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