Three Takeaways from the White Sox Series

When Edmundo Sosa’s grounder snuck through the infield, Cardinal Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Having lost the first two of the three-game set to the White Sox, St Louis was clinging to a narrow two-run lead in the finale until Sosa’s ninth-inning chopper brought home two more and gave the Cards the 4-0 lead that would hold up as the final score on Wednesday afternoon (box score).

While relieved not to carry a four-game losing streak with them into Arizona, the three games on the South side echoed issues that have lingered at least through the month of May – and in some cases, all year.  To this point the Cardinals – still clinging to first place in their division – have yet to pay the full penalty of these shortcomings, but if a resolution isn’t found, there will likely be enough series like this one against the White Sox to slide St Louis out of the playoff picture.

Issue One – Walks and Other Free Baserunners

Not long removed from the series in San Diego where they walked 26 batters in 24 innings, the Cardinal pitching staff left Chicago having walked 12 more in 25 innings – to go along with 4 more hit batsmen.  The Cardinals hit the end of May walking an average of 5 batters per every nine innings, and having hit 18 other batters in just 23 games.

Even though opposing batters are hitting a negligible .219 against Cardinal pitching this month, all the free base-runners have improved the on base percentage against this staff to .333.

Against the White Sox, only 5 of the 16 free runners scored.  Of the 129 free runners St Louis has allowed this month, a relative few (34 – just 26.3%) have found their way across the plate.  For the season, only 27.4% (69 out of 252) of the batters walked and hit have completed their journey around the bases.

To this point, Cardinal pitchers have done an admirable job of pitching out of all of this trouble.  But it’s not a formula for long term success.

Issue Two – Offense in Decline Again

The four runs the Cards scored in the finale accounted for exactly one half of all the runs scored in the series.  St Louis’ 2.67 run-per-game average for the series came as a result of a .206 team batting average.  The offense in April averaged 4.5 runs per game across 26 games, but did so in very uneven fashion.  St Louis journeyed into Arizona averaging 3.91 runs per game in their 23 May contests.

These days, every offseason focuses on upgrading the offense.  To this point – with the 2021 season rapidly approaching the one-third mark – this organization has been unable to turn the corner.

The difficulty here is that the organization believes in all of these players – and has shown great patience while they have struggled to score on any kind of consistent basis.  At some point, management may find itself at a cross-roads – especially as the trading deadline draw near.  These decisions will be immeasurably easier if some of the players that they believe in start to produce.

This applies in some measure to the starters, although they have – by and large – done well enough.  For the most part, the St Louis offense has been done in by the third lingering issue of the early season.

Issue Three – Dude, Where’s Your Bench?

As the Cardinal starting lineup continues to struggle to stay on the field (and at the moment there are still two on the shelf) the bench players are continuously offered opportunities to contribute.  In the Wednesday finale against Chicago, St Louis started five bench players.  Other than Sosa (who left Chicago with a .375 batting average), the other four continued their season long struggles.  Andrew Knizner, Lane Thomas, Max Moroff and Justin Williams combined to go 0-for-14 with 9 strikeouts.  For the three games against the Sox, Moroff finished 1 for 8, Thomas finished 0 for 11, and Williams went 0 for 7.  It’s a combined 1 for 26 (with 16 strikeouts).

Forty-nine games into the season, and starting pitcher Jack Flaherty’s .673 OPS is higher than six of the team’s principle bench players: Matt Carpenter (.137/.289/.274/.563); Knizner (.197/.290/.246/.536); Williams (.162/.273/.248/.520); Thomas (.107/.242/.107/.350); John Nogowski (.071/.188/.071/.259); and Moroff (.063/.063/.063/.125).

It’s harsh, because the organization believes in all of these guys as well.  They are either veterans with track records, or high ranking prospects who are projected to be starters in the near future, or guys who have had explosive batting seasons in AAA, or impressive spring trainings.  None of these guys should be hitting under .200 and OPSing under .700.  Yet here they are, forcing management into yet more difficult decisions.

In my humble opinion, few things would energize this team more than to have a few hits fall in for some of these talented bench players.

Goldschmidt

Consistent Paul Goldschmidt put together another solid series against the Sox.  He went 4 for 10 in Chicago with a walk and a hit-by-pitch.  After his 1-for-4 in Arizona last night, Goldy is hitting .303 (27-for-89) this month.

Molina

Yadier Molina made two starts in Chicago, and went 3-for-8 at the plate.  He added three more hits last night in Arizona.  Yadi’s has been one of the team’s most potent bats lately.  He has hit safely in 9 of his last 11, hitting .310 (13 for 42) over that span with a .524 slugging percentage (3 doubles, 2 home runs).

Gant

It took John Gant 94 pitches to navigate 5 innings on Wednesday.  He gave 5 hits and walked 3, but gave no runs.  It was his second start of the season in which he’s pitched at least five innings allowing no runs.  In fact, in his 9 starts this season, John has never allowed more than three runs.  In 4 May starts, Gant is 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA.

NoteBook

Before Wednesday’s win, the Cards had trailed at some point in five straight games.

After starting all of the first 48 games at third base, Nolan Arenado yielded the position to Moroff on Wednesday.  The new Cardinal streak for most consecutive games started at the same position goes to Sosa, who is in the lineup tonight at shortstop for the eleventh straight game.

To be clear on this, both Arenado and Tommy Edman have started every game for St Louis – the only two players to do that.  But they haven’t started all of those games at the same position.

St Louis is now 3-5 in road series, and 0-5-1 in series when they lose the first game.

Ironically, all three sacrifice bunts laid down in Wednesday’s game came from the American League team.  Hey White Sox, haven’t you heard that the designated hitter was supposed to banish the bunt to the ash heap of history?

Which leads me to —

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Behind on the Fastball

The evening’s last pitch was a four-seam fastball – the 62nd such fastball out of 132 pitches thrown to Cardinal batters.  The 97.9 mph pitch delivered by White Sox reliever Michael Kopech was rolled softly to second by St Louis’ Edmundo Sosa, ending Chicago’s 5-1 victory (box score), and wrapping up another frustrating evening for the Cardinal offense.  In losing for the seventh time in the last 11 contests, St Louis has now scored 33 runs (3.00 per game) in those games.  For the month of May, their average runs per game has fallen to 3.95.

St Louis has long been a team that has struggled against soft pitches.  Over these last 11 games, they are slashing (as a team) .106/.196/.191 against the changeup, and .194/.219/.323 against the curve.  What is becoming increasingly distressing as the season goes on are their collective struggles against the four-seam fastball.  Last night they were just 3-for-14 (.214) against the four-seamers offered them by Kopech and starter (and former Cardinal) Lance Lynn.  Of the 10 fastballs they put in play, 6 of them came off the bat at 96.5 mph or hotter.  But only one of those found its way into the outfield for a hit.

Over the last 11 games, St Louis is slashing .204/.296/.306 off the fastball, in spite of the fact that 48% are coming off the bat at 95 mph or more.  For the month of May, the team’s hard-hit percentage on that four-seamer is a very healthy 45.0%.  But the slash line is a humble .196/.288/.306.

For the season, St Louis hitters have put that fastball into play 330 times – with 143 of those leaving the bat at 95 mph or better.  But their season-long line against the pitch that they thought they would make their living on is a sobering .201/.290/.328.

Initially, this sounds like a great deal of bad luck – something bound to correct itself as the season wears on.  The numbers underneath suggest a different story.

Forty-seven games into the 2021 season, St Louis has “hard hit” 83 fastballs for outs.  Of that number: 14 (16.9%) have been struck with a negative launch angle (meaning they were just pounded straight into the turf); 26 of them (31.3%) have had insufficient launch angle to escape the infield; 17 others (20.5%) had launch angles over 40 degrees – turning them into lazy flyballs and popouts; and of the other 40, 27 were hit into the deepest part of the field.  Those 27 outs averaged 355.7 feet, the longest of which was a 391 foot drive (with an exit velocity of 103.5 mph) to dead center field struck by Paul Goldschmidt off of Kyle Hendricks in the fourth inning last Friday.

Groundouts, pop flies and fly balls to dead center are all indicative of being overmatched – to one degree or other – by the fastball.  For 47 games, this is a team that has been overmatched on most nights by the four-seam fastball.  If that continues, this will be a long, dry summer in River City.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt contributed the team’s first hit and only run batted in as part of a two-hit night.  Paul hasn’t been as torridly hot as we’ve seen him, but he has been very steady.  He has now hit safely in 12 of his last 14 games, hitting .304 (17 for 56) in those games.  Goldy is now up to .308 (24 for 78) for the month.

Part of the turnaround has been an uptick in Goldschmidt’s production against the fastball.  Both of Paul’s hits last night came off the four-seamer, and Goldy is now hitting .333 (6 for 18) against the four-seam fastball over the last 11 games.

Williams

After Harrison Bader left the game with an injury, Justin Williams was awarded yet another chance to establish himself.  He was 0-for-3 last night, and over his last 26 games Williams (whose season average is down to .168) is just 7 for 56 (.125).  He has only one extra-base hit (a home run) and is slugging .179 in those at bats.  He is not in the lineup tonight.

Kim

Kwang Hyun Kim struck out 3 White Sox on his slider, but 2 of the 4 that managed to put it in play ended up with hits, even though none of them were hit particularly hard.  Kim has run into a little bad luck with that slider this month.  Of the 17 batters that have put his slider in play, only five of them have been “hard hit.”  Kim has, nonetheless, allowed 7 hits on those 17 balls in play.

Ponce de Leon

Pitching for the third time in four days, Daniel Ponce de Leon struggled with his fastball command.  He struck out one on a fastball, walked two, and allowed a double on a two-strike fastball right down the middle.  For the season, hitters are 12-for-40 against Ponce de Leon’s fastball, with 5 doubles, 2 home runs, 9 walks and 3 hit batsmen – a .300/.453/.575 batting line.

Whitley

Coming off a couple of rough outings, Kodi Whitley retired the last two batters in the seventh, getting Yasmani Grandal to bounce out on a changeup.  We haven’t seen all that much of Kodi, but the small sample size of his changeup has been pretty promising.  Batters are only 2-for-12 (.167) against it, with a hard-hit percentage of just 8.3%.

NoteBook

Edmundo Sosa was hit by a pitch again last night.  Although he only has 42 plate appearances on the season, he is tied for first in the league in this category.

When Chicago’s Andrew Vaughn drove Kim’s changeup out of the park, it marked only the third time all season that a Cardinal pitcher has had his changeup driven for a home run.  Cincinnati’s Tyler Naquin hit one off of Tyler Webb’s change on April 4, and the Met’s Jonathan Villar had similar success against a change from Johan Oviedo on May 6.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

They Can’t Pitch Every Day

The game was still quite close.  As the Friday game against the Cubs moved into the eighth inning, it was just a 4-3 lead for the Northsiders.  And there on the mound was Kodi Whitley.

This probably wasn’t the arm Cardinal fans were anticipating.  A one-run game against their ancient rivals, eighth-inning.  Probably the faithful were expecting Giovanny Gallegos – or perhaps Genesis Cabrera.  These are the elite late-inning arms the Cards have ridden for most of the year.

Whitley, however, was not a poor choice.  Gradually, Kodi had been earning more and more trust for late-inning, high-leverage situations.  On May 11, Kodi had entered in the seventh inning against Milwaukee in a game the Cards trailed 1-0 at the time.  Whitley allowed an infield single, but no further damage.  The Cards went on to win that one in 11, 6-1.

Three days later, St Louis was in San Diego, trailing the Padres 5-3 in the eighth inning.  Manager Mike Shildt entrusted that inning to Whitley as well.  Kodi invited a bit of trouble by walking the first two batters of the inning, but recovered to keep it a two-run game.  St Louis’ late rally fell short, but Kodi had done his job.

Now he was getting a shot at the Cubs.

He faced three batters and didn’t retire any of them.  In fairness, he didn’t get a lot of luck.  Ian Happ flared a single into left, and after a damaging walk to David Bote, Nico Hoerner hit a chopper to third that should have resulted in at least one out.  But Nolan Arenado couldn’t field the bounce cleanly, and the bases were loaded.

With Eric Sogard (a left-hander) coming off the bench for the Cubs, Shildt wanted a lefty.  But not Cabrera.  He chose this moment to tab a struggling Tyler Webb to face Sogard and then the top of the order.  Three batters later, the bases were still loaded, there was now one out, but Chicago had pushed its lead to 6-3.  Into the game, now, came Seth Elledge.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Seth.  Most Cardinal fans probably assumed he was no longer on the team.  He had pitched just once over the last two weeks.  And here he was in a critical situation, trying to keep the game in striking distance.  In quick succession, he allowed a walk, a double, a single, another double, and another single.  And now it was a 12-3 game.

Elledge, by the way, got credit for two-thirds of an inning pitched even though he didn’t directly retire any of the five batters he faced.  Luckily (or perhaps mercifully) the Cubs ran into two outs on the bases.

After the game – when asked why Cabrera and/or Gallegos weren’t on the mound in that spot – Mike noted accurately enough that he can’t pitch “those guys” every night (those guys included closer Alex Reyes).  And with that, he put his finger on one of the great current concerns of this team – bullpen depth.

In the wake of the Cub series – and in spite of the fact that Reyes served up the game-winning homer on Sunday – the big three of Cabrera, Gallegos and Reyes had already combined for 75.2 innings with an aggregate 1.55 ERA.  Everyone else who has only appeared as a reliever for the Cards (phrased this way to eliminate the one inning from Matt Carpenter and the relief efforts of sometimes starters Daniel Ponce de Leon and Johan Oviedo) has pitched 73 innings with an aggregate 7.27 ERA.

Pitching at their present rates, Cabrera would finish the season with 82 innings pitched, Reyes would throw 88 and Gallegos would be on the mound for 96.  Of the 1423 the Cards are on pace to pitch, these three relievers are on pace to throw 18.7% of them.  It’s too much.  Someone else has to effectively handle some of this load.  This team has to find someone they can trust with this situation.

This must be a frustrating development for the front office.  Leaving spring training, they counted bullpen depth as one of their strengths.  But the normally reliable pen has been rocked a bit by injuries to Jordan Hicks and Andrew Miller and the surprising struggles of Tyler Webb.  And all of a sudden, you have a bullpen in crisis.

But before they start scouring the trade market – which I’m not necessarily saying is a bad idea – let’s look at a couple of the internal candidates.  There are a few arms in the tent that shouldn’t be given up on just yet.

Helsley

Ryan Helsley has hit a hiccup in his season.  Ryan was the actual losing pitcher of the Friday game (box score).  He came into a 2-2 game in the seventh and promptly served up the two runs that put the Cards in the hole.

Helsley has now allowed runs in three of his last four games.  The last 19 batters to face him are slashing .357/.500/.786 – a distressing run.  But over the 14 outings prior to this, Ryan held an 0.66 ERA and a .116 batting average against.  None of the 50 batters he faced in that stretch managed an extra base hit off of him.

While he’s had some recent struggles, my belief is that he is still more the pitcher that he was during the previous 14 games than he is the pitcher we’ve seen the last four.  With legitimate 100 mph stuff, he certainly has the tools.

Whitley

As mentioned, Kodi has earned his way into higher leveraged situations, and – also as mentioned – the catastrophe of Friday night that started on his watch wasn’t entirely his fault.  Whitley has the minor league pedigree to suggest that he should have success in the majors.  In the last minor league season that there was (2019) Kodi managed a 1.52 ERA in AAA (part of a 1.60 ERA over three levels and 67.1 minor league innings that year), and then pitched to a 1.64 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.

Ponce de Leon

It’s a small sample size, but Daniel Ponce de Leon – who began the season as a starter – has done much better in relief (2.70 ERA and a .130 batting average against).  This pattern has held true through the early part of his career.  In 22 starts, Daniel is 2-8 with a 4.66 ERA.  In 18 relief appearances he has 1 save and a 2.60 ERA (with a .172 batting average against).

Ponce de Leon pitched twice in the Cub series, throwing a total of 2.2 scoreless innings.  He was hugely responsible for the only win the Cards managed in the series on Saturday (box score) as his 1.2 innings bridged the gap between Miles Mikolas’ early exit and the seventh inning when Shildt turned to Cabrera.

Daniel may well be a successful starter someday, but for now he is one of the more promising options in a surprisingly needy bullpen.

Fernandez

Obviously looking here more at potential than production, Junior Fernandez is another flame-thrower who hasn’t quite figured things out yet.  Sometimes it is this very situation – a bullpen in need of arms – that provides the opportunity that a sleeping giant like Fernandez needs.

The point here is that there are internal options, as well as the likelihood that Webb will re-discover his command at some point.  For the month of May, the starter’s fine 3.10 ERA has been frequently betrayed by a bullpen with a ragged 4.39 ERA.  This is frustrating, but not incurable.

Whether from within or through an acquisition, the Cardinal bullpen will rise again.

Wainwright

I make it a point now – every time Adam Wainwright starts a game – to thoroughly drink in every moment, realizing that there won’t be all that many more of them.  Although it ended disappointingly (box score) Sunday’s first eight innings were a pure joy, as Waino shut the Cubs out on one hit.

Typically, though, Adam’s teammates neglected to score any runs for their long-time ace.  In the nine games he’s started this year – and while he’s been the pitcher of record – here is the game-by-game run support he’s received: 1,0,0,2,1,6,2,1 and 0 on Sunday.  It works out to 2.14 support runs per every nine innings pitched.  It’s notably difficult to win a lot of games without runs to work with.

Sosa

It’s difficult not to be enamored with Edmundo Sosa.  He was about the only bat that showed up against Chicago.  Even granting that most of his hits were less that rocket shots, Sosa was still an impressive 7 for 11 (.636) with a double and a triple (.909 slugging percentage) against the Cubs.  Sosa carries a five-game hitting streak into Chicago tonight – a streak in which four of the five games are multi-hit games.  Edmundo is hitting .588 (10-for-17) and slugging .824 (2 doubles to go with that triple) during the streak.

Sosa, of course, has spent the year buried on Mike Shildt’s bench.  On the roster for every game this year, Edmundo was awarded just two starts and 17 plate appearances until Paul DeJong landed on the injured list.  This is the first real look we’ve gotten of him, and there’s a lot to like.

You’d like to think that Edmundo would continue to play after DeJong heals, but my advice is to not hold your breath.  Shildt and the organization fully believe in DeJong, and – good or bad – he will be in there pretty much every day that he is healthy.

Carlson

The Cardinal chances weren’t helped by the loss of Dylan Carlson (back issue) for the last two games of the series.  Dylan was 2-for-4 in the first game, and now has multiple hits in three of his last four games.  Dylan – who is back in the lineup tonight – has multiple hits in three of his last four games – hitting .438 (7 for 16) over that span.  He is up to .306 for the month, with a .408 on base percentage.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado entered the Cub series scorching hot (riding a six-game hitting streak).  He left it ice cold, going just 1-for-11 (.091) in his first taste of this great rivalry.  Under the steady diet of changeups that baffled the entire lineup, Nolan’s discipline began to erode and his strike zone steadily began to expand.

Bader

Late in the Sunday game, Harrison Bader snuck a ground-ball double down the third-base line.  It was the only thing that stood between him and a hitless series – Harrison finished 1-for-12 (.083).  It was also his only hit over the last 5 games, leaving him 1 for his last 19 (.053).  Off to a hot start when he returned from the injured list, Bader is now down to .221 for the month.

NoteBook

The Cubs were the fifth of the previous six teams to play St Louis after having won their previous series.

The 6 runs St Louis managed in the series were their fewest in any series so far this year.  They won two of three their last visit to Milwaukee in spite of scoring just 9 runs during the series.

Lasting just 2:47, the Saturday game was St Louis’ quickest game since a 5-0 victory over Colorado on May 7 took only 2:42 to complete.

The weekend series was also the hottest of the season so far.  Two of the games began in temperatures over 80 degrees – including 88 for the Sunday game, the hottest of the year so far.  The series averaged a season-high 81.3 degrees.  The previous hottest series was the Pittsburgh series that just preceded the Cub series.  Those games averaged 73.5 degrees.  The previous hottest game was the 82 degrees that they played in while beating the Mets 6-5 on May 3.

The three games played in San Diego earlier this month all drew 15,250.  Until this weekend, those were the largest crowds that the Cards had played in front of this season.  With the relaxing of the COVID regulations last weekend, St Louis saw its first crowds of over 20,000 since the 2019 playoffs.  The Saturday game drew the most (26,027) and the entire series averaged crowds of 24,797.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

A Few Random Facts from the First Quarter of the Cardinal Season

St Louis has won the opening game ten times in 14 series.  They are also 9-5 in second games, but just 5-8 in the third games of series.  They are 4-0 in that third game if they have won the first two.  They are 1-5 if that third game is the rubber game of the series.

This month, the Cards are 7-0 when they score at least 5 runs, and 4-6 when they don’t.  They are 16-2 for the year when scoring 5 runs or more (and 20-3 if they can score at least 4 runs).

St Louis has allowed three runs or less in almost half of their games so far (21 of 43).  They are 17-4 when they can manage that.

They are 14-1 when either Jack Flaherty or Kwang Hyun Kim starts.

The Cards have scored first 11 times in their 17 games this month, winning 9 of those games.  They are 18-3 this season (.857) when they can score that first run.

In fact, St Louis has lost only two games this month that they had a lead at some point.  They scored the first run against the Mets, before losing 4-1 on May 6, and they jumped out in front of San Diego 2-0 on the sixteenth before losing 5-3.  For the season they are 18-0 anytime they manage a lead of at least three runs – and are 6-2 if the best lead they can get is only two runs.

On May 3, hosting New York, the Mets scored a couple of runs in the second (on a hit-by-pitch and a walk with the bases loaded), and then added on three more in the third (on a ground out and a two-run home run from Kevin Pillar).  That opened up a 5-2 lead for the New York team.

St Louis rebounded with four in the bottom of that third inning on a game-tying three-run homer from Nolan Arenado and then back-to-back doubles from Paul DeJong and Tyler O’Neill.

That would be the end of the evening’s scoring – the Cards holding on for a 6-5 win.  It was the only time this season that St Louis has come back after trailing by more than two runs.

In all, they have won 8 games in which they trailed at some point, and lost 5 games in which they led at some point.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Nothing to See Here

By the second inning of yesterday’s game – with the Cards already up 6-0 – it was fairly clear that St Louis would complete its second sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the young season.  The Pirates made things tighter with a three-run seventh, but in the end St Louis held them off 8-5 (box score).

St Louis is now 5-0 this year against the Bucs, and 78-51 (.605) since taking the 2013 Division Series matchup between these two teams.  Series between division opponents rarely stay lopsided all season.  Over the last 8 years, only the 2019 season series between these clubs (when the Cards won 14 of the 19 games) has gotten out of hand.  In 2015 and 2016, the Cards won the series by the narrowest of margins (10-9).  In 2014, 2017 & 2018 the margin was only slightly greater (11-8).

After an encouraging start that saw them win 12 of their first 23 games, Pittsburgh has now lost 14 of their last 19.  Watching the two teams, I don’t believe that the gulf between them is that great, and by season’s end I wouldn’t be surprised to see the series standings much closer than they are now.

But for the moment, last night’s game – and the two-game series in total – had the feeling of business as usual.  Nothing to see here.

The Cards, by the way, won for the seventeenth time in 25 games, moving from a season-low three games out of first to a season high 3.5 game lead in this division as they prepare to welcome the Cubs into Busch for the first time since 2019.

If nothing else, playing the Pirates right now is very good for your confidence.

Goldschmidt

After seeing his eight-game hitting streak snapped in the first game of the series, Paul Goldschmidt started another one last night.  He had three hits – including the first inning double that started the scoring.  None of his hits were pulled, two going to right and the other, a ringing single to center.

Paul has now hit safely in 9 of his last 10 games, hitting .317 (13 for 41) over that stretch.  His hits have included 3 doubles and 2 home runs.  Goldy has driven in 7 runs while slugging .537 over those last ten games.

His batting line for the month, now, is very similar.  In 16 games in May, Paul is hitting .317 (20-for-63) with 4 doubles, 3 home runs, and a .524 slugging percentage.

Edman

Tommy Edman was riding an 0-for-13 streak before Pittsburgh came to town.  He broke out with three very soft hits in the opener, none of them hit harder than 88.6 mph.  Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Tommy hit four balls yesterday, the softest leaving his bat at 98.3 mph and the other three over 100 mph – collecting two more hits in the process, and driving in a third run with a sacrifice fly.

Flaherty

Although he couldn’t keep his scoreless streak going, Jack Flaherty won his eighth consecutive start, throwing his fifth consecutive quality start.  Jack pitched six allowing two runs.  During his winning streak, Flaherty holds a 1.65 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .175 average.  The last 191 batters to face him have only 9 extra base hits (7 doubles and 2 home runs) leaving them with a .251 slugging percentage.  Flaherty is now 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA for the month of May.

Of the 26 batters he faced, Jack finished the at bat ahead in the count against 12 of them.  Behind in the count against Flaherty is not where you want to be.  Those 12 managed one single among them (.083 avg).  Over his last 5 starts, he has gotten ahead in the count on 36 batters.  They have two singles (one of them an infield hit) and 1 double – an .083/.083/.111 batting line with 17 strikeouts.

Cabrera

Pitching on consecutive days for the sixth time this season, Genesis Cabrera completed a relief shutout last night.  With his scoreless inning against the Pirates, he has now allowed no runs and just 5 hits over his last 9.1 innings.  He has walked 5 in those innings.  Genesis has pitched in 13 of the last 25 games, with a 1.35 ERA over 13.1 innings.

The only batter that Cabrera pitched behind in the count to was Ben Gamel – who grounded out on a 3-2 pitch.  Genesis is nasty to face when he gets ahead of you (batters are only 5-for-33, .152 when batting behind in the count).  But getting ahead of Cabrera is no picnic either.  This season batters who are ahead in the count against Cabrera are hitting .182 (4 for 22).

Reyes

Alex Reyes’ dominant season as a closer continues on unabated.  He pitched a scoreless ninth, dropping his ERA for the month of May to just 0.84.  In 10.2 innings this month, Alex has given just 3 singles while striking out 17 (14.34 per nine innings).  Alex has pitched 13 times over the last 25 games, striking out 25 in just 15.1 innings (14.67 per nine innings) with an 0.59 ERA.  And both of those ERA’s are higher than his season ERA of 0.39.

Alex also pitched behind in the count just once – falling behind Gregory Polanco 3-2 before striking him out.  Alex has walked some batters this season when he’s fallen behind them in the count (19 to be exact).  But he has yet to give up a hit to anyone that he’s been behind.  Those batters are 0 for 22.

NoteBook

The Cardinals managed two six-run leads (6-0 and 8-2).  Those six runs were the farthest they’ve been ahead in a game since, well, the first time they faced Trevor Cahill – in a 12-5 win on May 1.

On May 3, when St Louis hosted the Mets, it looked like summer was going to skip right over spring.  The game-time temperature that day was 82 degrees.  Spring quickly made a comeback, and the temperature cracked 70 just once over the next 12 games.  Last night’s game temperature of 77 was the second consecutive game over 70, and the highest game temperature since that game against the Mets.

That 77 degree game pushed the average for the two games to 73.5 – the highest average temperature of any series so far.  The second series of the season in Miami averaged 72.7 – which was the previous high.

The Cards are now 5-for-5 in sweep opportunities.

Goldschmidt, with the game-winning hit, is now up to 6 on the season – one behind Nolan Arenado’s 7.

Edmundo Sosa was hit with a pitch again last night.  That’s five times now this season in just 27 plate appearances.

Edman’s two hits bring him to an even 200 for his career (in 190 games).

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Can the Pirates Hang Around a Little Longer?

The Pittsburgh Pirates came along at just the right time.

Five days ago, the Cardinals took the field for a three-game series that would provide their first real measuring stick of the new season.  They were in San Diego to oppose the team that had bounced them from last year’s playoffs.

As they entered play that night, St Louis carried the National League’s second best record (23-15 just a half game behind the surprising Giants).  If they had been in the same division with the Padres, they would have been 2 games ahead of the 21-17 San Diego team.

Three games later, the Cards were facing the Pirates, riding their second three-game losing streak of the season.  Until yesterday, they were only 9-8 in games after a loss.

Games after a loss is one of my character stats.  For the first 17 years of this century, the Cardinals were 727-527 .580 (including playoffs) when they had lost the game before.  Since 2017 they are just 149-125 .544 (again, including playoffs).  Almost all of the best Cardinal teams of this century have been very tough to saddle with that second consecutive loss.  It’s an edge that seems to have dulled over the recent seasons.  The 2019 team that won the division was, nonetheless, just 40-36 (.526) after a loss.

This season, they are either sweeping series against the National League’s lesser teams, or they are struggling to stay out of losing streaks against the other teams.

After last night’s 5-2 win (box score), St Louis is 10-0 against Pittsburgh (17-24), Miami (18-23) and Colorado (15-28).  They are 14-18 against everyone else.

As I pointed out yesterday, this is a team that has had its regular lineup together only three games the entire season and hasn’t gotten the expected production from the bench.  It’s too early to give into frustration.

For now, let’s just be grateful for a couple of games against the Pirates.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera – in spite of pitching very well of late – has had poor luck with inherited runners.  He inherited two last night and both scored after his wild pitch was followed by two soft groundballs.  Six of the last 9 runners that Genesis has inherited have found their way home.

In the meantime, Cabrera has thrown 8.1 scoreless innings over his last 7 appearances.  He has allowed just 5 singles during these innings.

Genesis has been one of the team’s better performers in games after a loss.  Pitching 11 innings in 11 such games, Cabrera holds a 2.45 ERA with 15 strikeouts.  In 28.2 such innings over his young career, Genesis holds a 2.83 ERA after a loss.

Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos had a small hiccup in Colorado a week-and-a-half ago, but otherwise continues on as one of baseball’s most untouchable late inning relievers.  In 15.2 innings over his last 12 games, Gio has allowed just 2 runs on 6 hits (5 singles and a double).  His 1.15 ERA over those games comes with a .120 opponent’s batting average and a .140 slugging percentage.  Gallegos’ ERA for the month of May has dropped to 1.69.  Gio has faced 37 batters this month.  They have 4 singles, 1 double, 1 walk and 1 hit batsman – a .143/.189/.171 batting line.

In games after a loss, Gallegos holds an 0.79 ERA through 11.1 innings with a .114/.135/.200 batting line against.  Since coming to St Louis, Giovanny has excelled in all situations – including his 53 games after a loss.  He has struck out 81 in 60.1 innings, and assembled a 1.94 ERA while holding opposing batsmen to a .157 batting average in those games.

Carlson

Dylan Carlson picked up a couple of hits last night.  Carlson has been one of the team’s better performers in games after a loss this season.  He has played in all 18, hitting .306 (19-for-62) with 11 walks and 2 hit-by-pitches (a .427 on base percentage).

Arenado

Nolan Arenado continued his torrid hitting last night.  His 2-for-3 game with a home run was not only his fourth consecutive game with a home run, it brings Nolan to 11-for-20 over his latest five-game hitting streak.  Nolan his hitting .550 with a 1.200 slugging percentage over his last five games.  Two of the games have been two-hit games, and he has three hits in two others.

This is, of course, the highlight of a terrific month of May.  Sixteen games into the month, and Arenado carries a .393 batting average (24 for 61) and an .803 slugging percentage.  Half of his hits have been for extra bases (5 doubles, 1 triple, 6 home runs), and he has driven in 15 runs during those 16 games while striking out just 3 times.

Playing in all 18 games after a loss, Nolan has exceeded expectations there as well, hitting .343 (23-of-67) with 5 doubles and 5 home runs – a .642 slugging percentage.

Molina

After seeing his season average dip below .300, Yadier Molina has started to pick things back up.  With two hits last night, Yadi is 5 for 15 (.333) over his last 4 games, nudging that season average to .302.

Molina is a .310 hitter in games after a loss (13-for-42), with 9 of those hits going for extra bases (4 doubles and 5 home runs).  Yadi has a .762 slugging percentage in games after a Cardinal loss.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt hit a couple of line drives, but finished the evening 0-for-4, bringing to a halt his eight-game hitting streak.  Goldy hit .313 (10-for-32) and slugged .563 (2 doubles and 2 home runs) during the streak.

Williams

The injury to Tyler O’Neill will provide Justin Williams with yet another week or so to establish something from an offensive standpoint.  Justin struck out in all four of his at bats last night, and is hitting .105 (4-for-38) over his last 21 games.

NoteBook

St Louis has now won five of their last six series opening games – and 7 of their last 9.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

First Position Wars for 2021

No lineup is 100% static (or even 80%, for that matter).  While Mike Shildt is a guy who – I think – would run the same eight players out there 160 times a season if he could, the wear and tear of a baseball season prohibits that level of usage.

So every year, baseball fans get to see the eight defensive positions manned by a variety of players.  A few times a year we look in to see how the team responds to those changes.  I employ three simple markers – record (wins and losses), runs scored per game, and team ERA in those starts – to create this picture, and I call it position wars.

Since there are many factors that add up to victory and defeat, these numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt – and especially during the early part of the season.  There are observations to be made here, but they should be made cautiously.

So far, Nolan Arenado has started all 41 games at third, Paul Goldschmidt has been the starting first-baseman in 39 of the 41, and Paul DeJong has made 35 starts at short – so there is not much to discuss there.  But all the other positions have seen some shuffling.

Catcher

All-time great Yadier Molina is working his way through his eighteenth season as the starting catcher for the Cardinals.  When he is healthy, he rarely takes a day off.  Yadi has started 25 of the 30 games he’s been on the roster for.

But a strained tendon in his right foot pushed Molina to the sidelines for about a week and a half, providing an extended look at the heir-apparent.  As the catcher-in-waiting, Andrew Knizner acquitted himself quite well.

In his 15 starts, Knizner has led the Cards to a surprising 12-3 record.  The team ERA during his starts was a miniscule 2.17.  Andrew’s bat hasn’t quite set the world on fire (he’s hitting .207 with only one run batted in in 58 at bats) but his handling of the pitching staff has been more than a little encouraging.

Second Base

Tommy Edman has started at three different positions already this season, but the team only has a winning record when he plays second.  In 27 starts at second, St Louis is 17-10.  They are 5-6 in his 11 starts in right, and 1-2 when he starts at shortstop.

When it hasn’t been Edman at second, it’s mostly been Matt Carpenter.  St Louis is 6-7 in his 13 starts there.  Surprisingly, the team ERA is slightly better when Carp plays second (3.57 v 3.65), but (not surprisingly) the offense is much healthier when Edman starts (4.56 rpg v 4.15).

Outfield

The plan had the Cardinal outfield lining up as statically as the infield, with Tyler O’Neill occupying left, Harrison Bader in center, and Dylan Carlson in right.  Injuries have scrambled the Cardinal outfield more than any other position.

Harrison Bader missed the first 25 games of the season with a right flexor tendon strain, and in the middle of that stretch, O’Neill missed ten games of his own with a right groin strain.  The shuffle brought Carlson into center field, sent Edman to right for several games, and gave Justin Williams a significant opportunity to write a larger role for himself in the outfield picture.

Left Field

O’Neill has started in left 28 times in the 31 games that he has been active.  Williams has made 10 starts there.  The team is 18-10 with O’Neill in left, and just 4-6 with Williams.  Of the two positions, Justin has seemed much more comfortable defensively in left than in right – a perception hinted at by the numbers.  The Cardinal ERA is 3.65 in the games that Williams has started in left, and 4.46 in the 13 games he’s started in right.

Center Field

Carlson has still started more games in center (23) than Bader (16), but even figuring in the sweep they suffered at the hands of San Diego, the Cards are still 10-6 since Harrison has returned, with a team ERA of 3.65.  They didn’t do poorly, though, with Carlson there.

In Dylan’s 23 starts in center, the Cards were 13-10 with a 3.79 ERA.  Offensively, they were better with Dylan in center.  They scored 4.65 runs per game in his starts.  When Bader has been the starter, the run support has dropped a bit to 4.38.

Right Field

Right field has been the most jumbled of the positions.  With just 41 games being played, three different players have made at least ten starts in right.  Even in the limited sample size, though, the best results have come when projected starter Dylan Carlson has lined up there.  St Louis is 10-6 in his right field starts.  They are 7-6 when Williams starts, and 5-6 with Edman out there.  The team ERA is best with Carlson (3.66), with Edman finishing second (3.73).  The run scoring numbers are all very close, with the slight edge going to Carlson (4.44 runs per game), followed by Williams (4.38) and Edman (4.36).

Takeaways

At the quarter pole of the season, none of the Cardinal secondary players have made any kind of push for expanded playing time, even though some have had those opportunities.  In fact, if there is a takeaway from all of this, it raises a little concern about the Cardinal depth (except at catcher).

No bench player carries a batting average higher than .222, a slugging percentage higher than .407, or an OPS better than .731.  I know management had higher hopes than this.  They believed coming out of spring training that they had several impact bats on their bench – and before the season is over, it might turn out that way.

But so far, when a starter has had to miss time, the drop-off has been noticeable.  Thus far, with the overlap of injuries, the Cardinals have been able to field their “A” lineup just three times this season: for a 9-8 win over Colorado on May 8, and the first two games of the last Milwaukee series (a 6-1 win in 11 innings, and a 1-4 loss).

They have gone the last 4 games without shortstop Paul DeJong.  With a non-displaced left rib fracture, Paul will likely miss several more games at least – providing an opportunity for someone (Edmundo Sosa, Max Moroff, or perhaps, Carpenter) to show they can bring a little pop off of the bench.

The Cards could use a little good news off the bench about now.

Pitching Injuries

We’ve talked a bit about injuries that have scrambled the lineup.  The pitching staff – it should be noted – has also been impacted by injuries.  Heading into tonight’s contest against Pittsburgh, St Louis has already lost 148 player games from the pitching staff.  This breaks down as follows:

Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas have missed the entire season so far.  Mikolas is expected back soon, while it will most likely be most of the season – if not the entire season for Hudson (coming off Tommy John surgery).  Andrew Miller and Daniel Ponce de Leon have each missed 16 games (and counting).  Kwang Hyun Kim missed 13 games at the start of the season.  Jordan Hicks has missed 12 and counting.  Carlos Martinez has missed the last six (and counting).  And Adam Wainwright spent 3 games on the COVID list.

Organizationally, the Cards have always been resilient.  The first quarter of this season has been a pretty substantial test of their all-around depth.

My biggest takeaway is that we don’t really know how good (or bad) this Cardinal team is, because we haven’t really had an opportunity to see all the pieces work together.  Hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Padres Put On a Clinic

Down in the count 3-1 to San Diego’s Victor Caratini, Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright – unwilling to give in to him – tried to get him to chase the cutter.  At just 84.8 mph, the pitch was tempting, but inside by about four inches, about waist high.  Caratini did Waino a favor and fouled the pitch off.

In the long run, it wouldn’t matter.  Adam tried to get him to chase a curveball on the next pitch.  And when he didn’t, the Padres had runners at first and second with one out in the third inning of last Saturday’s game.  Waino would wiggle out of trouble with no further damage – but enough damage had already been done.  A three-run homer earlier in the inning had padded San Diego’s lead to 6-0 – on their way to a 13-3 victory (box score).

We’ve talked about chasing pitches before.  As Statcast breaks down the battle between pitcher and batter, they have subdivided the area over and around the plate into various “zones.”  The middle part of the plate is the heart.  Usually pitches that end up here are mistakes made by the pitcher and likely to bring damage in their wake.

Just outside of the heart is the “shadow” zone.  This is the boarder of the actual strike zone and maybe an inch or two just outside the zone.  These are usually pitchers pitches (regarded as “too close to take” if you have two strikes on you), but pitches that a batter can do some damage with if he is looking for them.

Beyond this is the “chase” zone – usually around two-to-four inches around the perimeter of the plate.  Most at bats, I think, are decided in this zone.  These pitches are balls (once in a blue moon one will get called a strike) but are close enough that batters will offer at them.  This is especially true if they have two strikes on them and know they have to protect the plate.

Overall, these pitches get swung at 24% of the time – rising to about a third of the time in two-strike counts.  And that percentage is enough.  It’s enough to keep most pitchers out of deep counts most of the time, and it’s enough for pitchers to put away most hitters once they have them in two-strike counts.

Veteran pitchers like Wainwright depend on batters expanding their strike zone to chase these pitches.  Coming into his Saturday start against San Diego, batters were swinging at Adam’s chase pitches 24.5% of the time, and 34.6% of the time with two strikes – especially when he throws that tantalizing curve.

On Saturday in San Diego, Waino’s outing lasted 4 innings and 92 pitches.  Twenty of those pitches trailed into the chase zone (19 of those when a position player was at the plate).  Of those 19 “chase-me” pitches, the cutter to Caratini was the only one that was chased.  That included 6 two-strike pitches – pitches most batters have difficulty laying off of.

By the end of his outing, Adam had thrown only 52 of his 92 pitches for strikes, and had walked 3 in his 4 innings.  But Adam’s outing wasn’t an outlier this weekend by any means.  In 24 agonizing innings in San Diego, Cardinal pitchers managed strikes on only 51.9% of their pitches (287 out of 553) on their way to walking 26 Padre batters (and hitting 4 others).  St Louis pitched to an exhausting average of 5.21 batters per inning, and threw 4.42 pitches to each of them.  Their season-long averages are 4.32 batters per inning, and 3.99 pitches to each batter.  San Diego’s three-game sweep of the Cards was highlighted by a .464 on base percentage.

For the series, Padre position players were tempted with 133 pitches in the chase zone.  The disciplined San Diego batters offered at just 16 of them (12.0%).

The Cardinals like to imagine themselves as this kind of offense.  Manager Mike Schildt will frequently talk about tough, professional at bats up and down the lineup – and in their very best moments, the Cardinals will do a fair approximation of this.  But this weekend, they were treated to a clinic.  A San Diego team minus a handful of stars (Fernando Tatis Jr., Eric Hosmer and Jurickson Profar all missed the series due to COVID concerns) nevertheless ground its way through a series of very good pitchers through the difficult discipline of forcing them to throw strikes.

This was one of the things that impressed me so much in the brief playoff series between these teams last year.  Even when they were behind in a critical game, there was never any panic in the Padre at bats.  They took close pitches, and they took their walks – resisting the urge to expand their zone in the interest of being the hero.  They understood that eventually the pitcher would have to come to somebody – and they had complete trust that whoever was at the plate at the time would come through with the big hit.

St Louis has a lot of hitters with intriguing potential.  I hope they were paying attention this weekend, because the San Diego hitters showed them just how this thing is done.

More Waino

Much has been made of the run support that Jack Flaherty has gotten this season (10.46 per nine innings while he’s the pitcher of record).  Complicating Adam’s season is that Jack is getting all of his runs.  The Cards backed Wainwright with one lonely run in San Diego – and that was just the thirteenth support run that Waino has been blessed with all season.  His average is a much more modest 2.51 support runs per nine innings.

Webb

Tyler Webb still has never recovered from his nine-days of inactivity earlier in the year.  Tyler pitched in the first two games of the San Diego series, giving a run in each.  He has now been scored on in 6 of his last 7 games.  Sixteen of the last 32 batters to face him have reached – 10 of them on walks.

Arenado

Even in the sweep, Nolan Arenado’s bat has stayed scorching hot.  He was 6 for 12 against the Padres with 4 extra-base hits – three of them home runs.  Arenado has pushed his average to .379 for the month (22-for-58) and his slugging percentage to .759 for May (5 doubles, 1 triple and 5 home runs).  He has driven in 13 runs in the 15 games this month.  Going back to the last game in April, Nolan has hits in 14 of his last 16 games – good for a .381 batting average (24-for-63) and a .762 slugging percentage (7 doubles to go along with the triple and 5 homers).  He has just 3 strikeouts over the course of those games.

Bader

Quietly, Harrison Bader has muffled his tendency to strike out – and his batting average (now .283) has profited.  Harrison has struck out just 8 times so far in 2021.  Over his last 5 games, Bader has put the ball in play on 15 of his 29 swings (51.7%).  He now leads all regulars, putting the ball in play with 46.5% of his swings (46 of 99).  The team average is just 36.6%.

Edman

Tommy Edman has hit his first rough patch of the season.  The Cardinal leadoff man and igniter was just 2 for 15 (.133) with no walks in San Diego.  Tommy has hit safely in just 3 of his last 7 games, batting .125 (4-for-32) with just 1 walk – a .152 on base percentage.  It has been 11 games since his last extra-base hit, and 18 games since his last run batted in.

Pitchers have been noticeably more aggressive with Tommy recently.  He has seen 18 first-pitch strikes in his last 24 plate appearances (75%).  The team-wide average is 59.4% first-pitch strikes.

In the Friday game, Tommy hit into his first double-play of the season.  He has been up in 23 double-play opportunities.  His 4.3% is the lowest double-play percentage among Cardinal regulars.

Forty-one games and 184 plate appearances into the season, and Edman has yet to have an opportunity to drive in a runner from third with less than two outs.

Edman is still the hardest Cardinal to throw the ball past.  He missed on only 3 of the 34 swings he took in San Diego (8.8%).  For the season, Tommy is missing on just 12.3% of his swings – the lowest percentage among regulars.

Carpenter

Given a start in San Diego to “get his bat in the lineup,” Matt Carpenter went 0-for-6 against the Padres with 3 strikeouts.  I have already discussed Carpenter’s issues, so I won’t go into more detail here.  I will just point out that Matt is now hitting .095 (2-for-21) this month with no extra-base hits and 7 strikeouts.

Matt put the ball in play just 3 times in his 13 swings this weekend (23.1%).  For the season, he is putting the ball in play only 29.2% of the times that he swings, the lowest ratio of any Cardinal with at least 50 plate appearances.

NoteBook

All three games of the series drew “COVID capacity” crowds of 15,250.  All of those games are tied for the highest attendance at a Cardinal game so far this season, and the series average of 15,250 (of course) is also the highest.  The previous attendance high was the 13,435 that showed up at Busch to see Colorado on May 7.  At an average of 13,401.7, that Colorado series was also the highest for average crowd.

Friday’s game – at 4:08 – was St Louis’ first game this season to top four hours.  The closest they had previously gotten was the 3:55 it took them to beat Milwaukee 6-1 (in 11 innings) on May 11.

The average time of the series’ games was 3:43.7, the longest lasting series of the year so far.  The previous series against Milwaukee (which had taken an average of 3:31 to play) had been the longest.

When the Padres scored 5 runs in the first game, it equaled the total number of runs that Milwaukee had scored against St Louis in their entire series.  San Diego’s total of 23 runs for the series were the second most St Louis has allowed this season.  Cincinnati scored 27 against them in the season opening series.

Bader drew his fifth intentional walk on Friday – already a career high.  At some point, Shildt should probably think of moving him out of the eighth slot in the order.

The Saturday game was only the second time St Louis has lost a game by at least ten runs this season.  They were beaten by Cincinnati 12-1 on April 4.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Pitching Duels on Tap in Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s starting pitching was all but untouchable as they hosted their division rivals from St Louis for a three-game mid-week series that ended yesterday.  Freddy Peralta joined co-aces Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes to make life generally miserable for a Cardinal offense that was feeling pretty good about themselves as they got off the plane.

Fresh off a convincing sweep of the Colorado Rockies, the Cards ran into a buzz-saw in Milwaukee.  For 19.2 innings, that trio dominated the St Louis hitters, allowing just 2 runs on 9 hits (8 singles and a home run).  While they walked 3 (and hit another), those guys struck out 27 St Louis batters, backing their 0.92 aggregate ERA with a .134/.183/.179 batting line against.

That being said, none of the Brewer starters earned a victory in the series, and Burnes – who allowed 1 run in 5 innings – was tagged with a loss.  As St Louis heads to San Diego to open a three-game series there, they do so having taken two of the three in Milwaukee (6-1 in 11 innings, 1-4 and 2-0) because their starting pitching was just a shade better.

While not as flashy (they only managed 16 strikeouts), the Cardinal trio of Kwang Hyun Kim, John Gant and Jack Flaherty threw 16.1 innings against the Brewers giving just 1 earned run – an 0.55 ERA.

Two playoff teams from last year who are currently sitting first and second in their division, these are two teams who believe that their pitching staffs are equal to any occasion.  If pitching duels are not your thing, perhaps you should skip the rest of the games between these teams this year.  The first game went 1-1 into the eleventh.  The second game went 1-1 into the bottom of the eighth.  The finale was a 1-0 game going into the ninth.  The series, perhaps, should have come with a warning: for purists only.

These two teams have now split their first six games, with each winning a series in enemy territory.  St Louis’ current three-game lead aside, this is shaping up to be a very tight (and probably low-scoring) race to the end.

Cards Press On

Of greatest encouragement to Cardinal fans is the pitching staff’s ability to sustain these high-level performances.  They hold a 2.83 team ERA during the month of May.  They have allowed only 4 home runs all month, and the .197 batting average against them is augmented by a .282 slugging percentage.

Over the last 22 games, Cardinal starters hold a 2.19 ERA.  Batters are hitting just .202 against them.

Best With the Bases Loaded

The lone real drag on the pitching staff is its propensity to walk (and hit) batters.  What opposing offenses can’t manage by hitting the ball against them, St Louis pitchers are inclined to do to themselves with free passes.  In 105 innings this month, Cardinal pitchers have walked 54 and hit 6 others.

One of the outcomes of all of this is a league-leading number of bases-loaded situations.  In 38 games, Cardinal pitchers have dealt with 61 bases-loaded situations – nearly two a game.  That figure stands as the most in the National League.  In the eleventh inning of the first game, Alex Reyes faced Jackie Bradley Jr. and Billy McKinney with the bases loaded.  Both struck out

For all of the struggles that put them into these situations, the St Louis pitching staff has responded in enviable fashion.  Opposing batters are hitting just .111 (5-for-45) in those at bats (the lowest average in the league).  Not only are they one of just 4 teams not to allow a grand slam so far this year, they have surrendered just 2 extra-base hits (both doubles) with the bases loaded – a .156 slugging percentage, which, along with their .418 OPS with the sacks jammed, is also the best figure in the league.

The total picture, of course, isn’t complete perfection.  While hits in these moments have been few and far between, St Louis pitchers have also issued 8 bases-loaded walks (also most in the league), hit 3 others, allowed 5 sacrifice flies, uncorked 3 wild pitches – and even committed a balk.

In a way, it’s kind of been a microcosm of the Cardinal season.

Gant

Johnny Gant has kind of been the poster boy for the Cardinal pitching staff.  In matters of contact and runs allowed, Gant has had an exemplary season – especially recently.  Over his last 4 starts, Gant has an 0.89 ERA with a .197 batting average against.  Yet – even though he has been in the rotation the entire season and hasn’t missed a start, John hasn’t pitched enough innings to be a qualifying pitcher (and his season-long 1.83 ERA would have him in the top 5 in the league right now).

His nemesis has been walks.  He walked 3 more in 5 innings on Wednesday, and has walked 16 in his last 20.1 innings.  Gant has authored 26 unintentional walks in 34.1 innings – 6.82 per game.  Consequently Gant has completed six innings just once this year, leaving a lot of innings for the bullpen.

For the season, Gant has pitched with the bases empty only 49.0% of the time – and those batters have a .395 on base percentage against him.

Flaherty

While I’ve seen him sharper, Jack Flaherty completed his second consecutive scoreless outing (he had thrown seven scoreless against Colorado in his previous effort).  Jack now has 4 consecutive quality starts as part of a seven-game winning streak.  In 43 innings over his last 7 games, Jack has been touched for just one home run while compiling a 1.47 ERA and a .174 batting average against.

Cabrera

His struggles against Philadelphia now well behind him, Genesis Cabrera is starting to settle in again.  His last five appearances (covering 6 innings) have been scoreless, and he’s allowed 1 single to the last 22 batters to face him.  Even so, he also continues to invite trouble, as he has walked 4 of those batters and only 52 of his last 90 pitches (58%) have been strikes.

Reyes

Alex Reyes faced 14 batters in 3 busy innings against Milwaukee.  When Manny Pina led off against him in the bottom of the ninth Thursday afternoon, he became the only one of the 14 to bat against Alex with the bases empty.  He drew a lead-off walk.  Even taking into account the 7 runners he’s inherited across his various appearances, and the fact that both extra innings he started began with a runner on base, Alex has pitched to only 32 of his 84 batters faced with the bases empty – just 38.1%.

Home Run Dependency

The 9 runs that St Louis scored in the series were the fewest they have scored in any series so far this year.  (The 5 they allowed were the second fewest.  In an early season sweep in Miami they allowed just 3 runs).  Six of the nine runs scored on home runs.

For the season, 86 of St Louis’ 170 runs have come via the home run – 50.6%.  The National League average is 41.7%.  This over-reliance on the home run is a contributing factor to St Louis’ inconsistencies on offense.

Arenado

When Nolan Arenado’s eight-game hitting streak ended on Wednesday, he responded with 3 hits – including the game’s only run batted in – to start another yesterday.  Nolan is 16 for 46 in May (.348) with a .609 slugging percentage (4 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs.

DeJong

Paul DeJong went 0-for-6 in Milwaukee before his rib injury sidelined him.  He has hit in only one of his last 6 games, going 2-for-20 (.100) in those games.  His average for the month of May has dipped to .205 (8-for-39).

Bullpen Home Run Watch Ends

Coming within a few days of a full month without issuing a home run, the Cardinal bullpen (in the person of Ryan Helsley) was finally taken deep (by Milwaukee’s Avisail Garcia) in Wednesday’s eighth inning.

The bullpen homer-less streak reached its twenty-fourth team game (23 with a bullpen appearance) and ended after 72.2 innings, 253 at bats, 305 plate appearances and 1252 pitches.

Up until that point, Helsley – who has been much praised in this space – had not allowed an extra-base hit all season before serving up a double and the home run on back-to-back pitches.

A Sidenote: Four innings earlier, Garcia demonstrably disagreed with a third strike call – throwing both arms in the air and engaging in an extended debate with home plate umpire John Libka.  I have seen players tossed for less.  It would be interesting to know how close Avisail came to getting ejected four inning before he would become one of the game’s heroes.

NoteBook

St Louis is now 1-and-5 in rubber games.

The series averaged 3:31 even per game – exactly what the last game took.  Considering the low scoring nature of the games, it’s a little surprising that this series was the longest by average time of any series so far this season.

The Cards are now 5-3-1 in series when they win the first game.

San Diego – who took two-of-three from Colorado – will be the fourth consecutive Cardinal opponent to have won its previous series.

Arenado’s single re-gained him the team lead in game-winning-hits.  He pulls back in front of Paul Goldschmidt, 6-5.

Thursday’s shutout was the fourth authored by the Cards in their last 11 games.

St Louis had just one at bat with the bases loaded in Milwaukee, and now have just 3 in the month of May.  They had 20 bases loaded at bats in April.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

RISP Woes Stymie the Brewers

The game had a promising beginning for the Milwaukee Brewers.  When Kolten Wong led off the game with a double, the Brewers had a golden opportunity to take an early lead.  Instead, it was the beginning of another frustrating evening for the Milwaukee offense.  Wong didn’t move as Cardinal starter Kwang Hyun Kim retired the next three hitters (Lorenzo Cain, Tyrone Taylor and Travis Shaw) on two strikeouts and a pop fly.

More than three hours later – the game well decided at this point – Milwaukee’s Billy McKinney (batting with the bases loaded) waved helplessly at Alex Reyes’ 0-2 slider to bring an end to the proceedings.  The final score of 6-1 was more than a bit deceiving (box score).  Milwaukee held a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning, and the game went into extra-innings tied at one run each.  Milwaukee had myriad opportunities to bury St Louis, but McKinney’s strikeout concluded a 1-for-15 effort on Milwaukee’s part with runners in scoring position (RISP).

This has been much the norm for the Brew-Crew this year.  Their .209 team RISP batting average is the National League’s worst.  The Brewers and Cardinals have now split their first four contests of the new season, with both St Louis wins looking eerily similar.

St Louis hosted Milwaukee to open their home season on April 8.  On that evening, Brewer ace Corbin Burnes simply dominated for 6 innings, shutting out the Cards on just 1 hit, walking none, and striking out 9.  But he left with just a 1-0 lead.  St Louis would come back to tie the game in the seventh, and win it on a two-run home run off the bat of Nolan Arenado in the eighth.

Milwaukee was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on that evening.

Now fast-forward to last night.  This time it is Freddy Peralta dominating the Cards.  He throws seven innings of one-hit shutout ball against them – but also leaves with just a 1-0 lead.  This time the Cards scratched out the tying run in the eighth, and the game-winning, two-run homer came off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt in the eleventh.

No one expects Milwaukee to remain at the bottom of the league stats in this category all season.  Not helping them, though, is their present matchup against a pitching staff that has been very hot – especially in RISP situations.

With the win, St Louis is now 8-2 in May, and 14-4 over their last 18 games.  Over their last 20 games, the St Louis pitching staff holds a 2.75 ERA and a collective .191 batting average against them.  The last 722 batters to face them over the last 177 innings have just 38 extra-base hits (28 doubles, 1 triple, and just 9 home runs) for an aggregate slugging percentage of just .281.

Opposing hitters are just 27-for-148 (.182) against this staff over their last 20 games with runners in scoring position.  If Milwaukee is going to shed this monkey on their back during this series, they will have to do so against a tough opponent.

Kim

Kwang Hyun still doesn’t have a quality start on the season, in spite of the fact that that he has a 1.80 ERA over his last 4 starts, never allowing more than one run in any of them.  But completing that sixth inning has proven elusive for Kim – his longest outing of the year so far lasting just 5.2 innings.

St Louis has, nonetheless, won all five of his starts.

Milwaukee was 4-for-14 against Kwang Hyun, with 3 doubles, when they hit against him without a runner in scoring position.  One of the reasons Kim has had trouble getting deep into games is that clean innings are a rarity for him.  The league is 22-for-68 (.324) against him this season when there are no runners in scoring position.  Once he finds himself in trouble, Kwang Hyun has been much more effective.

The double from Travis Shaw that drove home Lorenzo Cain from second with Milwaukee’s lone run broke an 0-for-21 that the league had against Kim with runners in scoring position.  For the season, they are 2-for-23 (.087) in their RISP at bats against Kwang Hyun.

During his stay in St Louis, batters are 8 for 57 (.140) against Kim with runners in scoring position.  Shaw’s double was the first extra-base hit Kwang Hyun has surrendered as a Cardinal in RISP situations.

More Good Work from Helsley

Ryan Helsley relieved Kim in the sixth, extinguishing the threat.  Ryan has now authored 9 consecutive scoreless outings (7.1 innings with just one hit allowed) and over his last 13.2 innings has yielded just 1 run on 5 hits – an 0.66 ERA with a .116 batting average against.  Ryan still hasn’t allowed an extra base hit this year.

Ryan has allowed only 1 of 10 inherited runners to score.

Reyes

All 9 of the batters Alex Reyes faced last night came to the plate with at least one runner in scoring position (remembering that all extra-innings this year begin with a man at second).  Those batters were 0-for-6 with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts.  This year, batters are 1-for-29 against Reyes with the ducks on the pond.  They are just 13 for 106 (.123) against him in those situations during Alex’ career.

Carlson

One of the casualties of the evening was Dylan Carlson’s hitting streak.  Although he drove in a critical run with a sacrifice fly, Dylan finished the evening 0-for-3, ending his hitting streak at seven games.  Carlson batted .476 (10-for-21) during the streak.

DeJong

Paul DeJong just can’t turn the corner.  After a scuffling start, Paul has looked on several occasions like he was about to find his stride.  But it hasn’t taken just yet.  Recently, he put together a five-game hitting streak.  In the five games since the last of those games, Paul is 2 for 18 (.111).  In spite of the hitting streak, DeJong is hitting .216 (8 for 37) for the month.

Production with runners in scoring position has been a special focus for DeJong this year.  He was 0-for-1 in RISP opportunities last night, and he is 7 for 39 (.179) in those situations for the year.

Bullpen Home Run Watch

Although it certainly seemed like they trying their best to serve up a home run last night, the Cardinal bullpen made it through another evening without allowing the long-ball.  Going back to the seventh inning on April 16, when J.T. Realmuto took Kodi Whitley deep, the bullpen has gone 23 total games (22 in which the bullpen made an appearance), 70 innings, 244 at bats, 295 plate appearances and 1214 pitches without allowing a home run.

NoteBook

At 3:55 (understandably enough, since the game took 11 innings to decide), last night’s game was the Cards longest of the season so far.

St Louis has now won the opening game of four straight series, and 6 of the last 7.

Goldschmidt’s game-winning, two-run homer ties him with Nolan Arenado for the team lead in game-winning hits.  They both have 5.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.