Lessons from the Cardinals

I don’t believe that any of us can fathom what they went through.  Nothing in our common baseball experience will help us connect with the enormity of the situation.  The baseball game on TV often serves as background to dinner, or you listen on the radio as you pick up your kids from soccer.  Sometimes, after the first game on TV is done, you’ll flip the channel to find another.

At softball games, you show up a few minutes before the game starts, toss the ball around for a bit, and you’re ready to go.  The game will run about an hour, and then you’re on your way home (probably listening to the end of the Cardinal game on the radio).  It’s all a far cry from the 10 hour days exacted from this team as it fought to reclaim its season.

Nothing in our experience communicates the magnitude of 53 games in 44 days.  It was a 440-inning gauntlet – an average of 10 innings of baseball every day – even with the two scant off days tossed in.  When he first looked at the altered schedule, manager Mike Shildt said that his had nearly blew up.

The early roster juggling – done out of desperation to find any available arm that could give them an inning that night – became a survival technique later on as the team was challenged to replace the injured players that seemed to be going down one a day.

At the conclusion of the 58 game schedule, the Cardinals had accrued 532 player-games lost to injuries (9.2 injured players for every game played) – a total that doesn’t even include Jordan Hicks, who opted out of the entire season.  In John Brebbia, John Gant, Dakota Hudson, Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas, the Cardinals approach their improbable playoff competition with nearly an entire pitching staff unavailable due to injuries.

Look at it how you will, this was a very significant achievement.  I’m not at all sure if there is another team out there that could have fought its way into the playoffs under these circumstances.

In the aftermath, in this moment of glory – for however it lasts, it is, I believe, instructive to make a note of how this team managed.  Especially during the year of turmoil that 2020 has been.  Lessons, if you will, from the 2020 Cardinals.

Before I start this, though, a little context.  Yes, I am fully aware that nothing in the artificial sports universe can truly compare with the heart-rending realities that the rest of the world is dealing with.  With over 200,000 Americans perishing with the virus, with many thousands more facing pronounced financial distress, with fires ravaging the one coast and floods inundating the other, I acknowledge freely that the world’s accumulated tragedies far out strip the trials of one collection of professional sportsmen.

I categorically do not equate the Cardinals trials with everyone else’s.  How many thousands of people would love to trade their nightmares for the challenge of playing 53 baseball games in 44 days?

Even beyond the large global challenges, there are the personal sorrows that beset us all.  Whether in the eye of a global pandemic or the relative silence of your own personal tragedy, the world certainly has heartbreaks and challenges far beyond the simple cares of a beleaguered baseball team trying to make the playoffs.

I really don’t want to make too much of this.

So what I present to you here is a metaphor.  Lessons wrought under the most adverse conditions imaginable in a controlled arena that are broadly applicable to others in the crucible of life’s larger arena.  They are mindsets – perhaps, at best, footholds in the cliff of the mountain.

Let me present four valuable takeaways from a most improbable season, for whatever comfort and inspiration that it might provide.

Live and Die as a Team

Even in the ugliest of times – and this season had some particularly ugly moments – the team was always there for each other.  They played for each other, even when they were too weary to play for themselves.  There were several points where catastrophe loomed, but the team would never let the season spiral out of control. 

The first lesson is find your team.  In any extremity – especially in hours of serious difficulty – we are less likely to pull through on our own.  Even an oppressive burden – distributed on the shoulders of a team – becomes endurable. 

Most people, I think, don’t realize how desperately we need each other – even in times of ease.  Find your team.  Find them somewhere.  Trust your team, and make sure that they can trust you.

Eye on the Prize

For the Cardinals, at the end of the gauntlet was a playoff berth for the taking.  They had a great advantage in that they knew going in how long the trial would last.  They would succeed or fail, but by the end of September it would be over.

Real life seldom comes so nicely packaged, with expiration dates on all our trials.  But even at that, we know that they will not – cannot – last forever.  There is a post-COVID day coming.  A day when damaged cities will be rebuilt.  Even if you don’t know exactly when that day is, hold on to that eventuality with both hands.  Even as gritty as the Cardinals are, they could not have continued in this fashion indefinitely.  But they knew that they didn’t have to.

You know that, too.

Face the Challenge

One of the important aspects of the Cardinal playoff push was that no member of the team offered the faintest complaint or shied away at all from the challenge ahead.  In the COVID year, any player could opt out of the season at any time.  None of them did.  To a man they embraced the unique challenge before them.

I remind you that when their season re-started, they didn’t even have so much as the luxury of a workout before they were dumped into the cauldron of games.  Throughout, this team offered no excuses and sought no mercy.  The schedule was what it was, and theirs was only to fight their way through it.

From our experience, we know that trials won’t just go away.  No amount of pulling the covers over our head will make things better.  The bitterest trials can’t really be embraced.  But they can be faced.

Surviving is Thriving

At no point during this process did the Cardinals ever thrive.  They never hit their stride as a team.  Things never came together for them.  They spent the entire mini-season hovering around the .500 mark.  In their last 8 games, in fact, they evenly alternated losses and wins.  They won as many as four in a row only once (in their final series against the lowly Pirates) and were absolutely pummeled more times than I can remember ever happening in the same season.

Every hitter sustained at least one major slump. And several never had anything but struggles at the plate.  It seems there were about 25 times (in 58 games) that they were dominated by the opposing pitcher.

Nearly every pitcher on the staff experienced at least one very humbling outing – and many experienced several.

Daniel Ponce de Leon – one of the heroes at the end of the season – was dropped from the roster and returned to camp when his persistent early season struggles reached rock bottom in a 14-2 loss against Cleveland (a game in which he lasted just 2/3 of an inning.

But no matter how humbling the loss or how thorough the beating, they kept coming back to win the next game.

I will be honest with you.  There were moments when this team (especially the offense) was so unwatchable that I almost hoped that they wouldn’t make the playoffs, simply because I didn’t think I could take watching this offense get dominated any more.

But they always rose up to take the next game.  That simple act – the mere act of keeping their heads above water – is the thing that saved them in the end.

Thriving is all well and good.  Everyone wants to thrive.  But when life capsizes your boat, then just keeping your head above water is enough.  Stay alive long enough to fight again tomorrow.  Keep your head above water until the rescue boats arrive.  Don’t overthink things.  Don’t pressure yourself into doing more that you can.

In the worst of circumstances, all you really need to do is just stay afloat.

NoteBook

Summer made a quick pit stop on its way out of town over the weekend, as the first game of the Milwaukee doubleheader was played in 80 degree temperatures.  Over the previous 16 games, the Cards had played in an average temperature of 69.8 degrees.  Their last 80 degree game came against Cincinnati on September 11.

Then the Saturday game weighed in at 81 degrees.  The games of the doubleheader against Detroit the day before (September 10) were the last games that were that warm at the beginning.  The first game was 81 degrees, and the second was 82.  In all, three of the five Milwaukee games topped the 80 degree mark.

The 8-run margin of victory in the second game of the doubleheader was the Cardinals’ largest win since they battered Detroit 12-2 in the first game of that September 10 doubleheader.

A problem earlier in the season, St Louis finished out the regular season scoring first in 5 of its last 8 games.

When Matt Wieters started the second game of the doubleheader, it broke a streak of seven consecutive starts at catcher by Yadier Molina.  He had been tied with Paul Goldschmidt for most consecutive starts at one position on the team.  Goldschmidt finished the regular season with 10 consecutive starts at first base.

Series’ Wrapup

St Louis ended the season playing 17 separate series, winning 8, losing 7 and splitting 2.  They had 4 separate opportunities to sweep series, but never managed to claim that final game.  In 4 opportunities to be swept, they succumbed twice.  Six of the series went to rubber games, with the Cards losing 4 of those.  They, in fact, had lost 3 straight rubber games before Sunday’s win.  Average time of all Cardinal games – 2:52.4.  Average temperature of all Cardinal games – 78.5 degrees.

They played 9 series at home, going 4-3-2 in those series (14-13 record).  Two of their opportunities for sweeps came at home, and three times at home they faced being swept, avoiding that fate twice.  They were 2-1 in rubber games at home.  Average time of the home games – 2:56.4.  Average temperature at Busch – 82.7 degrees.

They split their 8 road series (4-4 with a 16-15 record), losing all three rubber games played on the road.  Most of their 7-inning doubleheaders came on the road, so the average time of the road games was only 2:49.0.  The average temperature on the road was 74.9 degrees.

Eight times they won the first game of a series, going on to win 6 of those series, with one loss and one split.  They were 2-6-1 when they lost the first game.  Three times they lost the first game of a series and fought back to force a rubber game.  They lost all three of those rubber games.

They played 5 series against teams that had won their previous series, and held their own.  They went 2-2-1 in those series (7-8 record).  In three of the five they entered the last game facing a possible sweep, but avoided that fate in two of the three.

Eight of the 17 series were played against teams coming off losing series.  We lost 5 of the 8 (15-16 record).  All 6 of the rubber games the Cardinals played came against these teams.

There were three series played against teams that had split their previous series.  We could have used more of these games.  We were 6-3 against these teams (2-0-1 in the series).  Two of our four sweep opportunities came in these series.

The longest series played by average time was the Cleveland series (Aug 28-30).  That series (which averaged 3:27.0 per game) featured a 12-inning game and the 14-2 loss that took almost 4 hours.  The shortest series (by average time) was the quick doubleheader just before the Cleveland series against Pittsburgh (Aug 27).  The Pirates won both of those games in an average of 2:25.0.

The longest road series was played in Cincinnati right after that Cleveland series (Aug 31 – Sept 2).  That series averaged 3:10.3.  The shortest road series averaged 2:33.7.  It was the three games played at the White Sox just after the Cards came out of quarantine, and featured the first of the doubleheaders.

The warmest series by average temperature was the first one.  The late July matchup against Pittsburgh (July 24-26) averaged 90.7 degrees for the 3 games.  The hottest road series of the year was also that White Sox series, which averaged 83.0 degrees.  The coolest series of the season was also against Pittsburgh – the last 5 game series that we played there (Sept 17-20).  St Louis won 4 of 5 in 65.6 degree weather.  The coolest series they played at home this year still averaged 76.3 degrees.  Cincinnati was in town from September 11-13.

The longest game of the year was a 4:09 marathon in Chicago.  In a 6-3 loss to the Cubs, Ponce de Leon and Yu Darvish (and their respective relievers) combined to walk 13 batters.

The longest home game of the year was the 12-inning loss to Cleveland on August 29.  The longest nine-inning home game this year was the 14-2 blowout loss to the Indians the night before (August 28).  That one checked in at 3:51.

The shortest games of the year were the September 16 doubleheader in Milwaukee.  Both games, oddly enough, clocked in at exactly 2:01.  Of course, they were 7-inning games.

The shortest nine-inning came of the year was a 3-0 victory at home against the Reds on August 22.  It took 2:15.

At 2:25, the shortest road came was a 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh on September 17.

The highest game-time temperature of the year was 95 degrees on August 24.  The Cards took care of the visiting Royals that day, 9-3.  The hottest road game of the year was, again, that first game back.  The first game of the August 15 White Sox doubleheader was played in 86 degrees.

The second game of the September 18 doubleheader in Pittsburgh was – at 61 degrees – the coolest game of the year.  The coolest home game was still 71 degrees.  That was the Thursday game of the just concluded Milwaukee series (September 24).

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

QB Controversy in San Diego? (Oops, I meant LA)

So, as I understand how it went down, Charger quarterback Tyrod Taylor was receiving a pre-game injection for his chest/rib injury. Fate intervened, and LA’s erstwhile starting quarterback ended up with a puncture wound to the lungs.  Moments before the game began, first-round draft pick Justin Herbert learned he was about to make his NFL debut.

And with that, a love affair was born.  If not for the Chargers’ fans, then at least for analyst Tony Romo, who, after about three snaps, pronounced the kid as a quarterback prodigy.

Tony may have been jumping the gun a bit, but he wasn’t entirely wrong.  Considering he was making his first start against the defending world champions from Kansas City, there was a lot to like in our first glimpse of Mr. Herbert.

He began his NFL career leading the Chargers on a 79-yard, 8-play touchdown drive – Justin himself covering the last 4 yards on a scramble.  Before halftime of his first game, Justin had thrown for 195 yards and had a touchdown pass to go with his rushing touchdown.

And, he went into the locker room with a 14-6 lead.  Much more than that, no one can really ask.

His second half was less polished.  There were a few bad decisions sprinkled among his 13 throws – in particular a forced pass that led to his first career interception at the Chief 5-yard line in the waning seconds of the third quarter.

Two-and-a-half minutes after the interception, Kansas City had tied the score at 17-all, on their way to a hard-fought 23-20 overtime win (gamebook) (summary).

Beyond his numbers (and Herbert finished his first NFL game 22 for 33 for 311 yards) Justin had the look of someone who will do very well in the NFL.  He’s a smart kid (I thought they said he was a biology major!) and it was clear that he understood what he was looking at as he scanned the Kansas City pass defenses.  He delivered a good ball as well – crisp passes with good accuracy.  The LA fans should be justly excited.

Which brings us to this.  Still unable to play, Taylor will be sitting out Week Three, so Herbert will be under center for at least one more week.  Eventually, though, Tyrod will be cleared to play, and coach Anthony Lynn will have a decision to make.

Taylor is one of the good guys of the NFL.  He seems always (except when in pain as last week) to be wearing a bright smile, and to the best of my knowledge, everyone who has ever played with him is enormously fond of him.

After carrying a clipboard for his first four years in Baltimore, Tyrod came to Buffalo to be the starter, a position he held for 3 moderately successful seasons, directing them briefly into the playoffs after the 2017 season.

But, by 2018 he was holding a clipboard again – first in Cleveland and then last year he backed up Philip Rivers in LA.  Tyrod was ecstatic for the opportunity to be the starter again.  But this is now something Lynn is going to have to consider – especially if Herbert keeps doing well.

If the original plan was for Herbert to hold a clipboard for a year and soak up knowledge, then Taylor would be a more than adequate mentor to learn from.  But that genie is out of the bottle now, and there may be no going back.

The fact is that Taylor is a solid system quarterback, but no more than that.  His career record is 24-21-1 with an 89.5 lifetime passer rating.  All are solid, if not spectacular numbers.  For his career he has only had 1.4% of his passes intercepted – an excellent number.  Tyrod is serviceable, but he is not the guy to lead Los Angeles into the promised land.

Whether Herbert is that guy (Tony Romo’s endorsements notwithstanding) remains to be seen.  It is likely, though, that Herbert is already a better option than Taylor.  Yes, he will certainly make mistakes along the way.  But he will also make plays that Taylor won’t.

The more Justin plays – and, of course, the better he plays – the harder it will be to give the position back to Tyrod, who may very well be in for another season of holding a clipboard.

If Herbert struggles in his second start against Carolina, that would, of course, buoy Tyrod’s chances.  But if Justin plays as well against the Panthers as he did against the Chiefs . . .

LA’s Other QB

If there is a brewing controversy in Charger Land, the Rams have no such dilemma.  Jared Goff has never looked better.   He completed 13 of 14 first-half passes against Philadelphia, on his way to a 142.1 rating performance in a 37-19 victory (gamebook) (summary).

The eye-catching numbers coming from the Rams, though, are the rushing numbers.  With Todd Gurley moved on to Atlanta, the Rams no longer have a primary back.  No matter.  In their season opening win against Dallas, they ran the ball 40 times for 153 yards (Goff threw only 31 passes).  Last week against Philly, they ran 39 more times for a seriously impressive 191 yards (Goff again with only 27 passes).

It seems that every year more and more clubs are toying with the idea of going Neanderthal (Neanderthal teams are those teams that run more than they throw).  Two games into the season, the Rams – even with a committee approach to the running back position – seem intent on joining that throng.

Alpha Neanderthals Roll On

For 30 minutes last Sunday the Houston Texans gave as good as they got against the Baltimore Ravens.  The Ravens’ sometimes unstoppable running attack was quite throttled – held to just 44 yards (just 28 from Lamar Jackson).  Houston went into the locker room with a 200-172 yardage advantage, and might well have gone in with a 10-6 lead.

But – true to their MO – the Texans came up short on a fourth-and-one that set Baltimore up on the Houston 34 for a short touchdown drive.  Then, seven-and-a-half football minutes later, a fumble after a pass reception found its way into the arms of L.J. Fort, who returned it for a touchdown, leaving Houston with a halftime deficit (their spirited play notwithstanding) of 20-10.

Whatever hopes Houston carried into the second half were immediately crushed by football’s Alpha Neanderthals.  The Ravens opened the second half with a soul crushing 14-play, 60-yard drive that consumed 8:36.  Even though Baltimore was forced to settle for a field goal, the blueprint for the final 30 minutes had been delivered.

Jackson tossed 4 short passes during that drive.  After that drive, he would throw the ball only 3 more times on the day.  Baltimore would finish the game with 17 consecutive running plays (counting the kneeldowns at the end).  Undergirded by the relentless Baltimore ground attack, the Ravens held the ball for 18:17 of the second half, and ran away from the Texans 33-16 (gamebook) (summary).

By the final gun, Baltimore had gouged the Texans’ defense for 186 yards on 27 carries (6.9 yards per carry).

And that was just the second half.

As for Jackson, he was in for 54 of the team total 230 rushing yards.  And that’s the thing that I’m not sure people understand about Baltimore.  Yes, Lamar Jackson is a terrifying sight when he has the ball in his hands in the open field.  But the engine of this team isn’t Jackson.

Ronnie Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, Matt Skura, Tyre Phillips and Orlando Brown Jr.  The five horses of the offensive line.  They are far from household names, but may hold as much influence over the season as any quarterback or running back.  As they go, so go the Ravens.

Neanderthals No More

In their season opening conquest of Miami, the New England Patriots unveiled – along with a new quarterback – a new offensive philosophy.  They ran the ball down the Dolphins throats.  For 30 minutes Sunday night (well, for the 11:20 that they possessed the ball in the first half on Monday night), they still smacked of Neanderthalism – running the ball 13 times while throwing only 11 passes.

But, coming out of the locker room after halftime, the Patriots shook off all pretense of being a running team.  Putting the ball in Cam Newton’s hands, they watched as he threw 33 passes in the second half alone.  He also ran 6 times for 33 yards and a touchdown.  All other runners combined for only 6 other carries for a total of 2 yards.

In one of the weekends’ most entertaining games, the Patriots came up short against the Seattle Seahawks by a 35-30 score (gamebook) (summary).  On display – especially in that second half – was the mixed bag that Newton brings to the position.

In that second half – in which Julian Edelman caught 7 passes for 171 yards – Newton showed off the arm, throwing 50-yard line drives up field.  Perfectly on target when his mechanics were right.  Not so much when they strayed.

Also on display was the occasional carelessness that always seems to be a part of his game.  Especially the interception that he threw with 4:36 left in the third quarter and the Patriots trailing 21-17.

Damiere Byrd ran a quick out to the left sideline.  Newton saw him and flipped the ball in that direction.  He failed to check for the cornerback – Quinton Dunbar – who was lurking just off Byrd’s shoulder.

Even then, had it been a good pass, the most that Dunbar could probably have done was to bat it away.

But the throw wasn’t good.  Newton’s flip tailed back into the defender – looking, actually, as though it were intended for Dunbar.  The interception interrupted a Patriot drive that had reached mid-field and set Seattle up on their own 48.  Five plays later, Russell Wilson found Freddie Swain running all alone up the left sideline.  That 21-yard touchdown pass pushed the score to 28-17 and kept Newton in catch-up mode the rest of the night.

To his credit, Cam did almost bring them all the way back.  He was stopped 2 yards short of the end zone on a draw play as time ran out.  With Newton its almost always more good than bad.  For the game, he threw for 397 yards and carried a 94.6 rating.  All very good.  And on most nights, Newton and the Patriots would have been good enough to beat most any other team.  But . . .

The Newton Moment

Ever since the signing of Newton was announced, I have been dubious about the marriage of Cam and Bill.  As the second quarter began, there was another one of those moments that, again, caused me to shake my head.

The Patriots had second-and-goal from the 6.  Newton skirted right end and dove into the end zone for the touchdown that would put New England ahead 14-7.  Except that the officials ruled him down at the one – erroneously, I believe, as it looked like Newton scored.

But Cam didn’t wait to hear the officials’ decision.  In his mind, he had scored and it was time to worship at the shrine of Newton.  So, while the refs were marking the ball for play and winding the play clock.  The Patriots – following the command of Newton – were preening in front of a camera as Newton mimed pulling open his shirt to reveal the symbolic “S” that must adorn his chest (as no mere mortal could achieve the prodigious feats that Newton pulls off).

Fortunately, Newton was made aware of the fact that the game was still going on, so he was able to line the team up and run a play before the Patriots were either penalized five yards or forced to call a time out.  Cam, of course, finished what he started with a one-yard draw (the same play that would fail at the end of the game) to score the actual touchdown.

And, once again, he and the entire offense went off in search of a camera to repeat the sacred ceremony.

Always with Newton I feel it’s more about his ego that it is about the game.  It’s an oil that just will not mix well with the Belichick water.

Re-Inventing the On Side Kick

If the New England – Seattle game wasn’t the most entertaining of the weekend, then you would have to opt for Dallas’ 20-point comeback against Atlanta (summary).  The pivotal moment of that game came on an onside kick the Cowboys executed with 1:49 left in the game.

In recent seasons, the onside kick has been reduced by a series of rule changes to an all but meaningless exercise.  Until last Sunday afternoon, that is, when Dallas and their kicker Greg Zuerlein re-engineered the thing.

Instead of kicking down on the ball and trying to get a high bounce, Zuerlein laid down a bunt.  Actually, the thing resembled more of a putt.  Greg just nudged the ball forward, and he and the entire team followed along behind as it trickled slowly, resolutely toward the 45 yard line – at which point it would be a live ball.

The dumfounded Falcons – having never seen this before – didn’t know how to react.  They watched with the Cowboys and the fans on TV as the ball trickled far enough up-field for C.J. Goodwin to dive on it.

Six plays later, Zuerlein kicked the game winning field goal.

Certainly, part of the success of the ploy was that no one had ever done it before.  Atlanta didn’t know how to react.  In the booth, they pointed out that Atlanta didn’t have to wait for it to go the full ten yards.  They, in fact, could have moved in and made a play on the ball before that.

While that is true, it’s not clear that that would have made much difference.  As soon as a member of the receiving team should touch the ball, it would automatically become a live ball.  His touch would initiate a scrum for the ball that would be as likely to go to the kicking team as it would to the receiving team.

That is why I believe you will see more of this.  Whether the receiving team comes up to make a play, or hangs back and waits, at the end of the play, the kicking team will get its opportunity to fight for the ball.

Which is all you’re hoping for in that situation.

Carlson Finding His Calm

The first 3-2 pitch that Dylan Carlson saw in the big leagues was a fastball from the White Sox’ Lucas Giolito.  There were two out in the fifth inning, and Giolito brought it at 94 miles an hour.  The pitch was up, but a bit away, and Carlson skied it to fairly deep right-center field, where it was easily caught.

The most recent 3-2 pitch that Dylan saw came in last night’s sixth inning, with Dexter Fowler on first base and the Cards up 3-1.  This, too, was a fastball (delivered this time by Milwaukee’s Cory Knebel).  It was virtually in the same spot as Giolito’s fastball – and a little faster at 96-mph.  But this time Carlson wasn’t of the disposition to pull the ball.

With the relaxed, confident swing that Cards have been waiting all summer to see, Dylan sent a scorching line drive off the left-center field wall for an RBI double.

I’m not sure that there are any two swings that more dramatically show the difference between Dylan Carlson before he went back to camp and after.

The difference is clear in the numbers.  Dylan limped back to camp carrying a .162/.215/.243 batting line.  Since his return – and after driving in 3 runs last night with a home run and that double – Dylan is succeeding to the tune of .320/.333/.760.  Not coincidentally, the Cards have won 6 of the 8 games since Carlson has been back.

But the difference has been in more than the numbers.

The Dylan of summer quickly became pull-conscious, and shortly thereafter became prone to chasing pitches.  His swings became increasingly tentative and off-balanced.

The Dylan of fall has found his calm.  He is much less given to chasing breaking balls (he seems to be seeing them very well right now) and is comfortable in driving outside pitches the other way – and doing so with authority.

Even hitting late in the count doesn’t ripple his calm.  All of his at bats last night lasted at least 4 pitches, and he saw at least 2 balls each time up.

In his 27 plate appearances since returning, Dylan has hit in two- or three-ball counts 59.3% of the time (16 of the 27).  He is 6 for 15 (.400) with a walk in those at bats, with 4 extra-base hits (including both of his home runs since his return).  He is slugging .933 in deep counts since his resurrection.  He is 2 for his last 4 in full count at bats.  The major leagues as a whole hit .223/.391/.391 after ball two is thrown, and .188/.448/.326 once the count goes full.

It’s a small sample size, but the prospect who returned looks so decidedly different from the one who went down that it is almost difficult to believe that they are the same individual.

St Louis has waited through about 50 of their scheduled 60 games to find one of their young outfielders who would lay claim to a job.  They have been, effectively, waiting for a hero.

Even though the season has dwindled to the final few games, it is not too late.  Improbably – given the adversity set before them – the playoffs are still within grasp.  If Dylan Carlson has an extended hot streak in him, now is not a bad time.  He just needs to keep his calm.

Edman

Tommy Edman contributed a couple of singles to the attack, hitting a 1-0 pitch from Corbin Burnes in the third, and a 1-1 pitch from Ray Black in the eighth.  The Tommy Edman from 2019 is still very much alive and well – but only when he hits early in the count.  Before the count reaches ball two, Tommy is hitting .357 with all 4 of his home runs (and 10 of his 12 extra-base hits).  He is a .108 hitter with a .135 slugging percentage once the count reaches ball two.

Yadi

Yadier Molina rode his recent hot streak to his 2000th career hit, a clean, line-drive single off a 98-mph fastball from Justin Topa.  Yadi has 4 multi-hit games over his last 7, and is hitting .375 (9 for 24) in those games.

The landmark single came after an uncharacteristically long at bat for Yadi – a 7-pitch duel.  The fastball came on a 2-2 pitch.  Of Molina’s four plate appearances, that was the only one that reached a two-ball count.  For the season, 38.4% of Yadi’s at bats are over before the pitcher throws ball one – the highest percentage of anyone on the team with more than 40 plate appearances; and 69.2% of his at bats don’t make it until ball two.  That is also the highest percentage on the team for anyone with at least 20 plate appearances.

Fowler

Just back off the DL, Dexter Fowler looks OK at the plate, but things haven’t quite fallen in place yet for him.  He is 2 for 11 (.182) in his early at bats back.  He has, however, drawn 3 walks.

Dexter extended three of his four at bats to a ball three count.  For the season, Dex ends up in three-ball counts 31.5% of the time – tied with Brad Miller for most on the team.

Kim

Kwang Hyun Kim was the starter and winner with another solid start.  After allowing 1 run over 5 innings, Kim finishes September with a 2-0 record and a 2.01 ERA.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera is starting to string together fine outings.  He retired 4 of the 5 to face him last night, and over his last 6 consecutive scoreless innings, Genesis has allowed just 3 hits – all singles.  He has struck out 9.  He has a 1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings this month.

A Miller

When Eric Sogard poked his opposite field single against Andrew Miller, he interrupted quite a hitless streak against him.  The previous 26 batters to face Miller had gone 0-for-21 – albeit with 3 hit batters and 2 walks.  Miller has a 1.35 ERA for the month of September in 6.2 innings.

NoteBook

At 3:43, last night’s game was the longest contest the Cardinals have participated in since August 29, when it took them 4:06 to lose a 2-1 game to Cleveland.  That, of course, was a 12-inning game.  The previous longest 9-inning game came the night before – a 14-2 pounding they received at the hands of those Indians that took 3:51.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Is This the End of the Road?

To be a “glass half full” guy, you could say that – all things considered – it wasn’t that bad.  Over the course of the just concluded, season-long, ten-day, 13-game, three-city road trip, the Cardinals were outscored 63-41 and were outhit .230/.318/.414 to .201/.279/.293.  Yes, on the road trip, the Cards couldn’t even keep their slugging percentage over the .300 mark.

They hit 7 home runs over the last week-and-a-half.  There were 16 hit against them.

So, with those numbers as a back drop, you could convince yourself that you are grateful to return home having gone 7-6 on that trip.

The reality, though, is that the Cardinals missed a serious opportunity.

Ten days ago, St Louis held a 20-20 record.  They were 4 games behind the 28-20 Cubs, 2 games ahead of the 20-24 Brewers, and 2.5 games up on the 21-26 Reds.  The trip would take them through Milwaukee, Pittsburgh (14-30) and Kansas City (20-28).

At the start of the series, the Brewers ranked fourteenth in the 15-team National League in runs scored (180) and were thirteenth in OPS (.698).  Their pitching was sixth with a 4.54 ERA.  The Pirates were last in runs scored in the league (173) and in team OPS (.625).  At 5.10, their team ERA was twelfth.  When they arrived in Kansas City, St Louis found a Royals team that was fourteenth in the American League in runs scored (215), and twelfth in OPS (.702).  Their team ERA sat at 4.46, ranking ninth in the AL.

All these teams had lost their previous series.  The Brewers had lost 5 of their previous 7 games (including being no hit by the Cubs); the Pirates came into the series riding an eight-game losing streak; and the Royals had lost their previous three games and four out of five.

Slice it however you like, these were vulnerable teams.  In the thick of the playoff chase, these were teams that the Cards needed to find some way to push past if they were going to write their own ticket.  Meaning no disrespect to the Brewers, Pirates or Royals – all of whom, I believe, are better teams than their records showed – this final stretch of the season was a gift to the Cardinals.  A waiting opportunity for them to move the needle on their season.

While the Cards were going 7-6 on the road trip, the Cubs were scuffling to a 4-4 mark, the Brewers went 7-4 (including winning three of five from the Cards), and the Reds managed an 8-2 mark.

Even a 9-4 trip would have kept them marginally ahead of the Reds (2 games) and would have them 1.5 games behind the Cubs for the division lead.  As it is, catching the Cubs is now very unlikely, and the Cards are locked into a scrum for that second wildcard spot.

The question at the top of the column, though, is more literal than figurative.  A wildly successful trip could have positioned the team to claim a playoff spot without having to play one or two more games in Detroit after the season is ostensibly over.  Now – even if they win four or five from Milwaukee (which will be challenging enough) – they will still need some help from Minnesota to avoid a final roadtrip and a final doubleheader.

So, among the many questions to be answered over the next four days is, is this, in fact, the end of the road?  Stay tuned.

Martinez

To be very clear about this, there have been many thousands of people who have had a worse 2020 than Carlos Martinez.  Yes, he did contract the virus, and got pretty sick over it.  But he did recover and hasn’t lost his job or felt any significant financial impact from any of the disasters that have swirled around this year.  Lots of people are much, much worse off than Carlos.

That being said, Martinez’ season is a kind of sports metaphor for the way things have been going on a world-wide basis.  In spite of his very best efforts – and Carlos has worked extremely hard to position himself to return to the rotation – nothing has worked out for him at all.

The talented Martinez made 5 starts this season – all of them bad.  The back twinge that ended his night, probably ended his season.  Even if he is deemed healthy enough to start, I can’t imagine the Cardinals giving him another opportunity, either in what’s left of the regular season or in the playoffs.

Barring an improbable further opportunity, Carlos’ final 2020 line will read 0-3 with a 9.90 ERA.  Batters hit .348 against him this year, with a .609 slugging percentage against him.

It’s difficult to imagine someone with Martinez’ stuff ever getting batted around like that – but 2020 has been like that.  Even beyond the strangeness of the schedule, the vile rule changes, the visiting team batting as the home team, and the playing of 11 doubleheaders in about a month’s time, we have seen stuff happen in games that almost never happen.  For example:

Elledge

It is actually a fairly rare thing for a pitcher to be replaced due to injury in the middle of an inning.  In a normal season, I would estimate that this kind of thing happens about twice every three years.

When Seth Elledge came out of the pen to replace the injured Martinez, he became the fifth Cardinal reliever tasked with that challenge in about a week and a half.  As with most of the others, perhaps – in spite of being given all the time he needed to loosen up – he didn’t quite take long enough.

Over his first 11 appearances of the season, Seth registered a 2.53 ERA with a .194 batting average against.  In short order, after relieving Carlos, Seth was tagged for a homer, a walk and three doubles (not necessarily in that order).  By the time he left, an already daunting 6-1 deficit had turned into an 11-1 deficit.

When I wrote about this earlier (here, I think is the post) I detailed the previous instances of this rarity and suggested that if this is going to keep happening to us, then the Cards are going to have to start preparing somehow for this eventuality.

Molina

Yadier Molina has only hit safely in 4 of his last 6 games, but 3 of the 4 have been multi-hit efforts after he went 2-for-3 last night.  Yadi is hitting .350 (7 for 20) over his last 6 games – hits that include a home run and last night’s double – bringing his slugging percentage to .550 over that span.  His run scored last night was his fifth over the six games.

DeJong

After getting what I thought was a much needed day off (he had made 30 consecutive starts at shortstop), Paul DeJong returned to the lineup with another 0-for-4.  Paul is now 0 for his last 15, and 2 for his last 30 (.067), both singles.

During the month of September, Paul is hitting .205 (17 for 83) with just 2 extra-base hits.

DeJong finished the road trip hitting .171 (7 for 41) with no extra-base hits.  For the season, he hit .208 away from Busch (16 for 77) with 2 home runs – a .286 slugging percentage.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill still lists among the strugglers.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Tyler is now 2 for his last 22 (.091).  He is 13 for 68 (.191) this month.

NoteBook

When the Cardinals renew acquaintances with Milwaukee this evening, the Brewers will be St Louis’ fifth consecutive opponent to have lost its previous series.  The Cards have not fared well in these matchups, losing 3 of the 4 previous series.

In fact, if you are on a bit of a losing stretch, St Louis is a team you would be relieved to see on your schedule.  To date, St Louis has matched up against 7 teams that had lost the series before.  Five of those teams reversed their slide with series wins against the Cardinals.  St Louis is 12-14 in the games of those series.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Pulling a ‘Waino’

If the frustrating thing about being “tethered to the .500 mark” (as the Cardinals have been all year) is that they have consistently failed to sustain any kind of momentum and take charge of their season; then the comforting aspect of being tethered to the .500 mark is that the season has never spun out of control on them.

If it’s true that they have never won more than four in a row, then it’s also true that they have never lost more than four in a row.  While the inconsistent offense has cost this team many opportunities to turn the corner (if you will), the frequently brilliant pitching staff keeps creating more opportunities.

For so many years an anchor on the pitching side, Adam Wainwright may have never been more valuable to his team than he has this year.  Whether it’s leading his team out of quarantine, or coming up with complete games when the bullpen really needed the break, or allowing early runs in the game, but then shutting the door while the offense makes a comeback – Wainwright has been the guts of this team in all of those situations.

This has especially been true – this year and throughout his career – when pitching the game after a Cardinal loss.  Six of his 9 starts this season have followed a loss the game before.  He is 4-1 in those games, with a 2.68 ERA.

Last night, the Cardinals could have used a Wainwright start.  Coming off the 4-1 loss that broke their longest winning streak of the year, with the final games of the season slipping past them, with their final flurry of six games in five days looming just ahead, and with Dakota Hudson (and all the innings that he might have given them) now sidelined for the rest of the season, the time was ripe for a hero to step up.

The previous loss had allowed Cincinnati to tie them for the final assured playoff spot in the division, and St Louis was, perhaps, a loss away from squandering a 13-game road trip against losing teams (they were 6-5 on the trip at the time).  October was in the air, and with it came a whiff of “must-win” to the remaining games of the Kansas City series.

Yes, they certainly could have used a Wainwright game.  The problem was that Adam had just pitched the night before.  Someone from the bullpen would have to step into Hudson’s shoes and pull a “Waino.”

In spite of the fact that he hadn’t lasted more than 3 innings or thrown more than 63 pitches in any game this season, that pitcher was Austin Gomber.

Looking at times a little like a left-handed Wainwright, Gomber aggressively attacked the corners of the zone with a running 92-mph fastball, and then buckled a few knees with a looping 75-mph curve.  When his evening finally came to a close, Austin had given the Cards 6 innings of 4-hit, walk-less, shutout ball (on 76 economic pitches).  He delivered a 5-0 lead to the suddenly resurgent bullpen, and watched them carry home the much needed victory (boxscore).

The Cards are now 14-11 this year after a loss (.560), including 7-5 this month (.583).  An achievement that – in its own way – bears effective testimony to the resilience of a team that will not allow themselves to be tipped over by the currents of adversity.

It should be further pointed out that they have achieved this will minimal support from the offense.  In the 25 games after a loss, St Louis is scoring just 3.56 runs per game (hitting just .213).  In the 12 such September games, they are averaging just 3.50 runs per game, while hitting .193.  But the pitching staff – anticipated as a strength all season – has fought back admirably after most of their loses this year, to the tune of a 3.45 ERA and a .211 batting average allowed.

They have been especially effective in the games pitched this month after a loss.  Gomber’s quality start was the seventh among the 12 games in support of a 3.04 ERA.

The playoff chase boils down to one more game against Kansas City and then five against Milwaukee.  But, if this team has to bounce back after many more losses this season, how well they bounce back will hardly matter.

Sizzling Bullpen

The games have all been against Pittsburgh and Kansas City, but St Louis has, nonetheless, won 5 of their last 6, led by a nearly bulletproof bullpen.  In his first game off the injury list the night before last, Giovanny Gallegos was touched for a run – the only run allowed by the bullpen over its last 6 games and 17.1 innings (0.52 ERA).  They have given just 6 hits in those innings, only 1 of them (the double allowed by Gallegos) for extra-bases.

They couldn’t have picked a better time to catch their second wind.

Cabrera

Out to handle the eighth, Genesis Cabrera turned in yet another strong outing.  In 11 September games (11.1 innings) Genesis holds a 1.59 ERA.

Cabrera has also been among the very effective pitchers after a loss.  He has now thrown 6 innings in those 25 games, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits.

Woodford

His streak of six consecutive games allowing a home run now broken, Jake Woodford has made significant contributions this month – especially in games after a loss.  He pitched the ninth last night, but is usually asked for multiple innings.  He has pitched in 3 of the 12 September games after a loss, allowing just 2 runs in 6.1 total innings.

Carlson

With the first 3-hit game of his career, Dylan Carlson flipped his narrative, a bit, from struggling prospect to a kid starting to put some things together.  He now has multiple hits in 2 of his last 5 games, going 6 for 17 (.353) in those games.  Four of the six hits have been for extra-bases (2 doubles, a triple and a home run).

Wong

With two hits last night, Kolten Wong pushed his average up to .300 for the month of September (24 for 80).  He’s hitting .297 (11 for 37) this month in games after a loss.

Edman

With last night’s 0-for-3, Tommy Edman’s nine-game hitting streak came to an end.  It was a fairly quiet streak, as he managed multiple hits only once.  Still, he hit .313 (10 for 32) during the 9 games.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did end his 22-at-bat hitless streak with a single in the last game against Pittsburgh – and followed that up with a home run in the next game.  But Matt still hasn’t really turned the corner.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Matt is just 2 for his last 29 (.069), and is back down to .186 (11 for 59) for the month.

Carpenter is just 11 for 62 (.177) in games after a loss this year.

NoteBook

Dating back to the first game of the September 10 doubleheader against Detroit (a 12-2 victory), the Cardinals had trailed at some point in 15 consecutive games until last night.

After making 30 consecutive starts at shortstop, Paul DeJong sat out last night’s game.  His streak had been (by far) the longest of any Cardinal at the same position.  The new longest streak is just 4 games, shared by Yadier Molina at catcher and Paul Goldschmidt at first.  To be clear about this, Goldy has, indeed, started every game this season, but has been the DH for a couple of them.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Where Has All the “Slug” Gone?

Of course, the 1-0 fastball is not assured.  1-0 is still early enough in the count that most pitchers aren’t afraid to come back with a breaking pitch.  That being said, if you’re a pitcher who has a mid-nineties fast ball and you’re behind in the count 1-0, you’re probably a little more likely to come back with that fastball.  If you opt for the curve or the change, then it’s possible that you might try to be a little too perfect with it, trying not to go behind 2-0.

Whatever the approach, the 1-0 pitch is one of those that major league hitters generally look forward to.  Across all of baseball (numbers found in baseball reference), batters are hitting .352/.357/.641/.998 on that 1-0 pitch.

Would it surprise you to learn that of all major league teams, your St Louis Cardinals have baseball’s worst OPS on this particular pitch?  If you’ve been watching this team, I suspect that this wouldn’t surprise you at all.  At .731, they are more than 200 points below the league average on this count, and 30 points behind the next-worst team (Arizona at .761).  They are also last in slugging percentage (.434) on that pitch.  Anytime a hitter is ahead in the count, the major league average slugging percentage sits at .508.  Cardinals ahead in the count slug .426 (fourth worst in the majors).

What does this mean?  Let me answer that with two pitches from last night’s game.

Leading off in the first inning, Kolten Wong took the first pitch of the game for a ball.  Kansas City starter Carlos Hernandez came back with the 1-0 fastball, up a little and over the outside part of the strike zone.  Wong took it the other way, but didn’t really drive it, hitting a looping little fly to left.

Now, it’s the eighth inning.  Paul DeJong is up with two outs.  This time the count is 2-1, but the concept is the same.  A fastball count, and looking – one might assume – for something to drive.  Jesse Hahn – now on the mound for the Royals – gives Paul the fastball at about 94 mph on the upper, outside corner of the zone.  DeJong also goes the other way, but with no authority, his lazy fly ball to right closing out the inning.

It’s a trend you almost can’t help but notice.  As a team, these guys can turn reasonably well on the inside fastball.  But that outside fastball – especially in a fastball count – has been repeatedly frustrating.

Addressing the media after last night’s 4-1 loss (boxscore), manager Mike Shildt talked about the offense and it’s missing “slug.”  As of this morning, St Louis’ season-long slugging percentage sits at .374, the fourth worst in baseball.  Only Pittsburgh’s 46 home runs are fewer than St Louis’ 48.

As far as approach goes, there’s nothing wrong with the opposite field strategy.  Baseball’s elite sluggers can effectively pull the outside fastball, but even they will – more often than not – take it the other way – and to good effect.

Across all of baseball, batters hitting the ball to the opposite field are slashing .318/.314/.501/.815.  When the Cardinals hit the ball the other way, they slash .253/.243/.398/.640.  They have 4 opposite field home runs all year.

I hope you are understanding that I don’t present this as “the answer.”  The season-long hitting issues that have plagued this team are a complex question involving a lot of moving parts.

But if you’re wondering where the “slug” has gone, this is one place that it is definitely missing.

Fading Offense

After finishing with just 6 hits last night, the Cardinal team batting average sinks to .229 for the month of September.

Molina

Yadier Molina was the only Cardinal with multiple hits last night – he had 2.  Things may be starting to turn a bit for Yadi, who has two hits in two of his last 4 games – a span in which he is 5 for 13 (.385) with a home run.

Yadi got his hits in spite of being behind in the count both times.  As the most aggressive swinger on the team, Yadi as almost always behind in the count (as he was in 3 of his 4 at bats last night).  For the season, Molina ends an at bat behind In the count 40.3% of the time – the highest of any Cardinal regular.

Wong

Kolten Wong has recently been playing through a muscle issue in his side.  How much that injury is affecting his game is difficult to divine with any accuracy, but his production at the plate has fallen off.  He is 1 for 12 (.083) over his last 4 games.

DeJong

Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul DeJong is now riding an 0-for-11 streak, part of a larger .077 streak (2 for 26) over his last 8 games.  Both hits were singles.  Back in the second inning of the September 11 game against Cincinnati, DeJong lined a double against Luis Castillo.  That was his last extra-base hit – 44 at bats ago.

Paul is now at .215 for the month (17 for 79).  He has 2 extra-base hits this month, that double and a home run (off the Cubs Colin Rea), that was 64 at bats ago.

Paul made his thirtieth consecutive start at shortstop last night – thirty games that have accrued over the last 26 days.  When you see a guy whose bat is starting to look slow, and you notice that he plays every day, it’s hard not to wonder if fatigue is part of the issue.

O’Neill

The struggles continued for left-fielder Tyler O’Neill.  Hitless in 2 at bats before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, Tyler is hitting .135 (5 for 37) over his last 15 games.  He is down to .197 (13 for 66) for the month.

Carlson

Recently returned to the big-league scene, top prospect Dylan Carlson has had some encouraging moments.  But mostly, the struggles have continued.  Dylan was 0-for-3 last night, and is 1-for-10 over the last 3 games (with 5 strikeouts).  He is 3 for 14 (.214) since his recall, and 3 for 20 (.150) this month.

Webb

Last night’s contest did feature another excellent performance from Tyler Webb, who came in with the bases loaded and extinguished that threat in the sixth.  He then added a perfect seventh.

Over his last 12 games (13 innings) Tyler has surrendered 1 run on only 11 hits (10 singles and 1 double), while walking 3 and striking out 12.  He has an 0.69 ERA over those games, with a .229/.269/.250 batting line against.  His ERA for September is down to 0.84 (10.2 innings).  He has stranded all of the last 9 runners he has inherited.

During his outing, Webb struck out Bubba Starling on an 0-2 pitch, and then retired Nicky Lopez on an 0-1 pitch.  Tyler may not seem imposing on the mound, but he is nasty to deal with if you fall behind in the count.  Twenty-four batters have now hit against him from behind.  They have two singles to show for their efforts.

Gallegos

Erstwhile closer Giovanny Gallegos came off the injured list and got roughed up for a run in his two-thirds of an inning.  It’s been a tough September for Gallegos, who has allowed, now, 6 runs in 4 innings.  The 23 batters he’s faced in September are celebrating to a .316/.435/.526 batting line.

Even though he’s been away for awhile, true to form, Giovanny did not pitch from behind.  Only one of the five batters he faced worked his way ahead in the count (Maikel Franco managed a 7-pitch walk).  For the season, Gallegos has faced 47 batters.  Only 9 have hit ahead in the count against him.

Elledge

Seth Elledge came in to retire the last batter.  Seth is up to 6.2 innings this month, with a 1.35 ERA.  Batters only have 4 hits against Seth, and are hitting .182 against him this month.

NoteBook

With another opening game loss, the Cards have lost the first game of four straight series, six of the last seven, and eight of the last ten.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Surviving Pittsburgh

If any of you are waking up this morning relieved that the Cardinals managed to make it out of Pittsburgh with four wins, you’re not alone.  No doubt a part of you hoped that the Pirates would be easy pickings.  They came into the series with the National League’s worst record (14-34) and riding an eight-game losing streak.  They entered last in the league in runs scored (173), next to last in team batting average (.218), and last in OBP (.281), slugging percentage (.344), and, of course, OPS (.625).  On the pitching side, their 5.10 team ERA ranked twelfth in the league.  The Cards were set up to face the following “struggling” starters: Steven Brault (0-3 with a 5.06 ERA); Trevor Williams (tied for the league lead in losses with 7 to go with his 6.35 ERA); Chad Kuhl (5.50 ERA); Mitch Keller (5.06 ERA); and Joe Musgrove (0-5 with a 5.74 ERA).

But, if you’ve been watching this team all year, you know that nothing comes easily to them.

The offense finished the series scoring all of 21 runs – 7 of them unearned.  Moreover, 10 of those runs scored against the Pirate bullpen.  In 30.1 innings against the seemingly vulnerable Pittsburgh starters, St Louis was limited to 11 runs (7 earned) on 17 hits (including 2 home runs).  They drew 7 walks against them, and struck out 34 times.

Three of the starters were absolutely dominant.  Brault won the first game with a 2-hit complete game; Keller, of course, threw a no-hitter for six innings; and Musgrove added six shutout innings on Sunday, striking out 11.  Combined, the starters’ ERA for the series was 2.08.  As a team, the Cards hit .175 against the Pirates, with a combined .553 OPS.

But, as frustrating as it was watching the offense flailing against the Pirate pitching, the Pirates were almost as pesky on the offensive side of the ball.

The results on the pitching side were a lot more encouraging (and familiar).  For the series, the Cardinal ERA was a cheery 2.93, with the Pirates hitting just .182.

But in between those outs was a surprising amount of effort.  The 40 innings against the Pirates cost the pitching staff 706 pitches (17.65 per).  The Pirates laid off a lot of pitches – only swinging at 43.6% of the Cardinal offerings.  When they did swing, 44.8% of the swings produced foul balls.  And when they took, 69.4% of the time the pitch was a ball.

Of the 162 Pirates to bat in the series, 47 of them (29%) saw at least six pitches.  Over the 50 games played so far, only 6 opposing batters have extended their at bats to ten pitches or more.  Two of those have come in the last four games.

For the series, Pittsburgh batters forced an average of 4.36 pitches per plate appearance – making this series the second-most demanding of the season.  On their first trip to Wrigley Field from August 17-19, with the team just out of quarantine, the Cubs averaged 4.40 pitches per plate appearance.

Three of the four wins were by one run.  They trailed at some point in all of the games – down 4-0, in fact, at one point of the Saturday game.

So St Louis heads down the stretch a game ahead of the competitors for second place, and just 3.5 behind the Cubs for first place in the division – which is not out of sight, yet.  But they are here with a big sigh of relief.  The last weekend could very easily have tumbled them into a trailing position.

A lot of this, almost certainly, is that the Cards aren’t as good as they hope they are.  But a lot of it is the Bucs as well.  Instinctively, there is a feeling about them that they are significantly better than they’ve shown.  Maybe they can show a bit of that to the Cubs over the next three days.

Martinez

In his very busy, abbreviated start, Carlos Martinezhad 7 batters at the plate in double-play situations.  He didn’t get the DP from any of them.  Carlos throws a fair amount of groundballs, but just hasn’t had any luck.  Of the 17 batters he’s faced this season in DP situations, only 4 have hit the ball on the ground – one down the leftfield line for a double; one a weak bouncer to first that advanced the runner; and the other two resulted in force outs on the lead runner.  But Carlos has yet to get that first double play.

He is not the only Cardinal starter in this spot.

Martinez’ only strikeout of the game was Colin Moran leading off in the third.  He was caught looking.  Carlos has 12 strikeouts in his 11.1 innings this month, with 5 of them (41.7%) being called out on strikes – the highest such percentage on the team this month.

Missing for Carlos all year has been his swing-and-miss stuff.  In his Saturday start, Pirate batters swung at 27 of his 77 pitches, missing only 4 (14.8%).  For the season, his 19.9% swing-and-miss rate ranks second lowest among starters.

Ponce de Leon

Daniel Ponce de Leon started the second Friday game, finishing 5 strong innings.

His game featured 5 opportunities to shorten his inning by getting a double-play.  As With Martinez, he didn’t get one on Saturday – and, as with Carlos, after 22 opportunities, Daniel is still waiting for his first DP.

Ponce de Leon has been racking up strikeouts at a surprising rate.  He fanned 9 in his 5 innings, and has 22 in his 14 innings this month – almost all of them swinging.  Only 1 of Daniel’s Saturday strikeouts went down looking, and only 2 of the 22 this month (9.1%) have gone down the same way.  Only 15.4% of his strikeouts this season have gone down on a called third strike – the lowest rate among starters.

That makes sense, because, in general batters like to swing at the fastball, and Ponce de Leon unapologetically throws that fastball.  Pittsburgh went after 44 of the 86 pitches he threw them.  This month, he leads the rotation getting 53.7% of his pitches hacked at.

His 86 pitches, however, only got him through five innings as Ponce de Leon has been subject, recently, to a lot of foul balls.  Twenty-three of the 44 swings against Daniel resulted in foul balls.  This month, half of the 132 swings against him have resulted in foul balls.

Daniel is also the most difficult member of the rotation to put the ball in play against.  On the season, only 25.0% of the swings against him have put the ball in play.  Pittsburgh’s 44 swings only managed 9 balls in play.

Throwing strikes has been the biggest improvement in Ponce de Leon’s game his last few times out.  Fifty-seven of the 86 pitches he threw on Saturday were strikes.  Believe it or not, this month Daniel leads all starters in strike percentage at 67.9%.

Kim

Kwang Hyun Kim currently leads the entire rotation in getting that double play in DP opportunities.  After getting one of the three chances in his Saturday start, Kim is now getting the DP 28.6% of the time this year (6 for 21).

Of the 44 swings the Pirates executed against Kim, they registered only 3 swinging strikes.  For as great as Kim has been most of the year, swinging strikes hasn’t been his game.  For the season, only 17.5% of the swings against him miss the pitch – the lowest rate among the rotation.

Flaherty

As a fly-ball pitcher, Jack Flaherty is another hurler who doesn’t get helped by the double play very often.  He was 0-for-4 getting the DP on Sunday, and for the year, in 26 double-play opportunities, Jack has induced just 1 (3.8%).

On the other hand, being a power pitcher, Jack has the team’s highest swing-and-miss percentage.  Yesterday he got 20 swinging strikes from 46 swings.  For the season, batters miss entirely on 32.3% of their swings against Jack.

Efficiency is Flaherty’s next hurdle.  He threw 4.86 pitches per batter against the Pirates, and this month, each batter faced is costing him 4.63 pitches.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera scuffled a bit his first couple of games, but since then has been as dependable as the Cards could have hoped for.  Genesis pitched twice against the Pirates, tossing 2.2 scoreless with 4 strikeouts.  In 10.1 September innings, Cabrera holds a 1.74 ERA.

Command is still an issue with Cabrera.  He’s walked 9 batters this month.  Only 3 of the 10 batters he faced over the weekend saw a first-pitch strike.  For the season, he is only throwing strike one 42.5% of the time.  Only 56.3 % of all pitches throw this season have been strikes.

Genesis threw 43 total pitches at the Pirates.  They only swung at 13 of them.  Cabrera is not a comfortable at bat.  For the season, batters are only swinging at 39.2% of his pitches – the fewest of any Cardinal facing at least 50 batters this season.

As befits a pitcher averaging 13.5 strikeouts per 9 innings, Genesis has a very high swing-and-miss ratio.  The Pirates missed on 6 of their 13 swings.  For the season, 36.1% of the hacks against him come up with only wind.

Elledge

Seth Elledge also pitched effectively a couple times out of the bullpen this weekend – totaling 1.2 scoreless innings.  He now holds a 1.42 ERA over 6.1 innings this month.

Seth threw a first-pitch strike to only 2 of the six batters he faced.  It sometimes seems that the rookie tries to be too perfect at the beginning of an at bat.  This season, he is only throwing a first-pitch strike 48.8% of the time.

It doesn’t help that he can’t get batters to swing at that pitch.  None of the 6 he faced in Pittsburgh offered at his first pitch.  For the season, only 11.6% of batters have offered at that pitch.  Of all Cardinals who have thrown any amount of pitches this year, the only one with a lower rate is Max Schrock, who didn’t get any of the 3 batters he faced to chase his first pitch.

A Miller

Andrew Miller – flashing some of his old form – pitched in 3 of the 5 Pittsburgh games, tossing 3 hitless innings, striking out 5.  Over his last 7.2 innings (9 games), Andrew has allowed just 1 run and 1 hit (a 1.17 ERA with an .043 batting average).

Pirate batters whiffed on 7 of the 17 swings they took against Andrew.  This month, the 23 batters he’s faced have taken 35 swings at his pitches, missing 14 – a very healthy 40%.

Miller, this season, is throwing only 3.57 pitches per batter faced, the lowest number of any Cardinal facing at least 45 batters.  The Pirates saw only 3.64 per batter.

Webb

After being scuffed for a run on Thursday, Tyler Webb came back with a perfect inning on Sunday.  In 9.1 innings this month, Webb has an 0.96 ERA.  Over his last 11 games (11.2 innings) his ERA is 0.77.

One of Pittsburgh’s 3 hits against Webb over the weekend was an infield hit.  Tyler now leads the entire staff in infield hits allowed with 4.  Fully 26.7% of the hits off of Webb have not left the infield.

On average, Webb throws up some of the most enticing stuff of any Cardinal pitcher – especially as far as the Pirates are concerned.  They swung at 25 of his 34 pitches – an almost unheard of 73.5%.  In September, 58.3% of his pitches are being offered at – the highest rate of any member of the staff this month.

The Pirates only took 1 strike against him during the series.

Four of the 10 batters he faced over the weekend swung at his first pitch.  For the month, 35.1% of the batters Tyler has faced have offered at that first pitch.

Tyler is now up to 14 strikeouts this season – only one of them going down on a called third strike.

Gomber

Austin Gomber had a rugged 1.2 innings of relief of Dakota Hudson in the Thursday game.  He did pick up a couple of strikeouts – one of them looking.  For the season, 42.9% of his strikeouts have been of the called variety (9 of 21).  It is the highest rate of any pitcher facing more than 25 batters this year.

Among his issues that day, Pittsburgh kept extending the at bats – they fouled off 11 pitches in their 20 swings – pushing him to 5.70 pitches per batter faced.  Austin is the team leader among all pitchers facing at least 50 batters, throwing 4.52 pitches per batter.

Gant

After hovering between the active list and the injured list, John Gant picked up much in the way he left off.  He faced 3 batters and all 3 saw first-pitch strikes.  John has faced 60 batters this season, and has thrown strike one to 42 of them (70%).

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill provided a couple of clutch hits, but has been unable to sustain any consistent offensive production.  He was 2 for 15 during the series, and is now hitting .203 for the month.

Bader

As with O’Neill, so with Harrison Bader.  After going 1-for-9 against Pittsburgh, Harrison is 6 for 40 (.150) over his last 16 games.  Bader has tailed down to .208 this month.

DeJong

When someone plays every game – and Paul DeJong has started 29 consecutive games – it’s hard to tell whether its weariness or just a slump.  Regardless, Paul is in a tailspin at the plate.  He was 1 for 16 during the Pirate series, and is 2 for his last 22 (.091).  After a strong start, DeJong is now hitting .227 this month.

B Miller

Also in free-fall is Brad Miller.  Hitless in 13 bats during the series, and now 0 for his last 15, Brad is now hitting .203 this month.

As a team, the Cards are hitting just .231 in September.

NoteBook

At 61 degrees, the second game of Friday’s double-header established the lowest starting temperature of the year.  The second game of the September 14 game in Milwaukee (yes, in the dome) started in 63 degrees and was the previous low.

The entire five-game series was played in an average temperature of 65.6 degrees, making it the new coolest series of the season.  The previous series in Milwaukee had been the coolest at 70.2 degrees.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Toto, We’re Not in Foxboro Anymore

There were still 11 minutes and 6 seconds left in the second quarter of Tom Brady’s much ballyhooed debut in Tampa Bay.  On a second-and-nine play, Mike Evans inexplicably stopped running his route over the middle.  He watched as Brady’s throw soared over his head and into the waiting hands of Marcus Williams.

But the mistakes were just starting.

Forty-eight football seconds later, New Orleans was facing a third-and-fourteen.  Drew Brees launched a deep pass over the middle for Emmanuel Sanders.  Sanders was double-covered on the route, and probably would not have made the catch anyway, but Jordan Whitehead (one of the two covering) began to lose his balance – so he reached out and grabbed a handful of Sanders’ jersey – giving New Orleans a first down at the Buccaneer 6-yard line on the penalty.

One play later, the Saints were in the end zone, and ahead in the game, 14-7.

So, Brady brings the Bucs back, bringing them from their own 25 after the kickoff to the Saints 36 with 3:36 left in the first half.  There, on fourth-and-19, they brought in Ryan Succop for the 54-yard field goal that would bring them to within four point.  Blocked – and New Orleans would begin on its own 45 with 3:27 left.

By the time they reached the 2-minute warning, New Orleans had reached Tampa Bay’s 42-yard line, but they faced a fourth-and-2.  In spite of the fact that the Bucs knew that Brees might want to draw them offside, Vita Vea jumped.  With 46 seconds left in the half, Wil Lutz kicked the field goal that gave New Orleans their 10-point half-time lead.

The mistakes would continue in the second half, as two more Tampa Bay turnovers would ice the Saints’ 34-23 opening day victory (gamebook) (summary).

Now, don’t misunderstand.  The Patriots make mistakes, too.  In fact, over the years, New England has done all of those things – as have all other teams.  That being said, New England is an enormously well-coached team.  I don’t think I remember the last time the Patriots made four huge game-changing mistakes in the same game – much less the same quarter.

With no disrespect intended to Bruce Arians – who is a fine coach – Mr. Brady is likely to find the Tampa Bay experience decidedly different from the Foxboro experience in many ways.

Ready and Not Ready

As one might expect of the opening week of a season that has already featured a condensed camp – including no pre-season games – there were teams that seemed much more prepared for the first game than their opponents – or even some units over other units of their own teams.

If, for example, the Tampa Bay offense (and special teams, for that matter) seemed a bit ragged, the Buccaneer defense looked absolutely in mid-season form.  They were surprisingly confident and aggressive, considering they were not all that highly regarded and they were facing Drew Brees and one of football’s top offenses.  Drew’s 18 completions accounted for just 160 yards – one of the few times you will ever see Brees average fewer than ten yards per completion.  Drew was 5 for 11 in the second half.

Thirty-four points sounds like a lot of points to give up for a praised defense, but remember that Tampa Bay’s offense and special teams gave up one touchdown directly and set the Saints offense up for another touchdown and two field goals.  New Orleans only managed two successful offensive drives against the Bucs.

Also Ready

Also ready for opening day were the Green Bay Packers.  The Vikings bounced back in the second half and made a game of it, but the Pack dominated the first half, their 22-10 lead undergirded by a 271-97 yardage advantage and 22:45 of possession time – leaving Minnesota with just 7:15 of the first half.

Green Bay held on from there for a 43-34 win (gamebook) (summary).

It’s rare that you see domination on that level in the NFL – and even rarer to see a quality team like Minnesota pushed around like that.

New Neanderthal’s?

We have charted – over the last couple of years – the rise of Neanderthal football.  These are teams whose offensive identity is centered around the physicality of running the ball down their opponents’ throats.

One week into the 2020 season, a couple more teams took on the look of the Neanderthal.

One of those teams was Tom Brady’s old unit in Foxboro.  Under new management these days, the Cam Newton Patriots ran the ball 42 times while asking for only 19 passes from Newton’s arm in their 21-11 vanquishing of the Miami Dolphins (gamebook) (summary).

The Los Angeles Rams also took a solid step in that direction.  In their 20-17 conquest of the Cowboys (gamebook) (summary), they ran 40 times while asking only 31 passes from Jared Goff.

The trend seems to be catching on.

The Case for Balance

The season began on September tenth, as the defending Champion Kansas City Chiefs upended the Houston Texans 34-20 (gamebook) (summary).

In the contest, the Houston defense made a priority out of eliminating the big play from the Chiefs’ arsenal.  They did this about as well as any team that I have seen.  The otherworldly Patrick Mahomes was held to just 211 passing yards, and averaged only 8.79 yards per completion.

But Kansas City still won with relative ease as they unveiled their first-round draft pick, Clyde Edwards-Helaire.  Never known to take too much of a fancy to the running game, coach Andy Reid seemed to delight in watching Edwards-Helaire dart in, around and sometimes through the Texans’ defense.  Clyde finished his first NFL game with 138 yards on 25 carries.  As a team, the Chiefs ran for 166 yards on 34 carries.

This was already the scariest offense in football.  If they’ve now found balance . . .

Pitching Staff or MaSH Unit?

Perhaps the Cardinals should start a practice routine for pitchers replacing an injured pitcher.  It’s trickier business than it sounds.

Technically, a pitcher replacing an injured pitcher has as much time as desired to warm up.  The problem is that the entire game comes to a complete halt, waiting for the new pitcher to proclaim himself ready.  It’s difficult for the replacing pitcher not to feel a little self-conscious in that situation.  More times than not, they’re not completely ready to go when they say they are – and more times than not, the batting team takes full advantage.

As the Cardinals are now making a habit of losing pitchers in action, perhaps this is something that needs to be more thoroughly rehearsed.

When Dakota Hudson walked off the mound last night before throwing his first pitch if the third inning, Austin Gomber became the fourth Cardinal pitcher in the last 10 games to be suddenly summoned to the mound.  Most of those appearances have not worked out well.

The first of the pitchers to fall in the line of duty was then-closer Giovanny Gallegos.  This happened in the seventh inning of the second game of the September 10 doubleheader against Detroit.

Pitching with a 2-run lead, Giovanny walked the first batter.  Then, somewhere during Victor Reyes’ at bat, Gallegos strained a groin muscle.  He didn’t leave immediately, laboring through two more batters (both of whom singled) before he surrendered to medical necessity.  It was still a 3-2 St Louis lead when Ryan Helsley took over.  Whether he was fully loose before he proclaimed himself ready is anyone’s supposition.  But once he decided to get on with things, the Tigers went intentional walk, line drive double play, two-run homer and groundout – all enough to provide the Tigers a 6-3 win (boxscore).

Two games later, the Cards are in Cincinnati on September 12.  After six very strong innings from Hudson, Genesis Cabrera came in to pitch the seventh.  He didn’t throw a pitch.  During his warm-ups he developed issues with a nail on his pitching hand and had to be summarily replaced.  Tyler Webb came in, and navigated the situation as well as could be hoped – tossing 1.1 scoreless innings (boxscore).

The next night, the Cards lost John Gant.

The Cards were clinging to a 5-4 lead over the Reds, as John came in with a runner on first and one out.  Tyler Stephenson – the first batter he faced – bounced a single into right, moving the tying run to second – but keeping the inning-ending double play in play.

But, on his first pitch to Aristides Aquino, Gant’s groin balked, and that was the end of the night for him.

In to manage the situation came Andrew Miller – a veteran who must have done this before.  Again, his readiness for the situation is open to question.  He hit the first batter he faced, walked in a run, wild pitched home a second run.  A third run scored on a ground ball.  Cincinnati would go on to a damaging 10-5 victory (boxscore).

This brings us to last night and Gomber.  Carrying a 0.52 ERA for the season, and inheriting a 1-0 lead, Gomber was knocked around for the first time this season.  He crept back to the dugout after 1.2 innings, after surrendering 4 runs on 4 hits (including the second home run allowed to a left-hander in his career) and 2 walks (boxscore).

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 4 emergency relief appearances totaling 4.2 busy innings that saw the scoring of 7 runs (in addition to the scoring of all 4 inherited runners) on 7 hits, (2 of them home runs) 4 walks (1 of those intentional) a hit batsman and a wild pitch.  The 24 fortunate batters that came to the plate against these relievers slashed an impressive .368/.500/.737 leading to a 13.50 ERA.  The 18% swing-and-miss rate by those batters is another tip off that, perhaps, the pitchers were not sufficiently lose.

All I’m saying is that if this is going to keep happening for the rest of the year, perhaps it’s something that should be practiced.

Offense MIA

Two of those struggling appearances cost the team a late lead, setting up a pair of costly defeats.  Gomber also surrendered a lead, but it’s more than likely the team would have lost that game anyway.  With one run scored and two hits on the board, the offense was done for the day.

In losing their last two games, the Cards have managed 1 run on 4 total hits – all singles.  Even that doesn’t tell the full story.  Of the 4 hits, only Tommy Edman’s RBI single last night was actually well hit.  The others were two dribbling singles that beat the defensive shift, and an infield grounder that was deflected by the pitcher.  The Cards truly have the look of a team that could get no-hit on any given day.

Yesterday’s loss was St Louis’ seventh in its last 10 games.  The pitching has contributed to the woes.  They have a 5.87 ERA over the last 10 games (4.56 from the starters and 8.01 from the pen) – giving up 15 home runs over their last 79.2 innings.

For their part, the bats are hitting just .203 with only 7 home runs in those games.  They have scored all of 28 runs.  Manager Mike Shildt denies that the fatigue of the schedule is responsible for any of this.  Some of the hitters sound (and look) like that might not be the case.

B Miller

Brad Miller spent a good chunk of the summer hitting well over .300.  When you remember that his career average is around .240, you can’t be too surprised to find him regressing to his norm.  Over the last 10 games, Brad is hitting .194 (6 for 31) after his 0-for-3 last night.

Ravelo

After his 0-for-2 last night, Rangel Ravelo is now hitless over his last 16 at bats.

Hudson

To no one’s shock, the Cards have lost another important pitcher.  Gone for the rest of the regular season is Hudson – whose effectiveness and importance was probably second only to Adam Wainwright’s.  Since the season’s re-boot, Dakota was 3-1 in 7 starts with a 2.08 ERA and a .145 opponent’s batting average.

Gomber

While Austin has, indeed, pitched very well this season, in the month of September he has had surprising difficulty keeping the bases clear.  Yesterday was a continuation of that trend.

Of the 10 batters Austin faced last night, 4 of them came up with the bases empty.  Three of them reached – 2 singles and a walk.  Batters are now hitting .462 (6 for 13) against Gomber this month when hitting with the bases empty.  He has also walked 4 others, so their on base percentage against him is .588.

Webb

Tyler Webb was scuffed for the final run of the evening on a sacrifice fly.  The run snaps a streak of 9 straight scoreless appearances by Webb (9 innings).  He gave 8 hits and 3 walks while striking out 9 during the streak.

Although he inherited one runner, Tyler also made some of his own trouble, giving 3 hits over his 1.2 innings.  Of the 7 batters he faced, 5 of them came up with runners on base.  This is Webb’s norm.  Whether they are other people’s runners or people he’s put on base himself, 54.8% of the plate appearances against him have come with at least one runner on base.

A Miller

Andrew Miler’s outing last night was not uncommon.  He walked the first batter he faced, and then hit the next batter.  He then retired the last three without allowing a run.  Of the 17 batters he has faced this month, 10 have come up with at least one runner on base.  Those hitters are 0-for-7, with 1 walk and 2 hit batsmen.

NoteBook

Last night, St Louis dropped the opening game of a series for the third consecutive time.  Seven of their last 9 series have begun with a loss.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Maybe the Cards won’t Need a Closer again

A strange thought went through my mind this morning as I was thumbing through the numbers from yesterday’s doubleheader.  Over the last 13 (or 15) games of the season, what would happen – I idly wondered – if the Cardinals should reach the ninth inning of some game with a lead of less than three runs?  If the opportunity should ever arise that St Louis would actually have a need for a closer, who, now, is next in line for that opportunity.

Will Giovanny Gallegos make it back before the year is over?  At this moment, I kind of doubt it.  His last save came ten days ago.  Over the last ten games, St Louis has had 2 – count ‘em, 2 – save opportunities.  They even managed to hold onto one of those games.

Forty-five games into this bizarre season, the Cardinals have provided just 10 opportunities for a save.  Their varied closers have now managed to claim 8 of those saves, blowing 2, and limping into the final weeks of the season with a combined 7.71 ERA over 9.1 innings of work.  Whoever is anointed, he will be the team’s fourth closing option of the year.

Flame-throwing Jordan Hicks, of course, was supposed to inherit that role as soon as his rehab from Tommy John surgery would permit.  He opted out of the season out of concern for his underlying condition (Jordan is diabetic).

Option number two was Korean import Kwang Hyun Kim.  He scuffled to the opening night save.  It was a messy 2-run, 2-hit inning, but it was enough to clinch the victory.  That was before the virus swept through the team, forcing that now-famous 17-day hiatus in the season.

In the re-vamped season, Kim was reborn as a starter – and to excellent effect.  In one of the team’s best decisions, Kwang Hyun has made 5 post-COVID starts, going 2-0 with a 0.33 ERA.

Up next was Gallegos.  He got all of 5 save opportunities.  Through the first four (lasting all of four innings), he looked like a promising choice.  He recorded all four of the saves (although he did serve up a home run in one of them).  That home run was the only hit and run he allowed in the closer capacity.  He threw 83% of his pitches for strikes (43 of 52), needing an average of just 13 pitches per inning.  He got a 36% swing-and-miss rate (mostly on his wipe-out slider) and recorded 5 strikeouts in those innings.

The only time he struggled in the role was the night he pulled his groin.  That was the second game of the Detroit doubleheader.  Trying to hold onto a two-run, seventh-inning lead (and, remember, in doubleheaders this year, the seventh inning is the ninth), Giovanny faced 3 batters.  All of them reached – and all of them scored, albeit, after Gallegos had left the game.

Next up seemed then – and might still be, for all we know – Ryan Helsley.  He came on with the lead still at 3-2, but with runners at second and third with no one out.  In quick succession, and after an intentional walk loaded the bases, Helsley was torched for a single, a line-drive double play, and Jorge Bonifacio’s game-icing home run.  The blast put the wraps on a devastating 5-run 7th and a deflating 6-3 loss (boxscore).

I suggest that Ryan may still be the closer, because since that game he received the only other clear closing opportunity.  In the first game of the just-concluded Brewer series (which was also the first game of a doubleheader), the Cards finally eked out a run in the eighth-inning (an extra-inning, as it turns out), and Ryan was given the ball in the bottom of that inning with a 1-0 lead to hold onto.

The hope would have been that he would only face three Brewers.  He did, but with less than expected results – a walk, a strikeout and a double allowed the ghost-runner to score (remember that every extra-inning this year begins with a free-runner at second base), tying the game and leaving runners at second and third with one out for Austin Gomber.  Twelve pitches later, a flyball gave Milwaukee the victory (boxscore).

Ryan has closing-type of stuff, and became one of Mike Shildt’s most trusted relievers in last year’s playoffs.  But, in a multi-interrupted season, Ryan has only been inconsistent.  In his two closing opportunities, Helsley has faced 8 batters.  He’s given a single, a double, a home run and two walks.  Two of the four outs he has recorded came on a line-drive double play.

If I had to guess, though, my guess would be that Shildt will go back to Helsley the next time an opportunity arises.  That’s how Mike is.  Once he anoints you as anything, you have to struggle for a long, long time for him to look elsewhere.  To the question of who is the current Cardinal closer, I would have to hesitantly answer, Ryan Helsley.

Should he be?  Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?  It might be wise to throw him into some low-leveraged situations until he can sharpen his command.

Who would the other candidates be?

Well, the two others who have closed games this year, Andrew Miller (twice) and Tyler Webb (once) have done well in small sample sizes.  They could be candidates.  Shildt believes in Miller, but Andrew has also been erratic.  He has a 4.15 ERA so far.  In 8.2 innings, he has walked 3 and hit 2 others, allowing 2 of 4 inherited runners to score.

Webb has been pitching very well of late, and might be as fine a candidate as any.  Alex Reyes probably has as much pure stuff as anyone on the staff.  He has 21 strikeouts in 15.1 innings.  Alex has also walked 11 in those innings, so he’s a little scary to cast in the closer’s role.

If I had my choice, I think I would give the next opportunity to John Gant.  His command isn’t perfect (he has 7 walks through 14 innings), but he has 18 strikeouts in those innings and a 2.57 ERA. 

Gant, of course, comes with his own complications.  The last time he pitched, he limped off the mound with a groin injury of his own.  Reportedly, though, his malady was very light.  He wasn’t put on the injury list, and he is expected to be available as soon as today.

Gant has been one of baseball’s more compelling middle relievers for a few years now, and there is no reason to believe that he couldn’t dependably close games.  I think most teams would be glad to have a Johnny Gant as a fourth closing option.

Providing, of course, that he can walk to the mound.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera pitched the eighth-inning of the second game of the first doubleheader.  It was a complicated inning, as he walked one and hit another, but he struck out the other three he faced.  Genesis could also be a closing candidate.

It was just the second time this season that Cabrera had pitched on back-to-back days.  Both have been scoreless outings (2.1 innings), and Genesis has struck out 7 of the 10 batters he faced.

Reyes

I mentioned Alex Reyes earlier.  He also pitched on consecutive days in the series, walking a batter while striking out 3.  Reyes has, to be fair, been much more consistent lately.  In his last 9 innings – covering his last 6 appearances – he has given just 1 earned run on 6 hits, with 3 walks and 13 strikeouts.

B Miller

After scuffling for a bit, Brad Miller has rebounded recently.  He is 4 for 13 (.308) with a double and a home run (.615 slugging) over the last 4 games.

Edman

Moved into the leadoff spot 3 games ago, Tommy Edman has responded well.  He is 4 of 10 (.400) in his new role, and he is hitting .321 (9 for 28) over his last 8 games.  Toss in 5 walks, and Tommy’s on base percentage has been .424 over that span.

Bader

After a brief uptick, Harrison Bader is fading at the plate again.  Hitless in 5 at bats during the doubleheader, Harrison has faded back down to .231 (9 for 39) during the month.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s hot streak is also well in the rearview mirror.  After an 0-for-5 doubleheader, Carp is 0 for his last 14, and is hitting .209 (9 for 43) in September.

NoteBook

Both games of the doubleheader took only 2:01 – making them the fastest games by time of the Cardinal season.  A 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh in the second game of the August 27 doubleheader – at 2:02 – had been the fastest game.

Buoyed by Tuesday’s blowout loss, St Louis surrendered 30 runs over the five-game series – the most runs by far that they have given up in any series this year.  Previously, they allowed 19 runs in their first five-game series in Chicago.

The average temperature in the dome during those five games was 70.2 degrees, making it the coolest series by average temperature that St Louis has played so far this year.  Their second five-game trip into Chicago averaged 75.8 degrees.

This series was St Louis’ seventh of the season in which they lost the first game.  They are now 1-5-1 in those series.  They are 8-14 in the games of those series, though, so they are 8-7 after losing the first game.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.