agonizing news for the 72,025 in attendance at NRG Stadium (and the millions of Houston fans and Patriot haters watching on Sunday Night Football).  Incomplete pass.  Third-and-ten from the New England 35.

Immediately, the Houston fan-base knew exactly what would happen next.  An incomplete pass followed by either a punt or a missed field goal.  They had had their foot on the throats of the once-beaten defending champions.  And now, New England would escape again and fashion another one of their inevitable comebacks.  At that point, the mood in Houston was glum, indeed.

If there was a moment last Sunday night when the trajectory of a franchise might have changed, this was it.

On the third-and-ten play, Houston lined up with DeAndre Hopkins wide right and Kenny Stills wide left.  The Patriots responded with man coverage, with safety Duron Harmon over the top.  Harmon, however, didn’t stay there long.  As Hopkins pressed his way up-field, Harmon drifted to his side to join Stephon Gilmore in a double-team.  That left Stills one-on-one with Jones, the hero from the previous play.

Knowing there was no inside help, Stills stemmed inside long enough to get sufficient separation from Jones, and then turned up-field running to almost the exact spot where the potential touchdown pass to Fuller had gone.

While quarterback Deshaun Watson had put together a magnificent game by getting the ball quickly out of his hands, this time Deshaun held the ball – dancing adroitly around the confines of the pocket until it was time for lightening to strike for the second time.

Unperturbed over the previous result, Deshaun Watson launched his second consecutive perfect 40-yard bomb – this time to Stills in that same left corner of the end zone.  This time Jones wasn’t close enough to come up with another miracle, and this time, when the official’s arms went up, there would be no reprieve.

The extra-point made it 21-3 Houston, on their way to a 28-22 conquest (gamebook) (summary).

Depending on how the rest of the season goes, this might be the moment the Texans will look back on.  However significant this game may or may not turn out to be for Houston, it is more than a little significant to the rest of the league.  Watson and his Houston cohorts became the first conventional offense to vanquish what has been a remarkable defensive season from the Patriots.

Pushed around a few weeks ago by the wildly unconventional Baltimore Ravens, the New England defense, nonetheless, came into the contest ranking second in total defense and having allowed the fewest points of any NFL team (117).

The lynch-pin of the defense is a pass defense that was on a historic pace.  Entering the game, they allowed only 53.9% of the passes thrown against them to be completed; had allowed just 4 touchdown passes against 20 interceptions; and were muffling opposing passers, holding them to a 50.5 rating (the NFL average is 91.0).

In addition, their run defense – ranked ninth in the league – was completely smothering Houston’s sixth-ranked running attack.  Houston finished the night with just 52 rushing yards and a 2.3 average per run, leaving the Texans’ offensive hopes squarely on Watson and the passing game.

Deshaun didn’t disappoint.  Completing 18 of 25 passes (72.0%) Watson threw for 234 yards and 3 touchdowns (he also caught a touchdown pass – so the Patriots were hit for as many touchdown passes in this game as they had allowed all season to that point).  Deshaun’s passer rating for the evening was a more than satisfying 140.7.

Although they played more zone against the Texans than they usually do, the Patriots are known for nearly air-tight man coverage, supported by one of football’s best pass rushes.  With 37 sacks already this year, New England is dropping their opposing passers on 9.1% of their drop-backs – both of those figures ranking fourth in the league.  Basically, your receivers never have time to shake free before the pass rush is burying your quarterback.

As Watson has a history of holding the ball (in an earlier game against Baltimore he held the ball for 10.31 seconds before finally taking a sack), he seemed an unlikely candidate to re-write the narrative.  But that’s just what Deshaun and the Texans did.

Whether against zone or man, Watson didn’t diddle around in the pocket.  He looked for the first open receiver and got the ball out of his hands.  In truth, the Patriots had their moments.  They sacked Deshaun three times and hurried him three other times.  For the most part, though, the ball was gone before New England knew what hit them.  A couple times, the Patriots had free blitzers in on Watson who still couldn’t reach him in time.

With 6:33 left in the third quarter, and Houston facing third-and-seven, Harmon came untouched on a blitz.  But before he could get to the Houston quarterback, Watson delivered a rocket throw down the middle to Stills for 20 yards and a first down.  Early in the fourth quarter, on a similar play, Watson completed a 27-yard pass over the middle to Hopkins, even though Kyle Van Noy came virtually untouched across the line.

Against zones, they ran a series of short turn arounds.  The game plan against the man coverages involved short crossing patterns that forced the Patriot defenders to work through traffic.  It was a simple, basic, patient approach that strained the New England defense like no one they have faced so far this season.

In just his third season, Watson has become very proficient at understanding defenses and quickly deciding where to go with the football.  For the first time in maybe forever, the future looks pretty bright for the Houston Texans franchise.

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.

NoteBook

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.

MarcellOzuna

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.

JohnGant

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.

AndrewMiller

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.

NoteBook

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.

NoteBook

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.

NoteBook

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.