Dodgers Fall One Run Short – Again

Through most of last night’s first inning, Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright struggled to keep his pitches down in the strike zone – and the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the process of taking advantage.

With runners at first and second, Adam’s 2-1 sinker refused to sink, and Corey Seager drove it over the head of Tyler O’Neill in left for a double.  Max Muncy raced home to score the game’s first run, and Mookie Betts was headed there as well.  But a perfect throw from Harrison Bader, and an even better relay from Edmundo Sosa clipped Betts at the plate.  The inning ended one batter later.  The Dodgers had one, but might have had a few more.

Now the Cardinals were up in the bottom of the inning.  After a leadoff single from Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt fought off an inside fastball and lofted it to medium deep left field.  Dodger left-fielder Chris Taylor came on the dead run and nearly grasped the fading fly.  But the ball was in and then out of his glove, and Goldschmidt joined Edman on base.

Then, Mitch White – the Dodger’s starting pitcher – allowed Edman a running start from second as he and Goldschmidt executed a double-steal.  It was a critical advance, as it turned Nolan Arenado’s ground ball into a game-tying run-batted-in instead of an inning ending double play.

With one out in the bottom of the fourth (and the Cards up 3-1), Yadier Molina ripped a groundball past third.  As the ball bounced directly back to the left fielder, and given Molina’s below average running speed, this was going to be a single.  But Taylor (again) bobbled the ball in the corner, allowing Yadi second.

On the next pitch, White bounced a changeup in the dirt, and Yadi was at third, where he scored on a single up the middle off the bat of Sosa.

Sosa’s hit came with two outs – as did Molina’s two-run homer in the first.

Coming out of the LA bullpen in the eighth, to keep the deficit at two runs, Shane Greene left a cutter up in the zone, and O’Neill dropped it into the Dodger bullpen.

That run – St Louis’ fifth – would stand as the difference in the Cards’ 5-4 win (box score) as LA’s ninth-inning rally would come up short.  But this victory was a combination of all the little moments just described.  Had the Dodgers changed any one of the moments above, they would at least have taken this game into extra-innings (if not won the thing outright).

Now, every team – even a juggernaut like the Dodgers – has games like this.  Games that could easily have landed in the “won” column, but – for one reason or another – managed to get away from them.  For the Dodgers, though, this has seemed to happen much more often than might be expected.

One-Run Difficulties in LA-LA Land

The unchecked financial inequities that currently exist in baseball have given Los Angeles the opportunity to construct what is nearly an All-Star team.  This baseball titan is streaking towards the playoffs with an 88-52 record.  Yet this super-team now sports a 21-23 record in one run games – and an even more surprising 4-13 record in extra-inning games.  This team has had a lot of opportunities this year to make that one play that would make a difference in a tight game.  And more times than not, they have gone home losers in those games.

This, of course, is the kind of thing that can be easily blown out of proportion.  It’s common for teams to struggle in situations like this during the season, and then excel in one-run games in the playoffs.  It’s not the kind of number that should send the Dodger faithful to their ledges.

But it is the kind of small thing that can embolden the rest of the league.  Whether true or not, the perception is that if you can hang close with the Dodgers – if you can force them to make plays or pitches in tight games – you have a strong chance to take them down.

When sharing a league with a monster like the Dodgers, any glimmer of a weakness can give hope.  And the more of these tight games that they lose, the more confident the rest of the league grows.  And, probably, the more the Dodgers begin to question themselves.

Los Angeles’ final 22 regular season games include 6 against San Diego, 3 against Cincinnati and 3 against Milwaukee – although those games will be the final three of the season, and the Brewers may not have anything left to play for by then.

The Dodgers – currently trailing San Francisco by 2 games – may well have to keep the pedal down for the entire rest of the season, if they want to avoid the one-and-done Wildcard game.

A few more tight losses like last night, may assure that they end up in that game.

As to the Cards, they are now 19-17 in one-run games, and their performance there has been pretty much what you would guess from the record.  They have staggered through the season trading-off dramatic victories and heart-breaking losses without sustaining anything in either direction.

But where the Dodgers are hoping not to end up in that Wildcard game, that is pretty much the only hope left for the Cards.  And they have plenty of work to do to get there.

Sosa

Edmundo added an infield hit to his RBI single last night and has continued hot, even as the level of the competition has risen around him.  Edmundo has now hit in 10 of his last 12 games, getting multiple hits in 4 of them.  He is hitting .400 (16 for 40) in those games, and has driven in 11 runs while slugging .675 (1 double, 2 triples and 2 home runs).  At .364, Edmundo is the Cardinal’s leading hitter this month (8 for 22), and his second-half average is up to .333 (30 for 90).

Edmundo has also played in 28 of the team’s 36 one-run games, starting 21 of them.  He is 21 for 68 (.309) in those games.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado saw his seven-game hitting streak go by the board last night.  He hit .346 (9 for 26) and hit three home runs (for a .692 slugging percentage) during the streak.

Nootbaar

With his regular starts diminished, Lars Nootbaar has seen his numbers start to dive recently.  After an 0-for-3, Nootbaar is 0 for his last 8.

Bader

After a brief hot streak which saw him collect 8 hits over a 5 game span, Harrison Bader has cooled at the plate of late.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Bader is 0 for his last 10.  His second-half average has fallen to .249.

NoteBook

After scoring first in 9 straight games, the Cards have now surrendered the first run in 5 straight games.

Molina’s two-run homer stood up as his fourteenth game-winning RBI of the year.  He has increased his team-lead to two over Arenado and Goldschmidt.

The win was #182 for Wainwright, leaving the Cardinal ace 18 wins short of 200 for his career.  With his announcement that he will be coming back for one more season, this is a count-down that can commence in serious.

Waino is also up to 1993 career strikeouts.  He should reach the 2000 plateau in another start or two.

Giovanny Gallegos retired the last 2 batters, although he allowed one of two inherited runners to score.  That was only the third inherited runner (out of 25) to cross the plate against Gio.  The save was Gallegos’ fifth of the year – a career high.

UPDATE: In an afternoon contest, the Cards have fought their way to a 2-1 victory over Los Angeles.  The Dodgers are now 21-24 in one-run games, and 2.5 games behind San Francisco.

St Louis is up to 20-17 in one-run contests.  They finish the year 3-4 against the Dodgers.  All three wins were by one run.  Three of the four losses were by 5 runs or more.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Jon and Waino and Three Days of Raino?

Statistically speaking, it was actually one of the better starts of the month.  J.A. Happ actually finished five innings, in spite of everything – marking just the fourth time in seven September games that a Cardinal starter lasted at least five.  And – with 4 runs allowed – Happ’s start last night was only the third time so far this month that a Cardinal starter had allowed fewer runs than innings pitched.

A once feared rotation is now reduced to this.  On September 3, Adam Wainwright tossed a 6.1 inning gem against the Brewers (2 runs, 1 earned on 4 hits).  Two days later, Jon Lester pitched well enough to win – also against the Brewers – as he walked off the mound with a 3-1 lead after yielding a run on 6 scattered hits over 5.1 innings.

The other five starts this month? They’ve averaged slightly more than 3 innings each, totaling to 15.2 very busy innings as 24 runs (23 of them earned) have crossed the plate – the result of 32 hits (6 of them home runs) and 6 walks.  The other five are a combined 0-4 this month with a 13.21 ERA, allowing a .421 batting average and a .763 slugging percentage.  Wainwright gets the ball tonight hoping to stop a four-game losing streak.  Or at least to give the team a chance to break the losing streak.

The losing streak hasn’t helped the playoff chances, as the Cards are beginning to fade in the glare of September.  They are now 2-5 this month, 8-12 since their 6-0 road trip in mid-August, and 44-50 since May 19.  A team that plays below .500 for 58% of their season can’t truly be surprised if it misses the playoffs.

While they’ve bled the most, the rotation is hardly the only area of the team that has started September on the wrong foot.  The bullpen checks in with a 4.66 ERA to this point, which includes one very damaging blown save.  They, of course, have been taxed again by the limited innings from the starters.  Through the first 7 games this month, the Cards have asked for more innings from the pen (29) than they’ve received from the starters (27.1).

Offensively, St Louis has scored 30 runs so far this month (4.29 per game).  But half of those came in one vigorous blow-out of the Brewers last Friday – the last time the team won.  Subtract that game, and the team is averaging 2.63 runs over its previous 8 games.  This is, perhaps, more frustrating than the pitching issues, as the lineup has returned to full health while management lies awake at night wondering where they can find enough healthy arms to round out a rotation.

The difference in September, of course, is now this team is matched against other teams (Cincinnati, Milwaukee and the Dodgers) who are fighting for playoff positioning, and the gulf between those teams and the St Louis franchise grows more apparent with every series that they surrender.

And the constant game of rotation roulette doesn’t help.

Reyes

Entering the sixth inning of a two-run game, one-time closer Alex Reyes served up another home run as the Dodgers began to pull away.  But a nice thing happened.  No longer pitching in the closer’s role, Alex didn’t have to walk off the field after the homer.  He stayed and finished his inning, getting a strikeout and an easy grounder.  Being able to walk off the mound on a positive note is a baby step, but it’s a step.

Alex has still allowed a run in 11 of his last 24 games, with a 7.17 ERA over those 21.1 innings.  His second half ERA has dropped to 6.41.

The home run he allowed was the first off his four-seam fastball this season.  The hanging slider has been his most victimized pitch – accounting for 4 of the 7 home runs allowed.

Whitley

Rising amidst the chaos of the late-season bullpen is Kodi Whitley – newly minted as a strike thrower.  With two-thirds of an inning last night, Kodi has made 5 appearances since his recall, allowing no runs over 6 innings while giving just 3 hits and 2 walks.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill finished with three hits for the second time in three games.  His September is off to an excellent start.  Seven games into the month, and O’Neill is holding a .360 batting average (9 for 25) and a .720 slugging percentage (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Two of Tyler’s hits came off the fastball – a pitch that he has always hit well.  His most impressive at bat, though was a nine-pitch, third inning contest against Evan Phillips that ended with Tyler flipping an 84-mph slider into left-center and hustling it into a double.

O’Neill’s growth against the slider – a pitch that troubles almost all hitters – has been notable, but it’s been most apparent on sliders in a “Goldilocks” range – neither too fast nor too slow.  The hard sliders that zip in at 86 mph or higher still bedevil Tyler.  He is 9 for 43 (.116) against those pitches, with 21 strikeouts in those 43 at bats.

When the slider floats over too slow, it’s something of a problem – but less so.  A slider under 80 mph has only defined 7 at bats for O’Neill so far this season.  He has only one hit – but that was a home run.

But in between has become his sweet spot.  O’Neill is now 17 for 55 (.309) with 4 doubles, a triple, and 5 home runs – a .691 slugging percentage off that “just right” slider.  Of the 36 times he’s put one of those pitches in play, Tyler has achieved an exit velocity of over 100 mph 12 times.

Edman

After surviving both Milwaukee’s Adrian Houser and LA’s Max Scherzer, Tommy Edman’s six-game hitting streak came to a halt last night.  Tommy hit .320 (8 for 25) and slugged .520 (2 doubles and a home run) during his streak.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter made his second consecutive start, spelling Paul Goldschmidt at first one night after doing the same for Nolan Arenado at third.  It didn’t help.  Hitless in 4 at bats, Matt is now 0 for his last 26.  He is down to .102 (5 for 49) in the second half.

Retired twice on fastballs, Matt is 1 for 21 since the break against the four-seamer.

Eliminations

When Cincinnati clipped Chicago last night, it officially and mathematically eliminated Pittsburgh from all playoff considerations.  They are the first NL Central team to be thus eliminated.  This also means that the Pirates can no longer finish second in the division.  The highest they could mathematically climb would be third.

NoteBook

Last night’s loss was number 100 in the career of J.A. Happ.  He is 131-100 lifetime.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

How Would They Respond?

How would they respond?

Losing games happens in baseball.  No one wins (or loses) them all.  And after each loss, the question comes to mind – how will they respond?

And, if that’s true after any garden-variety loss, it’s an even more informative question after the kind of heart-breaking loss delivered on Sunday.  How would they respond?

This is something that Adam Wainwright has talked about several times this season – particularly because he always seems to be pitching after a loss.  He has mentioned a few times how the intensity picks up, and how he feels the urgency to snap the losing streak.  And Waino is the established authority on the subject.

Last Friday, as he and Molina celebrated victory in their 300th joint start, they were also – once again – halting a losing streak before it truly began (the Cards had been battered 12-2 by Cincinnati in the second game of a double-header in their previous game).  Of Wainwright’s 27 starts this season, 11 have followed losses. (It seems like it should be more than that, doesn’t it?) St. Louis is 9-2 in those games.

Moreover, the Friday victory gave the Cards an even 900 wins-after-a-loss this century.  89 of those wins have been credited to Wainwright.  If you can imagine, two decades into the new century and one pitcher has delivered one tenth of all this team’s after-a-loss victories, you begin to understand how important Adam has been to this organization.

What I’m looking for in this team is that same kind of push-back – for some sense of urgency to stay out of the kind of losing streaks that can push you out of contention.

Throughout a problematical first half, this was one of their issues.  St Louis went into the break carrying just a 44-46 record and going 21-25 after a loss.  At this point, there was a possibility that this team might be the first Cardinal team this century to finish below .500 in games after a loss (and they still could be).

While things haven’t necessarily felt better in the second half, they have improved more than you might think.  After they pushed Milwaukee around last Friday, this team was 25-18 overall in the second half, including 13-5 after a loss.  In fact, they had won 5 straight and 8 of 10 after a loss.

When they carried their 5-1 lead into the ninth inning on Sunday, it certainly seemed that they were about to improve to 26-19 in the second half, and 14-5 after a loss.  But as this team has demonstrated so often this season, it’s dangerous to trust them.

After another late melt-down cost them a series win against Milwaukee, they were swept easily to the side in their first contest against Los Angeles (box score).  And suddenly, they are riding a three-game losing streak and starting to slide behind all of the other contenders for the last playoff spot.

As they have all season, this team is succumbing to the irresistible pull of the .500 mark.  Nineteen games ago a confident bunch of Cardinals returned home from a 6-0 road trip.  They were 5 games over .500 at 61-56.  They were 4.5 games out of the final playoff spot, and had crept close enough to Milwaukee (10 games) with enough games left against them (13) that a late run at the division title wasn’t totally out of the question.

St Louis has gone 8-11 since then, including losing 4 of 6 against the Brewers – who they now trail by 13.5 games.  They have tilted back to just 2 games above the .500 mark – although, amazingly, they have actually picked up a game in the wildcard chase, pulling to within 3.5 games of San Diego (although they now trail three teams in that chase).

For all their inability to gain any traction, the opportunity is still there before them.  But they will need to flip the “urgency” switch pretty soon.  Some of the other contenders (San Diego, Philadelphia, New York) are starting to rouse themselves out of their temporary torpor.  The window won’t stay open much longer.

The defending champions are in town for three more games, and tonight the Birds will have yet another chance to respond.

Goldschmidt

On an evening when the Cardinal bats were mostly silenced, Paul Goldschmidt snapped out of a mini-skid with three singles.  After a terrific August, Paul is off to an outstanding start through the first six games of September.  In his first 24 plate appearances this month, Paul has 4 singles, 2 home runs and 4 walks – a .300/.417/.600 batting line.  Goldy is enjoying a .326 batting average (59 for 181) and a .586 slugging percentage (12 doubles, 1 triple, 11 home runs) in the season’s second half.

In 20 games after a loss in the second half, Goldschmidt is hitting .386 (32 for 83) with a .735 slugging percentage (9 doubles, 1 triple and 6 home runs).

Edman

Tommy Edman’s baby six-game hitting streak has survived the gems thrown against the Cards by Milwaukee’s Adrian Houser on Saturday, and the Dodger’s Max Scherzer yesterday.  He is hitting .320 (8 for 25) during the streak, with a .520 slugging percentage (his hits include 2 doubles and 1 home run).

This streak is part of a much longer hot spell by Edman, who has now hit safely in 19 of 21 games (including 11 multi-hit games).  Edman is hitting .360 (32 for 89) in his last 21 games.

Carlson

Dylan Carlson has seen his averages on the decline recently.  Hitless in 4 at bats yesterday, Dylan is 3 for his last 17 (.176), and his average for the early month is down to .238 (5 for 21) with no extra-base hits.

Carlson has started 16 of the 20 second-half games after a loss, hitting just .231 (15 for 65) in those games.

Carpenter

With his hitless game yesterday, Matt Carpenter’s current hitless streak reaches 22 at bats with 9 strikeouts.  Matty is down to .111 (5 for 45) in the season’s second half.  Two of the hits are doubles, so his second half slugging percentage sits at .156.

Knizner

For all of the fact that he backs up Yadier Molina, Andrew Knizner is getting enough at bats that we can start to hope to see a little offensive up-tick from him.  He was hitless yesterday, and is 13 for his last 97 (.134) with 3 doubles and 1 home run (.196 slugging percentage).

NoteBook

The crowd of 43,575 was the largest to see the Cards in person since July 3, when 48,182 assembled in Colorado.  It was the highest attended home game of the season, eclipsing the 41,412 who came out on a Thursday evening to see the Cards beat the Cubs 3-2 on July 22.

The team slugging percentage – after a brief stay above .400 for the season – has slipped back to .398.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Oh, Mike, I Thought We Had This Understood

The last time (before yesterday afternoon) that Alex Reyes occupied the closer’s role for the St Louis Cardinals was last Sunday (August 29) in Pittsburgh.  And the Pirates made short work of him.

The Cards scored twice in the fifth to forge a 3-1 lead, and the relief effort in front of Reyes (by Luis Garcia, T.J. McFarland, and Giovanny Gallegos) was about as flawless as could be hoped.  They combined for 3 innings, allowing just one base-runner on a walk.  Now it was Reyes.

It took the Pirates 18 pitches.  A walk, a strikeout, a walk, a three-run homer and the Pirates – with nothing to play for – forged a split of a four-game series that was critical for the Cards.

That home run was finally the catalyst that re-scripted the late inning bullpen assignments, but the truth is that it has been a long, long time since Alex Reyes has been an effective reliever.

Alex began the season as untouchable as any closer in the game.  Thirty-six games into his season, he had put up 39.2 innings with an 0.91 ERA and a .134 batting average against.  He was 20-for-20 in save opportunities.

His season turned sharply in Colorado on the Fourth of July.  He entered the bottom of the ninth inning of a 2-2 game and quickly and easily retired the first two batters.  He then lost the game on two singles sandwiched around a wild pitch.

By itself, not that big a deal.  These things happen.  But the next night it happened again.

This time it didn’t cost the Cards a game – they took a 5-1 lead against San Francisco into the ninth inning before turning the contest over to Reyes – who closed out the win, but only after giving up two runs on two hits, two walks, and another wild pitch.

Two outings later – on July 20 – Alex suffered the first blown save of his career with a ninth-inning meltdown against the Cubs.  It was a 6-1 Cardinal lead when he came in, but the bases were loaded with no one out.  Over the course of 30 agonizing pitches, Reyes was bled for two walks, a single and a game-winning double.  He took the loss after allowing all three of his inherited runners to score, and three more of his own in a third of an inning before he was replaced.

From that point on, he was damaged goods as a closer.  The ninth inning had gotten to him.  Characteristically, it took manager Mike Shildt a longer time than necessary to figure this out.  By the time he blew the save against the Pirates, Alex had blown 3 of 5 save opportunities – and at the most critical time of the season.

For the last week, the closer’s mantle has fallen to Gallegos.  In the interim, Reyes has appeared twice for one inning each time in low-leverage moments.  Until yesterday.

A stumble by eighth-inning man, Genesis Cabrera, set yesterday’s disaster in motion.  Entrusted with a hard-earned 5-1 lead against division leading Milwaukee, and with a chance to take two of three from the Brewers, Cabrera struck out Jace Peterson, the first batter he faced.  There followed a double off the bat of Eduardo Escobar and walks to Avisail Garcia and Lorenzo Cain.  The bases were now loaded and Rowdy Tellez represented the tying run.

Closer Gallegos was rushed into action, being asked to deliver a five-out save.  He would get only three.

After wiggling out of the eighth with no damage allowed, the Brewers immediately fell upon Gio in the ninth.  A double from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a single by Luke Maile turned it into a 5-2 game.  Gallegos set down Luis Urias on strikes, but a double by Peterson and a walk to Escobar re-loaded the bases, and ended the night for Gallegos.

Who to turn to now?

As Shildt tells it, it was a no-brainer.  Reyes – possessor of elite “stuff” – was, in his mind, the obvious choice.  Over his previous 23 games – mostly in high-leverage situations – Alex had served up 20 runs (15 earned) in 20.1 innings.  That, apparently, was not a part of the equation.

Two pitches later, and pinch-hitter Daniel Vogelbach was circling the bases to the rapture of both the crowd and the Brewer bench.  From his post-game comments, Mike made it pretty clear that he would make that same choice again.

Repeatedly during this disappointing season, Shildt has reminded us that the players are not automatons.  This observation is accurate – they are human like the rest of us.  But for some reason, Shildt continues to manage them like they were automatons.  In an earlier discussion, I likened his handling of the team to managing a Strat-O-Matic team (for those of you who are familiar with this baseball simulation).  In the game, the card represents the player, and it is what it is.  Whatever his card says he can do, that’s what he can do – and “he” performs with no memory of anything that went on in previous games.  For a card, there can be no emotion or jitters to overcome.  The card only lives in the present dice roll.

Human beings, like Alex Reyes, are very different from Start-O-Matic cards.  Their confidence can be damaged.  The weight of the moment can grow too large for them.  They can begin to think too much – or too little.  They start to try too hard.  The ninth inning can get into anyone’s head – and it has clearly gotten into Alex’ head.

Mike has to see this and understand what’s happening.  You can stick with a struggling player at any other position.  But you can’t struggle in the ninth.

I had thought that Mike had figured that out.

Lester

Picked up at the deadline, Jon Lester’s first few appearances in a Cardinal uniform were nothing to get excited about.  His last three starts have been surprisingly effective.  Jon – who would have been the winning pitcher on Sunday (box score) – has now given us 16.2 innings of 1.62 ERA baseball over those recent starts.  He is 1-0 in those games, but could have been 3-0, as Jon has been victimized twice by an increasingly leaky bullpen.

Kim

At one point this season, Kwang-Hyun Kim made four consecutive quality starts for this team.  But on July 28, his start was abbreviated as he started to suffer more elbow issues.  There has followed another short start – a brief stay on the injured list – a briefer stay in the bullpen upon his return – and then two more brief starts.  The last of these came in the 4-0 Saturday loss in Milwaukee (box score).  Kwang-Hyun didn’t make it out of the second inning.

Kim’s season is starting to quickly unravel.  Over his last 5 games – four of them starts – he has lasted just 15 innings, giving 12 runs on 19 hits and 7 walks.  He is 0-2 in those games with a 7.20 ERA, a .322 batting average against, and a .593 slugging percentage allowed.

Bader

In spite of the fact that they were completely stymied by Adrian Houser in the Saturday game, the Cards still finished the series with 20 runs scored and a .255/.339/.481 batting line.

In the middle of much of the offense was Harrison Bader, who seems to be emerging from a fairly protracted slump.  Five for 13 on the series, Harrison has now hit safely in 3 of his last 5 games, with all three of them being multi-hit games.  Bader is hitting .421 (8 for 19) and slugging .789 (1 double and 2 home runs) while driving in 6 runs over the 5 games.

One of Bader’s hits was an infield hit.  It was his tenth infield hit of the season’s second half – 22.7% of his hits.

Harrison is the hardest of the Cardinal regulars to double-up.  Five times over those last 5 games, Bader came up with an opportunity to ground into a double play, but he’s avoided that DP every time.  For the season, Harrison has bounced into 3 double-plays in 66 opportunities – just 4.5%.  Since the break, he’s hit into 1 in 42 opportunities – 2.4%.

It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but Bader – with runners at second and third and one out in the fourth inning – gave his team the lead on Sunday with a grounder that just crept up the third base line for a two-run double.  Bader has been better in that situation than you might guess.  He has driven home that runner from third 11 times in 16 chances this season (69%).

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill looked for all the world like he had iced the Cardinal victory with the two-run homer that pushed the lead to 5-1.  Tyler went 4 for 11 (with 2 home runs) during the Brewer series.  He has hits in 5 of his last 7 (3 of them multi-hit affairs).  He is hitting .360 (9 for 25) and slugging .720 (1 double, 1 triple and the 2 home runs) in those games.  He is hitting .333 and slugging .722 in the early days of the month.

Grounding into 1 double play in 27 chances since the break, Tyler has been nearly as difficult to double-up as Bader.  He is bouncing into the DP just 3.7% of the time in the second half.

Of all the Cardinal regulars, Tyler still has the highest swing and miss rate – he’s at 34.3% for the year.  Against Milwaukee he missed on 14 of his 28 swings.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado left Milwaukee riding a little six-game hitting streak.  He is 8 of 23 during the streak (.348), with 3 of the 8 hits being home runs (a .739 slugging percentage).  During the early days of September, Nolan is hitting .316 with a .789 slugging percentage.

Sosa

Edmundo Sosa hit one of the 7 home runs the Cards hit over the three games, and finished the series 3 for 10.  Edmundo is off to a .308 start for the month, with a .538 slugging percentage.  In the season’s second half, Sosa is hitting .321 (26 for 81) and slugging .531 (2 doubles, 3 triples and 3 home runs).

NoteBook

In the Saturday shutout, the Cards’ streak of scoring first in 9 straight games came to an end.

At 4:08, the Sunday game was the longest played by the Cards since it took 4:09 to edge the Cubs 3-2 on July 21.  That was a 10-inning game.  It was the longest 9-inning game for the team since a 5-4 loss in San Diego on May 14 also took 4:08.

At 33,845, the crowd was the largest for a Cardinal game since 34,431 came out to watch the August 22 game against Pittsburgh.  It was their largest road crowd since 35,784 showed up in Kansas City on August 14.

With the roof closed for the first two games, the average temperature for the series – at 74.7 degrees – was the most temperate St Louis has played in since they played two games in Wrigley on an unusually cool July 9 & 10.  The temperature for both of those games was just 71 degrees.

St Louis has now won just one of its last 6 series.  They are now 1-5 when they play rubber games on the road.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Homering for the Cycle – With a Couple Left Over

For all the complex numbers I dig up here, if you were to habitually refer to just one metric to determine the difference between victory and defeat, that number would be the RISP number – how the teams did with runners in scoring position.

Sometimes you just don’t get RSIP opportunities if you run into a dominant pitcher.  Some days you do terrible in RISP opportunities, but win anyway – through some combination of circumstances.  But the simplest way to understand this game is to see who took advantage of their opportunities once they’ve advanced a runner as far as second base.

Of course, you could also hit six home runs in the game.  That simplifies things as well.  Even then, though, the “when” of the home run can still make a substantial difference.

Last night – as the Birds launched 6 home runs in a game for the sixth time this century – they also went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position.  Those hits included Harrison Bader’s three-run homer and a grand slam off the bat of Yadier Molina (who added an exclamation point to his historic start catching pitcher Adam Wainwright) as the Cards homered for the cycle (with a couple home runs left over) in a 15-4 thrashing of the first place Milwaukee Brewers (box score).

This was the first time in five years that St Louis has collected a six-pack of home runs.  The 2016 team did it twice (on April 15 against Cincinnati and June 26 against Seattle).

Tellingly, five of the Cards’ six six-homer games have come on the road – two of them now in Milwaukee.  They were in Milwaukee the first time they hit six in a game this century on April 9, 2000.

To add to the statistical symmetry of the sixth, six-home run game this century on the night Wainwright would make his first start after his fortieth birthday – which happened to be his 300th with long-time battery-mate Molina, the Cards ended up with 15 or more runs for the fifteenth time this century.  The last of those was a little over a year ago – September 1, 2020 in a 16-2 win in Cincinnati.  This was only the second time in Waino’s 353 career starts that he was backed with 15 or more runs.  He started against Atlanta on August 22, 2008 where he sailed to an easy 18-3 win.

As to that runners-in-scoring-position number, in their 69 victories this year the Cards are now slashing .302/.390/.552 (a .942 OPS) when hitting in RISP situations.  Their opponents in those 69 wins are at just .164/.278/.238 (a .516 OPS) in their chances.  In the Cardinals’ 64 losses, they are just .194/.282/.254 (a .535 OPS) in RISP chances, while their opponents have gone .292/.413/.497 (a .911 OPS) in their chances.

A lot of times it really isn’t any more complicated than this.  Get the big hit and you win.  Getting a lot of home runs helps, too.

Bader

Harrison added a couple of singles to his important home run.  Bader now has 2 three-hit games in his last three contests.  His six hits (including 2 home runs) in his last 11 at bats has pushed his average back up to .251.  Harrison – whose strikeouts are way down this year – has gone four games without a strikeout.

Bader – who was 2-for-2 in RISP chances last night – has been hitting .333 (14 for 42) with runners in scoring position during the season’s second half.

Arenado

Frustrated at the plate for much of the month of August, Nolan Arenado (who hit two of last night’s home runs) is starting to find his rhythm.  Nolan now has hits in four straight games, getting multiple hits in two of them.  He is 6 for his last 15 (.400) with 3 home runs (all hit in his last two games) for a 1.000 slugging percentage.

Sosa

Coming off a very strong August (.364/.453/.618) Edmundo Sosa shows no signs yet of cooling off.  He added a single and a home run last night, and has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7, with 3 of those being multi-hit games.  With a .440 batting average during those games (11 for 25) and an .880 slugging percentage (1 double, 2 triples and 2 home runs), Edmundo has been as hot as anyone in the lineup.  Sosa has scored 9 runs and driven in 9 over those last 7 games. 

His hot streak has pushed him to a .333 average in the season’s second half (25 for 75) with a .560 slugging percentage (2 doubles, 3 triples and 3 home runs).

Wainwright

All of the offense stole some of the spotlight from the inexpressible brilliance of Adam Wainwright, who dominated again.  August’s NL pitcher of the month (when he went 5-1 with a 1.43 ERA), Waino held the Brewers to 1 earned run over 6.1 innings.  But even that doesn’t do his performance justice.  He was chased from the mound in the seventh by a walk, a flair, and a well-struck grounder right to short that Sosa couldn’t quite handle.  With a little better luck, this could have been another eight-inning, no runs allowed start from the ageless Wainwright.

Even so, it was his ninth consecutive quality start – a streak that has seen him throw as few as 6 innings just once and allow as many as three runs but once.  Over his last 64.1 innings, Adam is 7-1 with a 1.54 ERA, while holding opposing hitters to a .189 batting average and a .233 on base percentage.  Adam has walked just 11 batters in his last 9 games, and has gone 6 games since his last home run allowed.

McFarland

T.J. McFarland was tabbed to get the Cards out of the seventh inning mess.  He faced four batters and got four dribbly grounders, which – due to a little uncharacteristic defensive insecurity – still bled across two runs (one earned) before he could secure the final out.  The runs were charged to Wainwright, so TJ’s long scoreless streak – now 16.1 innings over 16 appearances – is still intact.  The last 60 batters to face McFarland have 8 singles, 3 doubles and 3 walks – a .193/.233/.246 batting line.  Of the last 47 batters who have put the ball in play against him, 29 have pounded the ball into the turf – 62%.

Elimination Notes:

Arizona lost last night, finally falling far enough off the page that they have become the National League’s first team to be completely eliminated from playoff consideration.  They won’t be the last.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 9 straight games.

At 70 degrees (remember they play in a dome in Milwaukee) this was the coolest Cardinal game since July 7.  They were in San Francisco during an uncharacteristically chilly July and played in 58 degree temperatures.

The 15 runs scored in the first game against the Brewers were more runs than St Louis scored in the entire series against Cincinnati. They scored 10 in three games against the Reds.

The game-winning hit was Arenado’s twelfth – tying him with Paul Goldschmidt for second on the team.  Both are one behind Molina’s 13.

The 11-run win brought their road record into curious harmony.  They are now 34-34 on the road, where they have scored 312 runs and allowed 312 runs.

The offensive eruption also pushed the team slugging percentage north of .400 for the season to .401.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Bring On the Lefties

The Cardinal team that limped into the All-Star Break hitting a collective .230/.301/.379 and scoring just 3.98 runs per game was a mystery on many levels.  For several off-seasons in a row, the offense was a particular focus – to the point that the front office went out and traded for two of the finest veteran bats of this generation – Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.  If these kind of impact bats can’t turn the offense around, what will?

And yet, there they were, scoring the fourth fewest runs in the league at the break.

As confounding as anything else was their inability to hit left-handers.  With all of their principle power coming from the right side (Arenado, Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill, Paul DeJong), it was understandable that they would frequently struggle against right-handers – and they did, hitting .228/.298/.376 against them.  But why the difficulty against lefties (who they hit only marginally better at .235/.314/.392)?  If nothing else, these guys should give left-handers trouble more nights than not.

Then the schedule got quirky.

After the break, the Cards faced right-handed starters 15 games in a row.  They didn’t see a lefty starter until Atlanta came to town in early August.  Then they drew Max Fried and Drew Smyly on back-to-back nights.  Not surprisingly, they lost both of those games.

Four nights later, after they lost a game started by Kansas City lefty Kris Bubic, the Cards had lost 5 of their last 6 games started by a left-hander, and 8 of the last 10.  During those ten, they were averaging 2.4 runs per game.  At the 111-game mark, St Louis was 12-12 when a left-hander started against them, scoring an average of 3.58 runs per game.

On August 10, they struggled past Pittsburgh’s Steven Brault to win a 4-1 game, then three days later – on Friday the thirteenth – they found themselves in Kansas City facing Mike Minor for the second time in a week.  It didn’t start well.

For 3.1 innings, St Louis managed nothing against Minor.  Arenado had drawn a first-inning walk, but that was it.  When Goldschmidt struck out for the second time leading off the fourth, Mike had garnered 5 strikeouts from the first 11 batters he’d faced.

We were now a third of the way through the 115th game of the season, and, seemingly no closer to deciphering the sinister mystery.  Our team-wide numbers against lefties had inched up just marginally to .236/.313/.404/.716.  The National League average when batting against lefties is .246/.322/.411/.733.

And then – over a period of 9 pitches – everything changed.  It began with Nolan Arenado turning on a 2-1 slider and jumping it over the left-field wall for the first run of the game.  Two pitches later, Tyler O’Neill did 423 feet of damage to a change-up, driving that pitch over the center-field wall.  Three-pitches later, Yadier Molina crushed a 2-0 fastball into the left-field corner for a double.  The 10 total bases in 3 at bats were as many as the Cards had managed in their 34 previous at bats against left-handers.

This was not the beginning of the explosion.  That would come later.  But it was a turning point.  Thereafter, they no longer consistently struggled against southpaws.  From that point until the fifth inning of the August 27 game in Pittsburgh, St Louis enjoyed above average production against left-handers, hitting .256/.320/.474 in 133 at bats against them.

Along the way, they not only won the game against Minor and Kansas City (6-0), they beat the Royals again two days later (7-2) when Bubic started.  Then they faced two left-handers from the Pirates (Dillon Peters and Steven Brault) and split those games.  They beat the Tigers 3-2 on August 25, in a game started by lefty Tarik Skubal.

Now they were back in Pittsburgh – hitting again against Peters.  There was one out in the fifth inning of a scoreless game when Edmundo Sosa came to the plate.

Starting with back-to-back doubles from Sosa and Harrison Bader, the Cardinals have literally exploded against left-handed pitching.  They are 31 for their last 62 against them (a .500 average) with 15 of the hits going for extra-bases (8 doubles, 2 triples and 5 home runs in 62 at bats) – a .935 slugging percentage.

This all culminated yesterday afternoon in the first game of the double-header in Cincinnati.  In Wade Miley, they were presented with one of the league’s best and most consistent lefties.  Wade brought an 11-4 record and a 2.74 ERA in 144.2 innings into the contest.

But the Birds drove him from the mound, chalking him for 5 runs on 12 hits (3 of them home runs) in just four innings – handing him his fifth loss, by a 5-4 score (box score).

This suddenly confident and dangerous group went aggressively after Miley.  At one point five consecutive batters put his first pitch into play, and the sixth batter took a ball before hitting Wade’s next pitch.

The Birds have now won 8 of the last 9 starts that left-handers have made against them, scoring an average of 5.44 run per game.  Their numbers against lefties in the second half now sit at .291/.350/.542.

While no one expects them to remain this torrid for the rest of the season, these rapidly improving numbers are not easy to dismiss.  This is, after all, one of the things we expected from this team.  If nothing else, they should be able to give a left-hander fits every now and then.

And now, they’re doing it.

Goldschmidt

Before being silenced in the nightcap, Paul Goldschmidt reached base all four time up in the first game, going 2-for-2 with 2 home runs and 2 walks.  Goldschmidt has been torridly hot for a long time now.  Paul has hit safely in 21 of his last 26 games – including 15 multi-hit games.  He is 37 for his last 99 (.374) with 9 doubles, a triple and 7 home runs.  He has 25 runs batted in to go with his .697 slugging percentage over those last 26 games.

The team’s leading hitter in August (.350 with a .602 slugging percentage), Goldy is now up to .333 (55 for 165) in the season’s second half.  Since the break, Paul has 12 doubles, 1 triple and 11 home runs – a .618 slugging percentage.

Goldschmidt has been death to things that throw left-handed all season, but has been particularly unyielding to them in the second half.  He is 19 for his last 41 against them (.463) with 6 doubles, 1 triple and 5 home runs – a serviceable slugging percentage of 1.024.

Edman

Tommy Edman hit safely in both games of the double-header, as his average continues to rise.  Edman has hit safely in 15 of his last 17 – getting more than one hit in 9 of the games.  In 17 games, Edman has scored 18 runs, driven in 14, hit .371 (26 of 70) and slugged .586 (6 doubles and 3 home runs).

Edman’s closing rush pushed him over the .300 mark to .302 (32 for 106) for the month of August.

Carlson

Like most of the team, Dylan Carlson was silenced in the second game, but he had two more hits in the first game to wrap up a very loud mini-hitting streak of four games.  During the streak, the Cardinal rookie was 7 for 15 (.467) with a double and a home run (.733 slugging percentage).

Dylan was only healthy enough to play in 17 of the 26 August games, but he hit .313 (20 for 64) in the ones he was available for.

Usually, managers will be inclined to bring in a lefty to pitch to a switch hitter – since most are stronger left-handed batters.  This is not the case with Carlson.  He was 2-for-3 against lefties in the double-header, and is now hitting .400 and slugging .667 against them (12 for 30 with 3 doubles and 2 home runs) in the second half.  For the season, Dylan is hitting .346 (37 for 107) against them

NoteBook

After scoring first in both games, St Louis has now drawn first blood in 8 consecutive contests.

At 2:20, the first game was the quickest the Birds have played since June 20, when they lost in Atlanta 1-0 in just 1:58.  That was also a 7-inning game.

Goldschmidt’s second home run proved to be the game-winner in the first game.  With 12 game-winning RBIs this season, Paul is just one behind team-leader Molina, and one ahead of Arenado – who is third.

The double-digit loss in the nightcap was the first time that’s happened to the Cards since they were waxed by the Dodgers 14-3 back on June 2.

With the seven-inning double-header games, the series averaged only 2:38.3 per contest – the team’s quickest series by average time since the series in Atlanta, June 17-20.  That four-game series – which also included two seven-inning games – averaged just 2:29.8 per contest.

The series in Cincinnati was also low in average attendance (10,676.7) and in game-time temperature (averaging 79.3 degrees).  Both of these were the lowest averages for a Cardinal series since they played in Pittsburgh, August 10-12 before average crowds of 9,093.3 in average temperatures of 79.3 degrees.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Sosa, Healthy Outfield Ready for September

Few players helped themselves as much during the month of August as Edmundo Sosa.  Beginning the month as a backup, Sosa went off at the plate during the just concluded month (he hit .364/.453/.618) and played more than solid defense.  Moreover he frequently provided the edge that spelled the difference between victory and defeat.

Edmundo started 15 of the 26 August games.  The team was 10-5 when he started, scoring 4.93 runs per game.  When Sosa didn’t start, the team was only 5-6, scoring 4.36 runs per game.

Outfielders Ready for the Stretch

The health of the pitchers is still a minute-by-minute affair, but the starting outfielders all seem healthy and ready for what’s left of the season – and that’s a fairly critical consideration.

Harrison Bader is making his fiftieth consecutive start in center field this afternoon.  The Cards are 27-22 (.551) in the first 49 of those games.  Injuries have held Harrison to just 71 starts this season.  St Louis is 40-31 in his starts (.563) while scoring 4.34 runs per game.  They are 27-32 (.458) in the 59 games he’s missed, scoring just 3.88 runs per game.

Of course, all three of the Cards staring outfielders have missed time, and the team has mostly suffered in their absence.  Tyler O’Neill has started 99 games this season.  The Cards are 53-46 (.535) scoring 4.21 runs per game when he does.  They are 14-17 (.452) with 3.87 runs scored per game when he doesn’t.

Dylan Carlson has been the healthiest of the lot.  He has made 117 starts.  The team is 61-56 (.521) with 4.20 runs scored per game in his starts.  They are just 6-7, scoring 3.54 runs per game when he is on the shelf.

The last month of the season promises to be a wild scramble for that last playoff spot.  For the Cardinals, having a healthy outfield for an extended period could make a critical difference.

NoteBook

St Louis is 18-22 when Matt Carpenter gets a start, scoring 3.73 runs per game in those contests.

After the All-Star Break, the Cards faced right-handed starting pitchers for the first 15 games.  With Wade Smiley’s start this afternoon, the Cards have faced 13 lefties in the last 26 games.

With Bader, Paul Goldschmidt is the only other Cardinal to start every game of the second half.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Timely Re-Inventions

Nobody who saw Jon Lester’s first four starts as a Cardinal would have believed it, but when Jon took the mound in Cincinnati last night to pitch the bottom of the first, the game was already over. 

A two-run opposite-field home run off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt had given the Birds first blood and a 2-0 lead – a margin that would seem fairly inconsequential, remembering that the Reds opened the series leading the National League in hits, OPS and total bases, and was second in runs scored, batting average and slugging percentage.  They were third in home runs.

When you further remembered the Jon Lester that struggled mightily through his first 20.1 Cardinal innings (with a 7.08 ERA and a .337 batting average against), had the Cincinnati fans and management known that the Cards would score just one more run for the rest of the evening, they would have felt their chances were pretty good.

But after inning after inning of offensive silence rolled by, it began to dawn on the Reds (and the Cards and their fans, too) that this was the old Jon Lester – as opposed to the recent Jon Lester.

After retiring 16 batters in a row, Jon walked Joey Votto with one out in the seventh inning to end his night.  After allowing but one hit, and walking his second batter, Lester left with a 3-1 lead in his pocket – which would turn out to be the final score (box score).

It was the culmination of a re-invention process for Lester, but also the continuation of a fairly dramatic reversal for the Cardinal pitching staff.  The progress hasn’t been straight-line by any stretch of the imagination, but the difference has been noteworthy.  The pitching staff that began the season as one of baseball’s wildest, has – in recent weeks – re-invented itself, as well.

On June 2 in Los Angeles, they were punched around by the Dodgers, 14-3 – a game in which Cardinal pitchers granted 10 walks.  It was the third time in 25 games that they had issued double-digit walks, and their nine-inning average peaked that evening at 4.68.

From that point on, they have averaged just 3.56 walks per nine innings.  Since the All-Star Break, they have averaged just 2.74 unintentional walks per nine innings.  With their two walks last night (none from the bullpen) they have exceeded three walks just 6 times in their last 35 games.  This is a marked departure from earlier in the year.

What they’ve discovered is that when they force opposing to teams to put the ball in play, they end up dealing with far fewer base-runners.  During the just concluded month of August (tonight’s game has been rained out), St Louis maintained a fine 3.30 team ERA.  Helping greatly was the fact that 60.1% of the batters that faced them in August (175 out of 291) came to the plate with no one on base.

Once these teams could get a man on, trouble frequently followed.  With at least one runner on, the opposing batting line jumped to .265/.345/.402.  But with the bases empty – as they were for the most part last night – opponents scuffled along with a .193/.257/.323 batting line.

Last night against Lester and several relievers, 27 of 32 batters came to the plate with no one on base.  We could find ourselves getting used to that.

McFarland

In to pitch after Lester, T.J. McFarland almost saw his scoreless streak ended.  Kyle Farmer – the first batter he faced (whose home run had provided Cincinnati’s only run of the evening) stroked a ground-rule double into the left-field stands – placing runners at second and third with only the one out.

But TJ escaped the jam, stranding both runners.  In addition to a scoreless streak that has now reached 15.2 innings over 15 games, McFarland has also stranded 9 of the 11 runners he’s inherited.  He has allowed just 9 hits in those innings to go with 3 walks for a .189 batting average and a .232 on base percentage allowed in those games.

(The hits by Farmer – by the way – would turn out to be Cincinnati’s only two hits that night.)

During August, McFarland faced 26 batters with a runner on base.  They finished with 2 singles, Farmer’s double and 1 walk – a .120/.154/.160 batting line (with 4 ground-ball double-plays thrown in for good measure).

Garcia

Luis Garcia saw a rare baserunner reach against him due to an error.  No matter, Garcia procured the last out of the eighth inning to raise his scoreless streak to 19.1 innings over 16 games.  The last 70 batters he’s faced hold a .134/.171/.179 batting line against him.

O’Neill

With two hits and a run batted in, Tyler O’Neill wrapped up one of the best months of his young career.  In 95 August plate appearances, Tyler slapped out 17 singles, 2 doubles, the first triple of his career, 4 home runs, 12 walks, 3 hit-by-pitches and a sacrifice fly – adding up to a .304/.411/.506 batting line.

Edman

After six games, Tommy Edman’s little hitting streak came to an end – but Tommy did significant damage during the streak.  He hit .462 (12 for 26) and slugged .808 (3 doubles and 2 home runs), scoring 7 runs and driving in 10 during the streak.

Molina

A second inning single off the bat of Yadier Molina on Saturday became the final hit of his nine-game hitting streak.  He has gone 0-for-11 since.  The season’s second half has been a struggle for Molina more often than not.  Over his last 125 plate appearances, Yadi has 27 singles, 2 doubles, 5 walks and 1 hit-by-pitch – a batting line of .244/.280/.261.

NoteBook

With Milwaukee’s win last night, Pittsburgh becomes the first NL Central team to be eliminated from the division title.  Mathematically, they could still finish second – and they are still alive (barely) in the Wildcard chase – although there is no practical chance of either of those things happening.

At 2:47, Monday’s game was St Louis’ quickest since their August 3 contest against Atlanta (also a Lester start) lasted just 2:39.  That was a home game.  They haven’t played a road game this quick since they were in Colorado on July 1.  Their 5-2 loss to the Rockies that day also took just 2:47.

At 77 degrees the weather in Cincinnati was the coolest the Birds have played in since August 10 in Pittsburgh.  That game was played in 73 degree weather.

The Cards have now scored first in six straight games.

Goldschmidt’s home run held up as the game-winning hit – his eleventh of the season.  That ties him for second on the team with Nolan Arenado, just behind Molina’s 13.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Almost Toast?

Many years ago, I used to predict the final standings of the season during spring training.  I would begin about the time the teams reported to camp, and it would take me nearly the entire span as I poured over rosters and so forth.  I never followed any of the spring activity – realizing that anything you see in spring is most likely a mirage.  Thus I forged on with no input from anything that was going on.

All things considered, I didn’t do too poorly.  After a few seasons, I realized the folly of trying to predict the vast array of things that change during the course of the 162-game marathon.  But there was one main takeaway from those days that still holds as an immutable baseball law.

When calculating a teams’ chances for success, I always started with the bullpen.  If your bullpen can’t turn the lights out – and especially if you can’t win the ninth inning – it doesn’t matter what else you do have.  There will be no playoffs for your team.  You can be at least somewhat deficient anywhere else on your team and still stand some chance – depending on how strong your strengths are.  But if you can’t get it done in the bullpen, you are toast.  It is baseball’s most unforgivable sin.

After a 129-game tease, during which this team has shown flashes and flirted with making a chase for the playoffs, the bullpen – hollowed out by injuries and pushed more than a little by a series of short starts – has started to collapse.  The collapse includes some of the arms that have been the most trusted throughout the season.

Now, with the soft part of the schedule pretty much done, the Cards will play their next 13 games – not just against winning teams, but teams (Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Cincy again) that are actually in the thick of the playoff hunt.  They will face this gauntlet with a pen that is currently burning a little oil and leaking around the gaskets.  If they can’t find a fix, they are a few games away from being toast.

The remaining season might well have finally been defined by the just concluded four game series in Pittsburgh.  It ended up being a split – but the two games of this should-have-been sweep that got away may well haunt this team for what is left of their season.

Thursday’s game (covered in some detail here) featured the Cards blowing a six-run lead for the first time in more than a decade.  On Sunday, they carried a 3-1 lead into the ninth, only to be staggered when little known Yoshi Tsutsugo launched a three-run, walk-off homer off of fading closer Alex Reyes for the 4-3 win (box score).

For the four games, the starters shouldered 21 innings with a 2.57 ERA.  The bullpen stumbled to an 8.10 ERA over its 13.1 innings.  This team won its first 32 games this season when leading after six.  They have now lost four of their last nine.

This becomes all the more concerning, as the downward spiral of Reyes’ season starts to deepen.

Reyes

As the season began, Alex was as untouchable as any late-game arm in the business.  Through his first 22 games, he pitched 24 innings, surrendering just 1 run.  He was 14-14 in save chances, with a 0.38 ERA.

Over his next 14 outings, that dominance began to slip some.  This was not too surprising, as no one believed that level of excellence was humanly sustainable.  Still over his next 15.2 innings, Alex continued to close games at a very high level.  He was 6-for-6 in save opportunities with a 1.72 ERA.

Beginning with a July 4 loss in Colorado, in which Alex allowed a run on 2 hits in two-thirds of an inning, the season has begun to slip away from him.  After Sunday, Reyes has now surrendered runs in 9 of his last 20 games.  Over his last 18.1 innings, Alex has been charged with 20 runs (15 earned) on 19 hits (including 3 home runs and 2 doubles).  He’s been charged with 4 blown saves in his last 13 opportunities, while carrying a 7.36 ERA.

Almost anyone else on your team can struggle for a while during the season, and the rest of the team can overcome that.  But if your closer starts to take on water, he will absolutely carry the rest of the team down with him.

At various times throughout the season, Mike Shildt has pointed out that the players are human beings.  He has done this to manage expectations when the players’ performances haven’t been automatic.  In this Mike is correct.  The problem is that he frequently doesn’t manage them like they were human beings.  He tends to manage them like they were Strat-O-Matic cards.

As any of you who have ever managed a Strat team know, you can absolutely ignore slumps and hot streaks.  The potential of the card is what it is, and the dice will either cooperate or they won’t.  But – not being human – the cards themselves will never carry over the stress of an 0-for-20 slump (or of a 7.36 ERA).  They can’t try too hard or overcompensate.

But human players can.  It would be almost inhuman if Alex wasn’t at least somewhat rattled by all this.  Any player’s confidence can only take so many body blows.

The prudent thing to do here is to let someone else close games for a bit, and find some lower leveraged opportunities for Alex to re-discover his mojo.  It’s simply the best temporary move both for Alex and for a team that’s trying to stay out of the toaster.

Garcia

One of the candidates to take over the ninth, Luis Garcia wobbled a little bit in the Friday game.  A reliever who never walks batters and rarely allows hits did a bit of both – giving a single and two walks to allow an inherited runner to score.  But he stopped the bleeding there.  He followed up on Sunday retiring all four batters to face him – two on strikeouts.

Luis is now unscored on over his last 15 games – comprising 19 innings – during which he has struck out 20 and allowed only 9 his.  His two walks on Sunday were the only two unintentional walks he’s allowed in that span.  The last 68 batters to face him are scuffling along at .138/.176/.185.

Garcia’s second half ERA now sits at 2.33.

McFarland

Another of the new heroes in the pen added to his long scoreless streak as well.  T.J. McFarland worked twice in the Pirate series adding 2.1 scoreless innings to a streak that has now reached 14.3 innings over 14 games.

Wainwright

The highlight of the series was the Saturday game – a 13-0 blowout (box score) that not only featured the hit-and-miss offense at its relentless best, but seven more brilliant shutout innings from Adam Wainwright (who turns forty today).

Waino is riding a streak of 8 consecutive quality starts.  During the streak, Adam has tossed as few as 6 innings just once and given as many as three runs just once.  He is 6-1 with a 1.55 ERA in 58 innings during the streak, and finished August with a 5-1 record (in 6 starts) and a 1.43 ERA.

Sosa

Offensively, the team scored 7 runs over the first three innings of the series, and 13 runs on Saturday.  They scored 7 runs the entire rest of the series.

Throughout that inconsistency, the team was consistently led by its emerging middle infield of Tommy Edman and Edmundo Sosa.

Sosa stung the Pirates to the tune of .571 (8 for 14) during a series that featured a home run and 2 of the 5 triples hit by the Cards over their four-day visit.  Sosa is hitting .392 (20 for 51) and slugging .647 (1 double, 3 triples and 2 home runs) during the month of August.  He is up to .344 (22 of 64) with a .547 slugging percentage since the break.

Edman

Tommy put a very loud exclamation point to his current six-game hitting streak, going 9 for 18 in Pittsburgh with 4 doubles, 2 home runs and 9 runs batted in.  Together with Sosa (who had 7), the Cardinal middle-infield drove in 16 of the team’s 27 runs.

Edman is now hitting .462 (12 for 26) and slugging .846 during his hitting streak.  He has driven in multiple runs in four straight games, and has 10 RBIs during the streak.  This is just part of a greater streak in which Tommy has hit safely in 13 of 14 games (getting multiple hits in 9 of them).  Tommy is hitting .393 (24 for 61) and slugging .607 (7 doubles and 2 home runs) during those games.

After a sluggish start, August has turned into one of the better months in Edman’s career.  In 114 plate appearances this month, Tommy has 17 singles, 12 doubles, 3 home runs, 21 runs scored 8 walks and 2 hit-by-pitches.  His batting line for 25 games so far is .311/.368/.515.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was held hitless Sunday for only the second time in his last 16 games.  He has had, meanwhile, 11 multi-hit games during that span.  Paul has 26 hits (including 9 doubles, a triple, and 3 home runs) over his last 67 at bats (.388 batting average and .687 slugging percentage).

Elimination Season Continues

On Saturday, the Baltimore Orioles became the major’s first team to be totally eliminated from playoff consideration.

NoteBook

Harrison Bader had the game-winning hit on Friday – his fifth of the season.  He is now tied with Edman for fourth on the team, trailing Yadier Molina (13), Nolan Arenado (11) and Goldschmidt (10).

The Cards have now scored first in 5 straight games.

They are now 1-16-5 in series after losing the first game.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Wanted: Some Margin for Error

The phrase came easily to Cardinal manager Mike Shildt.  Margin for error.  After a recent tight loss, the skipper lamented several times that the team never allows itself “margin for error.”

Cardinal fans and followers can certainly commiserate.  Nothing has come easily or comfortably for this team this year.  Discounting three big wins in Kansas City (Aug 13-15), the Cards hadn’t seen a five-run lead in 22 games – since an eventual 10-6 win against Cleveland on July 25.  Every other night, it was the tightrope act.  Always a defensive blunder, a bad pitch, a bloop hit, an untimely bad call – any little thing could flip a victory into a defeat.

In their last 15 losses, St Louis has held a lead at some point in 10 of them, but almost never with enough margin to withstand occasional bouts with chaos.

So, at the beginning of a ten-game road trip in Pittsburgh last night, the Cardinals made “margin for error” a top priority.

A two-run first inning home run from Nolan Arenado got things going early.  Runs batted in from Tommy Edman (a two-run double) and Paul Goldschmidt (a single to plate Edman) pushed the lead to 5-0 after just two innings.  Edmundo Sosa made it a 7-1 lead with a two-run homer of his own.  All of this was just after three innings.

Margin for Error box, checked.

There is some irony in all of this after the down-trodden Pirates (showing more character than the supposedly contending Cardinals) staged a remarkable comeback in an 11-7 win (box score).

The loss was the Cardinals’ sixth in the last nine games, a stumble that – but for the fact that almost all of the other Wildcard contenders have been struggling as well – should have spilled this team out of contention.  But of all the losses this team has earned this year, this was the most glaring.  Losing a game to a last-place team when you held a six-run lead at one point is a thing that’s not supposed to happen to you.

And yet, in truth, as this was going down it was impossible for me to feel any sense of surprise.  That fact is that this pitching staff just doesn’t do well with margin for error.

Over the last nine games, Cardinal pitchers have actually had leads of four runs or more to work with in 7 of the last 82 innings.  They have given 7 runs on 11 hits in those innings.  In the seasons’ second half, they’ve defended a lead of four or more runs for 39.1 innings – yielding 25 runs (all earned) in that frame – a 5.72 ERA.

For the season, they’ve pitched with four runs worth of “margin” 12.2% of the time.  In 130.1 relatively comfortable innings (at least as far as pitching with a lead is concerned) the Cardinals are struggling with a 5.46 ERA.

There is a curious gravity pulling at this team.  Every time they start to pull away from the .500 mark, that gravity pulls them back down.  And every time they start to pull away in the game, almost immediately the pitchers let the other guys back in.

Apparently, margin for error is more helpful for some teams than for others.

McFarland

Before the hijinks of the eighth inning, there was T.J. McFarland getting out of trouble in the fifth inning.  When starter Miles Mikolas was unable to finish the fifth, TJ came in with two runners on and only one out.  He threw 2 pitches, got his double play, and trotted to the dugout with a 7-3 lead that would have been his fourth win.

That is now 12.2 consecutive scoreless innings for McFarland over 13 games.  He has walked just 2 batters in those innings.

A Miller

After throwing a dandy sixth inning, Andrew Miller was given the ball to start the seventh.  He got into immediate trouble by giving up a double and a walk before his night ended.  Both those runners scored after Andrew left.

The season has never come together for Miller, who has had an especially rough time of it during the second half.  He has now given up runs in half of his 12 games, sporting a 7.15 ERA over his last 11.1 innings.  He’s given 9 runs on 14 hits and 5 walks – the hits including 2 home runs and 3 doubles.  It adds up to a .523 slugging percentage to go along with a .318 batting average against.

Edman

Tommy stayed hot, getting two hits, driving in two runs and scoring twice to lead the seven-run offense.  Edman has hit safely in 10 of 11 games, getting two hits in 7 of them.  He is hitting .362 (17 for 47) in those games.

For better or not, if the Cards had more players like Edman they would play more consistently with “margin.”  Edman turned a two-run lead into a four-run lead with his second inning double, and is hitting .308 this season (41 for 133) when batting with a lead of three-runs or less.

Sosa

Edmundo had a single to go along with his home run.  Sosa has quietly been having a great second half, and an even better month of August.  He has now had 48 plate appearances this month, contributing 10 singles, 1 double, 1 triple, 2 home runs, 4 walks and 4 hit-by-pitches.  His August batting line is a hard-to-ignore .350/.458/.575.  Since the break, Sosa is a .302 hitter (16 for 53) with a .403 on base percentage.

Since the break, Edmundo is 0-for-10 when he bats in a game trailing by three runs or more.  But if the Cards are even, ahead, or trailing by no more than two runs, Sosa has been raking to the tune of a .372 batting average (16 for 43) and a .581 slugging percentage (1 double, 1 triple and 2 home runs).

His opposite field home run last night came while the Cards enjoyed a four-run lead.

Carlson

Just off the injured list, Dylan Carlson hasn’t quite geared back up yet.  He is 1 for 11 (.091) since his return, including 0 for his last 9.

The game was still scoreless in the first when Dylan hit with one on and one out, flying to left.  Tied ballgames haven’t been kind to Carlson this year.  He is batting .195 (26 for 133) with the score even.

NoteBook

The fans in Pittsburgh were boisterous, but few.  Only 8,618 showed up to see the Pirates’ memorable comeback.  It’s the smallest crowd the Cards have played before since August 11 – the last time they were in Pittsburgh.  Only 8,545 showed up that evening.

The last time St Louis trailed by four runs in the ninth inning was the last time they suffered a late inning bullpen melt-down – August 5 in their 8-4 loss to Atlanta.

This was only the eighth time this century that St Louis has lost a game that they led at one point by 6 or more runs, and the first time it’s happened in more than 11 years.

The last time the Birds suffered such an indignity happened on July 6, 2010 in Colorado.  St Louis led 9-2 after 6, but the Rockies scored 1 in the seventh and then 9 in the ninth, with Seth Smith hitting the three-run walk of homer in that ninth to give the Rockies the 12-9 victory (box score).  At seven runs, this was the largest lead the Cards have blown this century.

Pittsburgh becomes the only road venue this century at which the Cards have squandered a six-run lead more than once.  The other time that happened was on July 12, 2008.  St Louis led 9-3 going into the bottom of the seventh that night, but Pittsburgh scored 1 in the seventh, 2 in the eighth, 4 in the ninth (three of them on a home run by Nate McLouth), and 2 in the tenth – a Jason Michaels walk-off home run – to deliver a 12-11 victory (box score).

The seven runs scored in the first game against the Pirates were more runs than this team scored in the two games against Detroit (6 runs) and as many as they scored in three games when the Pirates visited our place.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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