For a few hours on Sunday evening, it looked like the home stand might be salvaged.
Part of the early season Cardinal success was built on a terrific start at home. After struggling a bit with San Diego in their season-opening series, St Louis won 11 of its next 13 home games. As the wheels began to come off in May, though, they began to struggle at home as well. A seven-game home stand against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh resulted in five losses. This week, the Cardinals’ most recent home stand started to go south as well, as they lost two of the first three games.
Then, on Saturday evening, just as another loss seemed inevitable, the Cardinals suddenly put together a four-run eighth-inning rally – capped by Jedd Gyorko’s first home run of the season – to pull out a rousing 6-3 victory (box score).
And then, on Sunday evening, it looked for a while like it just might carry over. A great start from Jack Flaherty and excellent bullpen work from John Gant and Carlos Martinez left the Cards one inning away from a 3-0 victory that would give them consecutive wins for the first time this month, their first series victory in nearly a month, and break a string of 5 consecutive losses in the third games of a series.
But, victory again proved elusive, and the talented young Atlanta team answered the Cardinals’ Saturday miracle with one of their own, earning a 4-3, 10-inning victory (box score).
In the aftermath, the bullpen found itself the focus of the discussion – and with good reason. The pen worked just 8.2 innings during the series, but gave 7 runs on 13 hits and 8 walks, their 7.27 ERA accompanied by a .361/.477/.528 batting line against.
The less frequently told story, though, was the continued offensive decline. In the Sunday finale, the Braves and their starter Julio Teheran repeatedly invited the Cards to blow the game open. Julio and his four relievers walked 6 batters, hit two more, and allowed a wild pitch and three stolen bases while their defense added a couple of errors behind them.
St Louis put runners in scoring position in 5 of the first 7 innings. At the end of the day, though, they managed just 3 hits – all singles – ending with just the three runs.
The fading Cardinal offense finished the three games against the Braves with a .192 team batting average and just 3 extra-base hits – scoring just 11 runs in the three games.
For the five-game home stand (in which they finished 2-3) they hit just .216. From the start of the losing trend, this team is hitting .233 – just .226 in the last 12 home games.
The Brave series wasn’t devoid of good news. One of the more interesting developments was the re-positioning of Matt Carpenter deeper in the lineup (he hit fifth during the series). This is not the first time something like this has been contemplated. Carpenter has batted lower before, but always without any tangible results.
This time, though, Matt responded quite well over the weekend, going 6 for 12 with a home run and 3 runs batted in against Atlanta.
The Paul Goldschmidt eruption that everyone has been waiting for has not yet occurred. Paul had no extra-base hits, and drove in just 1 run during the recent home stand. But, Paul did have seven hits in the 5 games, including a 5-for-11 performance (.455) against the Braves.
While the last 12 home games have not gone well for the Cards, Goldschmidt s hitting .354 (17 for 48) in his home games this month. Again, though, the extra-base hits and runs batted in have been conspicuously missing. His 17 home hits include 1 double and 1 home run. He has driven in 5 runs in 12 home games this month.
Of the Cardinals’ four “starting” outfielders, the only one hitting the ball right now is Harrison Bader. He went 3 for 9 against the Braves. Harrison has started 6 times over his last 8 games, hitting .440 (11 for 25) over that period. He is hitting .306 this month (15 for 49), and .322 (19 for 59) in the 26 games since he returned from a hamstring issue.
After a great start to the home stand against Kansas City, Marcell Ozuna was one of many Cardinals to dry up against Atlanta. He finished the series with 1 single in 11 at bats (.091). During the 6-16 slide, Ozuna has started every game, batting fourth and playing left field. He is hitting .172 (15 for 87) in those games.
Marcell hit well enough at Busch during his first season as a Cardinal (.299 with 13 home runs). He has been less comfortable at home this year. In his 12 home games this month, Marcell is hitting .149 (7 for 47) with just 1 home run. For the season, he is a .196 hitter at home (19 for 97), although 12 of those hits are for extra-bases, including 6 home runs.
Hitless Against Atlanta
In the detritus of the Brave series are a trio of regulars who failed to get a hit. Newly promoted to the leadoff spot, Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch in each game – the only times he reached base in the series. Otherwise, he was 0-for-10 with 5 strikeouts.
Number three hitter Paul DeJong was also 0-for-10, and eighth-place hitter Kolten Wong never reached base (except by error) in his 13 plate appearances. Toss in Jose Martinez – who made one start and went 0-for-4, and these four Cardinals combined for an 0-for-37 series.
By contrast, Yairo Munoz – who is hitting .342 (albeit in very part time play – watched every at bat of the series from the bench.
Fowler’s has been one of the missing bats this month. He is still reaching base – he’s had 13 walks and now 4 hit-by-pitches this month, but is hitting just .193 (11 for 57) in May.
Dexter is 6 for 32 (.188) at home.
With his 0-for-10 series against Atlanta, Paul DeJong finished off a hitless home stand (0-for-15). His overall hitless streak has now reached 18 at bats since a two-run, first-inning double against Texas lefty Drew Smyly on the nineteenth. Paul has slipped below .300 for the season, and is now hitting .224 (17 for 76) in May.
Paul is 5 for 37 (.135) with 1 home run and 4 runs batted in in 12 home games this month.
Kolten is now down to .226 for the season, and .171 (13 for 76) for the month. He is hitless in six of his last seven games.
The upcoming road trip – brief though it is – may be a blessing for Kolten. He has had a great season on the road (.312/.418/.558), but has done nothing but struggle at Busch, where he is 14 of 91 (.154) with only 5 extra-base hits (4 doubles and a home run).
Cheers for the Rotation
If the bullpen and the offense came up measurably short over the weekend, the efforts of the starters in those games deserves recognition. Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty each tossed quality starts at the Braves, while they combined to pitch 19.1 innings allowing only 5 runs on 15 hits and just 2 walks. The starters limited a dangerous Atlanta lineup to a 2.33 ERA and a .217 batting average.
Cardinal starters now have 9 quality starts in the last 14 games.
All season, the starters have been much more solid at home than on the road. They now have a 3.56 ERA in 28 starts in their own ballpark, against a 5.88 ERA in 24 road starts.
Few pitchers personify the radical home/road splits of the starting rotation more graphically than Mikolas. Miles has pitched at home 3 times this month, throwing quality starts in each occasion. He has walked just 1 batter in 21 innings at home in May, while posting a 2.14 ERA and a .178 batting average against.
For the season at home, Miles had quality starts in 5 of 6 starts, a 3-3 record, a 3.15 ERA and a .196 batting average against. He has walked 5 batters in 40 home innings.
On the road this year, Mikolas has had a tougher time of things, with 1 quality starts in his 5 road efforts leading to a 1-2 record, a 7.66 ERA, and a .350/.387/.650 batting line against. In 22.1 road innings, Miles has been spanked for 35 hits, including 7 home runs.
Dakota Hudson has been one of the most encouraging stories of the month. Dakota approaches his last start this month riding a streak of three consecutive quality starts. He has 4 quality starts in 5 games this month, where he holds a 3.07 ERA. Dakota has allowed just one home run in his last 6 games (35 innings) – a span during which opposing hitters are hitting the ball on the ground 64 % of the time.
Hudson also has significant home/road splits. He is 2-1 with a 3.58 ERA in 6 home starts, and 1-2 with a 5.23 ERA in 5 road games (4 starts), but that number has been modifying this month. His first two road starts in May were both impressive. He lost 2-1 in Washington on May 2, but gave the team 6 innings, allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits. He got the only win in the Texas series on May 18, going 6.1 more innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits.
Jack Flaherty also has now thrown three consecutive quality starts of increasing dominance. On Sunday night against the Braves, Jack threw six innings of 3-hit, shutout ball, walking no one and striking out 7. Flaherty has a 2.50 ERA and a .172 batting average against over his last 3 starts.
Flaherty – whose next start will be at home against the Cubs – is 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 6 home starts. He is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in 5 road starts.
Andrew Miller eventually surrendered the tying run Sunday night. It was almost impossible not to. He came in with the tying run at third and no one out. He got the first strikeout, but couldn’t get the second. Ozzie Albies won a ten-pitch duel with Miller by poking a game-tying single into right.
Miller, was, however, the winning pitcher on Saturday night, and has been steadily getting better. In 10 innings over his last 11 games, Andrew holds a 1.80 ERA and a .188/.235/.281 batting line against. He has also struck out 12 in those 10 innings.
After picking up his first save of the month on Saturday, Jordan Hicks was back to the mound in the ninth inning Sunday night. It was the first time he pitched on consecutive days this month. He retired none of the four batters he faced. Jordan was also the losing pitcher in the last game of the Texas series, when he allowed 2 runs in 1.1 innings.
Over his last three games, Hicks has now allowed 5 runs on 6 hits in 2.1 innings. The last 15 batters to face him are hitting .462. On the last 23 swings taken against the kid with the 102 mph fastball, there has only been one swing-and-miss.
Friday’s loser, Miles Mikolas – although he pitched quite well – absorbed his fifth defeat of the season, tying his career high. He lost only 4 times in all of 2018. He also allowed 2 more home runs, bringing him to 12 already this season in just 62.1 innings. He served up 16 all of last year in 200.2 innings.
Also, in the Friday game, Matt Carpenter launched a ninth-inning home run that accounted for the five-hundredth run batted in of his career – just the fifteenth of this season. Carpenter has hit at least 21 home runs a year for the last 4 years, but (because he has mostly hit leadoff) has never driven in more than 84 runs a year. This year, he is on pace to finish with 49 runs batted in. It would be his lowest total since driving in 46 back in 2012.
Sunday’s loss ended up taking 4:07 to finally unravel. It was the Cardinal’s second four hour game this season, and their longest game at home. On April 1 in Pittsburgh it took them 4:50 and 11 innings to finally subdue the Pirates 6-5.
Next up are the Phillies, who – in spite of their loss on Sunday – took two of three from Milwaukee. Over the Cardinals’ last 8 series, Philadelphia will be the sixth team that they have faced that won its previous series.