Doing Damage to Lefties

Let’s go back one last time to that last day in June.  There were your St Louis Cardinals, losers of five in a row, 40-41 on the season and about to tilt out of the pennant race.

It’s the eleventh inning of a 3-3 game.  Kolten Wong is on first, but there are two out and Matt Wieters is to the plate to hit against lefty Brad Wieck.  According to the percentages, both teams should have started preparing for the twelfth inning.  As he stood at the plate, Matt was 0-for-19 on the season against left-handers.

But all the percentages that inform the long baseball season were about to undergo a seismic shift – not just for the St Louis Cardinals, but also for Mr. Wieters himself.

Beginning with that two-run home run that gave St Louis an 11-inning walk-off 5-3 win, the Cards have surged into the lead in their division courtesy of an 18-9 run.

As for Matt Wieters, he has spent the last month exacting revenge for the indignities of the first three.

On July 4, he tied the game against Seattle at one by scorching a third inning homer off of Mariner lefty Tommy Milone.  In the first game after the All-Star break, he did the same to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray (that game tying shot coming in the fifth inning).

Apparently, the Cubs haven’t been paying attention.

It’s the sixth inning of last night’s contest against Chicago.  The Cards hold a 3-0 lead, but have the opportunity to open things up.  They have two runners on, with no one out.  With Wieters coming up, manager Joe Madden went to the bullpen and pulled out a left-hander – Derek Holland.

Five pitches later, Matt flicked a tailing fastball from Holland over the wall in right to punch a hole in a game otherwise dominated by Cardinal starter Jack Flaherty.

The most telling hit in St Louis’ 8-0 victory (box score), pushed Matt to 7 of his last 17 against lefties – with 5 of the 7 hits going for extra-bases.

It also helped push St Louis back into sole possession of first place in their division – at least for another night.

Kolten Wong

It was a night of heroes, but among the most productive was Cardinal secondbaseman Kolten Wong.

You will remember that Wong got off to a searing-hot start in April.  Eighteen games into the season, Wong was slashing .316/.437/.614.

Then came the cold spell.  From April 19 through May 30, Kolten went 20 for 119 (.168) with only 5 extra-base hits.  His season average fell as low as .216.

For the last two months, Wong has more closely resembled the Kolten of early April.  Beginning with a single and a double (against Chicago, by the way) on May 31, Kolten has been a .327 hitter (53 for 162) ever since.  He has been especially torrid of late.  On his way to leading the team in batting average for the month of July (he hit .357 last month), Kolten has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts, going 19 for 45 in those games – an impressive .422.

But last night’s story gets even better.  His 3 hits last night all came off the lefty Jon Lester.  For a left-handed batter, Kolten was always OK against lefties.  He entered the season hitting .245 against them, including two years (2014 and 2017) when he hit over .270 against them.

With last night’s hits, Wong is 25 for 81 against left-handers this year, his .309 batting average against them ranking second on the team to Jose Martinez’ .367.

Perhaps one reason is that this year Kolten is getting to play against lefties consistently.

Dexter Fowler

The only starter not to collect a hit last night was Dexter Fowler – now 1 for his last 12 after his 0-for-4 last night.  Left-handed pitching has been problematical for Dex this year.  He was 0-for-10 against lefties last month, and is 13 for 62 (.210) against them for the year.

In his three-year Cardinal career, Fowler is just 50 for 231 (.216) against lefties.

Jack Flaherty

The storyline of the game, though, was Jack Flaherty, who took a no-hitter into the sixth, and finished seven innings allowing no runs on just the one hit.  Jack walked just two while striking out 9.

Over his last 5 starts, Flaherty has been growing every bit into the dominant kind of starter he showed flashes of last year.  His last 5 times out, he has tossed 4 quality starts, allowing just 4 runs over 31.1 innings.  Jack has given just 15 hits in those innings, just 2 of them home runs, his 9 walks offset by 39 strikeouts.

It all adds up to a 1.15 ERA and a .140 batting average against.

NoteBook

Jose Martinez began the rout with an RBI single in the first.  That run stood up for Jose’s fifth game-winning RBI of the season.  Martinez now ranks fourth on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9), Paul Goldschmidt (8) and Paul DeJong (6).

Although his prospects for regular play seemed slight at the start of the season, Martinez has persevered.  Last night he played in his 103rd game of the season.  He played 152 last year to set his career high.

With his big home run last night, Wieters has reached double figures in home runs for the seventh time in his eleven-year career.  He only hit 8 last year in 235 at bats.  The shot raises his slugging percentage to .500.  The highest slugging percentage Matt has ever sustained over the course of a 200 or more at bat season was .450 in 2011.

The eight-run victory was the Cards’ largest since May 14 when they beat the Braves 14-3.  St Louis had trailed at some point in each of its five previous games.

The Cards finished the series allowing just 3 runs to the Cubs.  It is the fewest runs the Cards have yielded in any series this year.  The previous low (in a three-or-more game series) was 6 runs, given up the last time the Cubs visited Busch.  During that series at the beginning of June, the Cards won 2-1, 7-4 and 2-1.

The Cards have now won 5 of their last 6 series, and are now 5-3 in rubber games at home.

The Cubs were the thirteenth team St Louis has faced this year that had lost its previous series.  The Cards are 29-11 (.725) in those games, winning 10 of the series and splitting 2 others.  The only team to flip its momentum at the Cardinals expense was the San Diego Padres who won 2 of 3 in St Louis’ opening homestand of the season.  They had lost 2 of 3 to Arizona the series before.

Runners, Runners Everywhere – But Not a Hit to be Had

Cardinal nemesis Kyle Hendricks took the mound last night against his favorite patsies.  Kyle struck out the side in order in the first.  Still in there in the seventh, Kyle retired all three batters to face him on little pop ups.  It took him ten pitches.

In the five innings between Hendricks’ first and last innings, the Cardinals advanced a runner into scoring position in each inning.  They would finish the game with 9 hits – including 5 doubles – on their way to 15 plate appearances with a runner in scoring position (RISP).

They ended the game with no runs in a 2-0 loss (box score) that dropped them back into a first place tie with the visitors from up North.

In many offensive areas, this team has improved considerably since the break.  Taking nothing way from Mr. Hendricks, who made it look easy last night, hitting with runners in scoring position is not a skill that the Cardinals are getting better at.

For the season, they are hitting .250 in RISP opportunities (second worst in the league to Milwaukee, according to baseball reference).  Their .744 OPS in these situations leads only Miami’s .704.  They have driven in 286 runs with ducks on the pond.  The Marlins, again, are the league worst, just 13 behind the Cards at 273.

In the month of July, these numbers got even worse.  In spite of the fact that St Louis finished the month with a 16-9 record, they were only 39 for 173 (.225) in RBI opportunities. Nine of the 39 hits were of the infield variety – with 5 of those failing to deliver a run.

Both of their RISP hits last night fall into that category.  Infield dribblers by Miles Mikolas and Tyler O’Neill.  Before the evening was over, St Louis would advance two runners to third – in both cases with less than two outs.  In all, five Cardinals had opportunities with a runner at third.

But the zero on the scoreboard never did go away.

I can’t speak to games before 2012, but for the eight seasons that I have been tracking RISP at bats, this was the most in any game in which the Cards were shut out.  Previously, they have had three games in which they had 11 at bats with runners in scoring position and were shutout anyway.  Two of those three occurred in 2015 (May 22 – a 5-0 loss to Kansas City and August 22 in an 8-0 loss to San Diego).  That 2015 team was also shut out by Atlanta 4-0 on October 2 in a game when they had 10 RISP at bats.

Many of you may remember that series right at the end of the season.  The Cards had their division title wrapped, and ended the season with three meaningless games against the Braves.  They were shutout in all three games, a harbinger to their losing the division series to the Cubs that year.

So this game was – I suppose – somewhat historic.

After rolling through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh on the road, the Cards have returned home to face contenders in Houston and Chicago – and abruptly have lost the ability to get that hit with the runner right there.  In losing three of the last four, St Louis is 3 for 39 with ducks on the pond – with none of those hits accounting for runs.  Two of those happened last night.  The third came on Sunday afternoon against the Astros.  It was the third inning, and the Cards already trailed 2-0, but had runners on first and second with one out against Wade Miley.  O’Neill delivered the single to left, but Tommy Edman running from second couldn’t advance past third.

As it turned out, he never would get home.  Paul DeJong struck out and Matt Wieters grounded out.

For those of us who still have concerns about this team’s character, this is an unsettling trend.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt has been on quite a tear lately.  He has been hitting lots of singles and home runs, but almost no doubles.  Curiously, a hitter who is annually over 30 doubles had only hit 10 coming into last night’s game.  He slashed 2 against Hendricks – getting left on base both times.

The hits extend Paul’s hitting streak to 9 games – games in which he is hitting .378 (14 for 37) with 9 extra base hits (7 of them home runs).

With that, Goldschmidt wraps up a month that might very well get him some votes for player of the month.  Goldschmidt hit 11 home runs and drove in 27 runs for the month (25 games), while batting .308/.360/.725.

Ironically, the red-hot Goldy was the only Cardinal starter not to get a RISP opportunity last night.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong also ended July on a strong note.  While his hitting streak hasn’t been as noisy as Goldschmidt’s it has been encouraging.  With his 2 singles last night, Kolten has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 starts – hitting .390 in those games (16 for 41).

Wong ended the month as the Cardinals’ leading hitter.  Kolten hit .357 in July (25 for 70).

Miles Mikolas

As with Adam Wainwright the night before, Miles Mikolas came within one out of a quality start.  Also, like Waino, Mikolas allowed just one run.  That’s where the similarities mostly ended.  Mikolas’ run was unearned, and the run Waino allowed wasn’t enough to get him beat.

Miles took another tough loss, but wrapped up an excellent month of July.  In 5 starts he tossed 3 quality starts (and almost a fourth).  In his 30.2 innings, he maintained a 2.93 ERA.  Miles walked just 4 batters all month, while allowing just 2 home runs.

Over his last 8 starts, Miles has pitched to a 2.64 ERA.

On the reverse end of the RISP discussion, much of Mikolas’ improvement has come in this situation.  Miles is a guy who gives up a lot of hits, so there are almost always RISP opportunities against him.  Through the end of June, opposing hitters where battering Miles to the tune of .296 (21 for 71) when they had those shots against him.

Last night, the Cubs were just 1 for 6 against Miles in RISP situations.  For the month just ended, batters were only 4 for 23 (.174) against him with ducks on the pond.

Giovanny Gallegos

As with the night before, Giovanny Gallegos relieved in the sixth with runners on base (only two last night) and ended the inning getting a flyball from Kyle Schwarber.

Gallegos ends July with an 0.69 ERA in 13 innings for the month.  He closes the month on a 9-game scoreless streak in which he’s allowed 2 hits over 12 innings – leading to an .053 batting average against.

Giovanny has stranded all of the last 10 runners he has inherited, and has been absolutely brilliant when pitching with runners in scoring position.  In July, batters were 0-for-12 in RISP at bats, and for the year they are just 3 for 39 (.077) in this vital situation.

John Gant

Although the run was unearned, John Gant surrendered a run in his third straight outing.  He was also touched for 2 doubles in 1.2 innings.  Gant finished July with a 4.50 ERA over 10 innings.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia gave the Cards at least the chance of a comeback with a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth that featured 2 strikeouts.  Since returning from paternity leave, John has pitched 15 innings over 11 games with a 2.40 ERA and a .170/.214/.226 batting line.

NoteBook

Miles Mikolas may not get enough credit for his durability.  Miles made his twenty-second start of the season last night – after making 32 last year.

While Miles has been much better since the break, his rugged first half has him on the brink of re-setting most of the career highs he set last year.  The 6 hits allowed last night bring him to 133 for the season.  He allowed 186 last year.  The run scored off him was the fifty-ninth of the season – he allowed 70 last year.  The walk he allowed was just the twenty-first he’s given up this year, but he walked only 29 last year.

Kolten Wong, having his healthiest and perhaps best season, played in his 105th game last night.  The 127 he played in last year were the second most of his career.  In the only other “complete” season Kolten has had in the big leagues, he played 150 games in 2015.

Mostly because he is playing everyday, but also because he is having a better season, Kolten is already about to eclipse (and in some cases has already eclipsed) last year’s numbers with still two months left in 2019.  He already has 334 at bats after getting 353 last year.  With his two hits last night, Wong has equaled last year’s 88 hits.  After rolling up 137 total bases last year, Wong has 131 already this year.

With his stolen base last night, Kolten has not only more than doubled the 6 he stole last year, but has matched the 15 he stole in 2015.  His career high is the 20 he stole in 2014.

St Louis has now surrendered the first run in each of the last five games, and in seven of the last eight.

Waino Plays Stopper Again

The memory is surprisingly vivid even a month later.  It is June 29.  The Cardinals – on the road in San Diego – were getting hammered 12-2.  After the game, the young Padres were cavorting on the field.  They were careless, happy and hot.  Although they weren’t expected to contend, at that moment they were 42-40 and just a game and a half out of the last wildcard spot.

In the other dugout, the Cardinals (who had vowed to make it back to the playoffs this year) wandered off the field like a team caught in a nightmare that they couldn’t wake up from.  That loss was their fifth in a row.  It dropped them to 40-41 on the season.  They were 4 games behind the Cubs in the division, and a game and a half behind San Diego in the wildcard race – three games behind the last spot, with four teams in between them and the last playoff spot.

This was the statistical half-way point of the season, and this team was under .500.  They were also at that point 20-20 in games after a loss.  While – to the best of my knowledge – no one else tracks games after a loss, I consider it a fairly useful barometer of a team’s character and resourcefulness.

For some background, no Cardinal team this century has finished below .500 in games after a loss.  The 2017 team finished a century-worst 39-39 in games after a loss.  That team finished 83-79 and 9 games out.

Throughout the century, coming into this year, the Cards (including playoffs) were 809-596 – a .576 winning percentage – after they had lost the game before.  Five times this century, this team won over 60% of their games after a loss.  All of those teams made the playoffs.

The seven versions of the Cardinals that have failed to make the playoffs this century are a combined 294-246 (.544) after a loss, while all of this century’s playoff teams have gone 515-350 (.595) after a loss.

The concept is simple enough.  Everybody loses games now and then.  But the tough teams resist getting that second loss pinned on them.  Stay out of losing streaks, and things will generally pan out well for the season.

Throughout the bulk of the season, the issue in games after a loss has been on the mound.  St Louis has lacked that stopper’s mentality from the next day’s pitcher.  Through the end of June, the next day’s starter carried a 4.86 ERA and a .281 batting average against.

On the last day of June, Miles Mikolas put his foot in the ground and began something of a turnaround.  He contained the exuberant Padres for 6 innings, leaving the game trailing, but only by a 3-2 score.  With a nearly impeccable bullpen (which has been a strong part of this story) holding the line, St Louis tied the contest thanks to an eighth-inning error, winning finally in the eleventh on Matt Wieters’ two-run home run (box score).

With the end of the season’s longest losing streak, came a reversal of fortunes for both teams.  Gravity has since caught up with the Padres, who have floated out of playoff contention.  For their part, the Cards used that emotional win to fashion the 16-8 July record that has surged them to the top of the division.

At the close of last weekend’s series against Houston, the Cardinal momentum looked like it may have stalled, as St Louis was defeated fairly soundly on Saturday and Sunday.

And so, yesterday they again needed a starter to take the mound and put an end to the losing streak.  As it has been so often over the last decade plus, that starter was Adam Wainwright.

The Cubs gave as good as they got from Waino, but by the end of his 5.2 inning stint, he held the game at a 1-1 tie.  The bullpen, again, threw airtight relief, and a late home run off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt sent the Cards into sole position of first place by a 2-1 score (box score).

This was now the 147th time that Adam has taken the mound after a Cardinal loss in his storied career.  The Cards are now 96-51 (.653) in those games.

Meanwhile, St Louis has gone 5-3 this month (including 4-1 over the last 5) in games after a loss – improving them to 26-23 for the season in this category.  In the 8 games after a loss this month, the rotation has come up strong with a 3.40 ERA and a .245 batting average against.  The bullpen has been even better in these games with a 1.88 ERA and a .152 batting average against.

Waino, by the way, has made the start in two of those games, throwing 5 solid innings against Seattle on July 3 setting up a 5-2 victory.

Last night’s game had a bit of a playoff feel to it.  The birds haven’t won too many of those types of games over the last few years.

Who You Gonna Call?

After back-to-back walks in the sixth, the Cubs had their best opportunity to break the hearts of the home team fans.  Bases were now loaded, two outs, and Kyle Schwarber – owner of more than one telling hit against the Cardinals in his career – was at the plate.  At 95 pitches, and with the lefty up, manager Mike Shildt felt the prudent thing was to relieve Adam in an attempt to hold onto the 1-1 tie.

So, who do you call on?  Giovanny Gallegos, of course.  Five pitches later, Gallegos got Kyle to reach for that slider, lofting a harmless fly ball to medium deep left.  And the threat was done.  Giovanny has now stranded the last 8 runners that he has inherited – including the bases loaded twice.  Gallegos – who has stranded 29 of the 32 batters he has inherited this season – has now come into bases loaded situations 7 times this season.  He has stranded all of these gentlemen in 5 of those occasions, allowing just one of those runs in the other two occasions.

There just has not been an occasion that has been too large for the amazing Mr. Gallegos.

Gio is now unscored on in 8 straight games (11.2 innings).  He has allowed 2 hits in those innings with 15 strikeouts against 3 walks.  Over his last 24 games (29.2 innings), Gallegos holds an 0.61 ERA with a.131/.179/.212 batting line against.  The 4 walks he has allowed in those innings more than swallowed up in his 39 strikeouts.   In 12.2 innings this month Gio holds an 0.71 ERA, and has allowed just 3 hits against 18 strikeouts.

This just in.  Gallegos is pretty good.

AndrewMiller

Andrew Miller – all things considered – has put together a very solid month of his own.

He also entered the game with a runner on base (first base) and two outs.  Miller allowed an infield hit, but then retired slugger Kris Bryant on a fly ball to center.

For the month of July, Miller has a 1.80 ERA through 10 innings.

CarlosMartinez

In recent days, Carlos Martinez has had some scary innings.  None of that was in play last night.  Carlos wrapped up a four-out save in perfect fashion, featuring 3 strikeouts.  One of the big questions surrounding any closer is how quickly he can turn the page if he has a couple of rugged outings.  Here, in a big game against the Cubs (a team he has had struggles with) Carlos was as good as could be hoped.

Throughout his career, Carlos has always pitched very well on days after a Cardinal loss.  He has pitched in 5 of the 8 such games this month, giving 1 run on 3 hits and a walk while striking out 8 in 5 innings.  For the season, Martinez holds a 2.79 ERA with a .206/.280/.279 batting line in 19.1 innings after a loss.

Over the course of his career, Carlos has pitched in 107 games after a Cardinal loss – starting 47 of them.  He is 24-14 with 10 saves and a 3.08 ERA over 362 innings.

TommyEdman

After a bit of a tailspin, Tommy Edman is beginning to re-emerge. He has had two hits in each of the last two games.

Tommy has had a good month in games after a loss.  He has now played in 7 of them, hitting .320 (8 for 25).

JoseMartinez

Jose Martinez finished the game with two singles, stretching his hitting streak to seven games.  He is hitting .333 (9 for 27) during the streak.

PaulGoldschmidt

Speaking of hitting streaks, Goldschmidt extended his to eight straight games.  It hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak either, as Paul has hit .364 (12 for 33) in those games.  The hits have been 5 singles and 7 home runs.  Paul has driven home 14 runs over the last 8 games (3 of them game winners) while slugging a tidy 1.000.

DexterFowler

Dexter Fowler saw his six-game hitting streak come to an end last night.  Dex was 7 for 23 (.304) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.652 slugging percentage) during the streak.

PaulDeJong

Paul DeJong will certainly be glad to see July end.  After his 0 for 4, Paul is down to .214 for the month (18 for 84).

For the season, Paul has struggled considerably after a St Louis loss.  Playing in 48 of the 49 games, DeJong is hitting .227 in those games (41 for 181).  In July, after a loss, he was 3 for 30 (all singles) with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts – a .100/.156/.100 batting line.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s home run accounted for his eighth game-winning RBI of the season.  Only Marcell Ozuna (who has 9) has more.

The home run was Goldy’s twenty-fifth of the year.  Paul has been a four-time thirty-home-run guy – including last year when he hit 33.  His career high is 36, done twice.  Behind his average home run pace for most of the year, Goldschmidt is now on pace to hit a career-high 38.  Seven homers in eight games will do that.

Paul hasn’t started every game this season, but he has played in all of them – all 106.  Goldschmidt has never played in every game in a season, but he has come close.  He played in 160 with Arizona back in 2013.  He has played in at least 155 games in each of the last 4 seasons – including 158 last year.

Paul is also up to 396 at bats, and is creeping up on the 593 he had last year – the second most of his career.

After getting hit by a pitch again last night, Kolten Wong has reached double figures in HBP for the third consecutive season, and the fourth time in his career.  His career high is 15 set in 2015.

Kolten is also moving up on the games played list – last night was his 104th game of the season.  He played just 127 last year.  Kolten has never played more than the 150 games he played in 2015.

Wong is also up to 330 at bats for the season, just beneath the 353 he managed last year.  Wong hasn’t been over 400 at bats in a season since that 2015 season.

His single was his eighty-sixth hit of the season – he finished last year with 88.  Kolten, in his seven-year career – has exceeded 100 hits only three times.  He has also nearly matched his total bases for all of last year (when he had 137).  He already has 129 in 2019.

With Tuesday’s hard-fought win, St Louis has now won the opening game of five straight series.

The Cubs (coming off losing two-of-three in Milwaukee) are the fourth team in the Cards’ last five series that had lost its previous series.

St Louis fell behind again in the fourth inning.  They have now surrendered the game’s first run in four straight games, and six of the last seven.

Who Are These Guys?

Injuries and the other attrition that attends the course of the long major league baseball season has shaken the staid lineups that the Cardinals had trotted out through most of the early months of the season.

With the Cubs in town tonight to end the month of July, both teams sit tied atop the division with identical 56-49 records.  The Cards have gotten here on the wings of a 15-8 July that has been a little remarkable for all the critical pieces that have been missing for all or most of the month.

The Cards July run has been accomplished without Matt Carpenter (4 games played this month), Jordan Hicks (0 games), Yadier Molina (2 games) or Marcell Ozuna (0 games).  You would have thought that losing any of these players for any extended period of time would weaken this team, and that the loss of more than one of them would be crippling.  But the stealth strength of this team all along has been its depth – at the major and minor league levels.  All of these significant losses have been mitigated by more than capable play from the next men up.

There is that famous line in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  The gang has tried everything they can think of to shake a pursuing posse – only to look back and see them following every step of the way.  “Who are those guys?”  Perhaps the Cubs have wondered the same thing.

Here are some random observations about the evolving Cardinal lineup:

Adam Wainwright opens the Chicago series tonight.  Adam has had good and bad days, but for the month of July he has been something of a good luck charm – the Cards are 4-0 in his starts this month.

One of the most significant upgrades this off-season was Yadi’s backup.  Since it was assumed that Molina would start about 140 games, there was little reason to think that the backup catcher would be a terribly important factor.  But with Yadi on the shelf for a significant period of time, the addition of Matt Wieters has been huge.

St Louis is 9-6 this month with Wieters starting, and 18-12 (.600) this season.

But the impact here stretches beyond Wieters.  The Molina injury also opened the door for Andrew Knizner to play an important role in the July surge.  Andrew has started 6 games this month, with the Cards winning 5 of them.  For the season, they are 6-2 when Knizner starts.

One of the most useful moving pieces has been Yairo Munoz.  Between third base, shortstop, left and center field, Munoz has started 13 of the 23 July games so far.  St Louis is 10-3 (.769) when he starts, and 5-5 when he doesn’t.

Ozuna’s absence has opened the door for Tyler O’Neill.  Of all the players who have stepped up, O’Neill might be the one who has earned himself continued playing time – even when Ozuna returns.

Tyler has made 26 starts this year.  The Cards are 16-10 (.615) and are scoring 5.00 runs per game when Tyler starts.  They are 40-39 (.506) scoring 4.44 runs per game when O’Neill is not in the lineup.

Jose Martinez also seems to be a necessary lineup element.  St Louis is 40-30 (.571), scoring 4.86 runs per game when Jose is in the lineup.  They are 16-19 (.457) scoring 4.03 runs per game when Martinez begins the game on the bench.

Both of these outfielders have an ability to spark the team.  Before his injury, the Cards were only 37-40 (.481) when Ozuna started – scoring 4.40 runs per game.  In the 28 games they’ve played without Ozuna in the lineup, St Louis is 19-9 (.679) scoring 5.07 runs per game.

Matt Carpenter – poised to return soon to the lineup – has started only 74 games this year (62 against right-handed starters and 12 against lefties).  The Cards are 6-6, scoring 4.67 runs per game when Carp is in the lineup against lefties.  They have lost 6 of the 9 games against left-handers that Carpenter hasn’t started, scoring just 34 runs in those games.

Meanwhile, they are just 32-30 in the games the left-handed Carpenter has started against right-handers, scoring 4.50 runs per game in those contests.  They have faced 22 right-handed starters without Matt in the lineup.  St Louis is 15-7 in those games (.682) scoring 5.09.

Tommy Edman is another of those rookies who has made a splashy debut in the show.  He has ended up making 17 starts this month.  But St Louis is just 10-7 when Tommy starts (they are 5-1 this month when he doesn’t start).  Much of the reason for this, I believe, is that Edman is mismatched as a leadoff hitter.  Thirty-seven games into his major league career, Tommy has drawn all of 5 walks and his on base percentage is .299.

For the season, Carpenter has batted leadoff 67 times to Edman’s 21.  St Louis is 37-30 (.552) scoring 4.69 runs per game with Matt leading off.  They are 11-10 (.524) scoring 4.43 runs per game with Tommy in the leadoff spot.

As for Carpenter, he has made 7 starts in a lineup spot other than leadoff.  St Louis has scored only 21 runs in those games, losing 6 of the 7.

For all the angst over Carpenter’s ragged season so far, Carp just doesn’t seem to be himself when he doesn’t hit leadoff, and the Cards don’t seem to be themselves when someone else is there.

In moving Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong down in the order, manager Mike Shildt has been searching for the right person to hit second.  This month, more often than not, that person has been Martinez.  It is, perhaps, not his best fit.

St Louis is only 8-6 in Jose’s 14 starts batting second this month, scoring 4.71 runs per game.  They are 7-2 with someone else there, scoring 49 runs in those games.

Of those other players who have hit second this month, Shildt has turned to Dexter Fowler 5 times, with St Louis winning all 5, scoring 34 runs in those games.

For the season, Goldschmidt has still made the most starts in this lineup spot – he has batted second 55 times.  St Louis is 26-29 in those games, although they’ve scored a healthy 4.85 runs per game.  DeJong has the second most opportunities to hit second with 24.  The record in those games is improved at 14-10, although the scoring is down to 3.67 runs per game.

While Goldschmidt has been hitting home runs in July, management’s question has been where to bat him.  Paul has hit fourth 12 times and third 10.  The numbers suggest that third might be the better fit in the new lineup.  St Louis is 7-3 when Goldy hits third.  They have scored 52 runs in those games.  They are 7-5 when he hits fourth (.583) with the team scoring 5.00 runs per game.

For the season, Goldy has hit cleanup 14 times (8-6, 4.79) and third 32 times (20-12, 4.19 runs per game).  DeJong has still made the most starts this season hitting third with 64.  In spite of the fact that St Louis is averaging 4.78 runs per game when DeJong hits there, they are just 30-34 in those games.

If not Goldschmidt batting fourth, how about Tyler O’Neill.  He has hit there 11 times this month (8-3).  Fourth, of course, is where Ozuna hit when he was in the lineup (all 77 games).

After the fourth spot, all of the remaining lineup spots have been completely up for grabs.  Twenty-three games into the month, and no one has made as many as ten starts in any of the last four spots in the batting order.

For the season, four different players have hit fifth at least ten times (Martinez 42, Molina 17, Fowler 14 and O’Neill 10).  None of them has made even one start there this month.

Molina has made the most starts this season batting sixth.  The team is 21-26 in his 47 starts, although they are scoring 4.51 runs in those games.  In his absence, Fowler and Kolten Wong have been trading opportunities in this lineup spot – both with solid results.

Wong has hit sixth 9 times this month, with a 6-3 record.  The team has scored 55 runs in those games.  For the season, the Cardinals are 8-7 (.533) scoring 5.00 runs per game when Kolten hits here.

For his part, the team is 4-2 in Fowler’s 6 starts hitting sixth, with 29 runs scored.  Dexter has batted here 22 times this season, with the team winning 14 of those (.636) while scoring 4.41 runs per game.

Fowler (33) and Wong (29) have also made the most starts this season batting seventh.  While the offense has done better with Dexter hitting seventh (5.12 rpg vs 4.03), the record is better when Wong hits there (17-12 as opposed to 14-19).

Note for Tonight

This will be the tenth meeting this season between these ancient rivals.  To this point, the home team has won all nine games.

Recent Scoring Changes

For those of you scoring at home:

On July 12 the Cards hosted Arizona.  In the fifth inning, Nick Ahmed drilled a one-out shot into the left-centerfield gap, ending up at second.  Originally scored a single and an error, Ahmed has since been credited with a double.  So erase an error from Jose Martinez and add a double to Daniel Ponce de Leon’s pitching line (amended box score).

Still Comes Back to Pitching

The way that the Cardinal’s hot streak came to a thudding halt against Houston at home this weekend should serve as a reminder of some fundamental principles.  The first of these principles affirms that it is the depth of the lineup – not necessarily whatever impact bats might be in the middle of it – that determines your offensive performance.

Toward the end of the Cardinal hot streak (and most recently here), the mlb.com game accounts have connected the St Louis surge to Paul Goldschmidt’s recent heroics.

It is no surprise that sports’ journalists should – like the fans – gravitate towards the achievements of the game’s superstars.  Sunday’s loss brought to an end a six-game home run streak from Goldschmidt (although not his hitting streak – more on that below).  This is a significant achievement.  There are precious few mortals anywhere on this planet who are capable of doing things like this.

But the structure of baseball minimizes the impact of any one player – even the superstars.  Unlike football (where you can give the ball to your star running back as often as you like) or basketball (where you can funnel the ball to your top scorer every time down the court), in baseball, Goldschmidt has to wait until everyone else has had their at bat before he can hit again.  Thus, the more production you get from the rest of the lineup, the more runs you will score over the course of the game (or season).

This was somewhat dramatically born out in the Cardinal losses in this last series.  Paul homered in the Saturday game, and added a single on Sunday, but St Louis scored just two runs in each game because too few of the rest of the Cardinal hitters were able to contribute.

It feels a little obvious pointing this out, but there are times that I’m not sure that management understands that this is how offense works in baseball.

The other fundamental principle is that everything begins with pitching.  Paul may well have hit two home runs in each of the last two games, and the birds would probably have lost them both anyway as the starting pitchers in those two contests never really gave the team a chance.

In the Friday game (a 5-3 win), starter Jack Flaherty crafted a quality start against this very accomplished Houston lineup – he allowed just 2 runs on 3 hits over 6 innings (he struck out 9).

In the other two games – Saturday’s 8-2 loss and Sunday’s 6-2 defeat – the two starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon and Dakota Hudson) made early exits, leaving with significant deficits.

Combined, Ponce de Leon and Hudson totaled 6.1 innings at the cost of 10 runs on 11 hits (that included a double and 3 home runs), 6 walks and 1 hit batter.  They combined for a 14.21 ERA and a .407/.529/.778 batting line.

Most of the time, this kind of damage will get you into trouble.  On Saturday and Sunday, it was more trouble than the offense could overcome.

Flaherty

While the Astro series represented a step backward for the rotation overall, Flaherty’s performance continued his strong rebound.  After enduring some notable growing pains through much of the first half, Jack began turning things around with his last start before the All-Star break (a 1-0 loss).

Over his last four starts, now, Jack has 3 quality starts.  In his 24.1 innings, he has given just 4 runs on 14 hits while striking out 30.  He has a 1.48 ERA and a .165 batting average against, but still no wins as his offense has supported him with just 4 total runs over that span.

His ERA for the month of July is now down to 2.48 with a .198 batting average against.

The only runs off Jack came on a two-run home run off the bat of Michael Brantley.  The runner (Alex Bregman) was on first with one out – a potential double play opportunity.  This now makes 35 straight double play opportunities that Jack hasn’t gotten the double play on a ground ball.  A fly ball pitcher, Jack has actually gotten 5 ground balls in those situations, but 3 of those grounders found their way through the infield for singles, and the other two resulted in force-outs only.

Flaherty did actually get one double play in all of those opportunities.  Against the Pirates on July 16, Jack struck out Elias Diaz while Kevin Newman was running.  Matt Wieters gunned Newman down to complete the DP.

With their 50 swings at Jack’s offerings, Houston was only able to put the ball in play with 12 of them (24%).  Flaherty has been the most difficult of all Cardinal starters to put the ball in play against.  For the season, only 32.5% of the swings against him end up in play.

Flaherty had – overall – great success against Houston.  That success came at a price, though, as it took him 108 pitches to fight through his six innings (the ‘Stros fouled off 28 pitches against him).  He averaged 4.91 pitches per batter faced.

As is common for strikeout pitchers, Jack throws a lot of pitches per batter.  For the season, his 4.19 pitches per batter faced is the highest among all starters who have been in the rotation all year.

Ponce de Leon

Daniel pitched his way into the rotation with four very impressive spot starts.  He has now relinquished that spot as he hasn’t pitched well since being named the fifth starter.  In his last three starts he has totaled 9 innings pitched, giving 10 runs on 14 hits and 10 walks.  Opponents have a .368 batting average and a .500 on base percentage against him in those outings.

After a strong start, Daniel now has a 4.87 ERA for the month with 11 walks in 20.1 innings.

Hudson

At one point earlier this season, Dakota Hudson had thrown 8 consecutive quality starts – a feat unapproached by anyone in the rotation this year.

But Dakota has been undergoing some growing pains of his own lately.  His last 6 times out, Hudson has been saddled with a 5.46 ERA, a .301 batting average against, and a .593 slugging percentage against.  He has been touched for 9 home runs in his last 28 innings.

Normally an extreme groundball pitcher, only 43 of the last 89 batters to put the ball in play against him have hit the ball on the ground (48%).

John Brebbia

John Brebbia tossed a scoreless inning on Friday and then threw two more on Sunday.  While he has had some ups and downs this season, overall there have been a lot more ups.

In 10 games (14 innings) since his paternity leave, Brebbia has allowed 4 runs on 9 hits, walking 2 while striking out 19.  His July ERA sits at 2.57, with a .180/.226/.240 batting line against.

Of the two hits John allowed, one was an infield hit.  Through the end of June, John had allowed just one infield hit.  He has been scratched for 4 this month.

Over the two games, John faced 3 double play opportunities, and didn’t get the ground ball for any of them.  For the season, Brebbia has been in that double play situation 32 times and has gotten just 1 double play.  He only got ground balls on two other occasions – one resulting in an infield hit, and the other a dribbler back to the mound that advanced the baserunners.

Of the two batters that John struck out on Sunday, one (Carlos Correa) was caught looking at strike three.  Brebbia is getting more called third strikes than usual lately.  Of his first 48 strikeouts this season, only five looked at strike three.  Seven of his last 17 strikeouts have gone down looking.

No Cardinal pitcher who has faced more than 50 batters has had a higher percentage of his pitches swung at than John.  Over the weekend, Houston offered at 21 of his 39 deliveries (53.8%).  For the season, batters swing at his offerings 51.1% of the time.

John Gant

After a brilliant start to his season, John Gant has been regressing rapidly.  He pitched in 2 of the Houston games, and allowed a run in both.  He has been scored on in 5 of his last 12 games.  In a total of 10 innings, the previously almost untouchable Mr Gant has given 9 runs on 16 hits a 9 walks – his 8.10 ERA in those outings accompanied by a .381 batting average and a .490 on base percentage.

Sunday was one of the few times recently that John was brought into a game the Cards were losing, and the four-run deficit they faced was the farthest behind the Cards have been when John has entered a game this season.

In the eighth inning Sunday, Brantley came to the plate with George Springer at third, Jose Altuve at first and no one out. The score was 5-1 Houston.  Brantley drilled a double off the base of the wall in right-center driving in the runner from third.  This was the eleventh time this season that Gant had that runner at third and less than two out.  That runner has now scored 8 times.

Dexter Fowler

With his pinch home run in Sunday’s ninth inning, Dexter Fowler extended his recent hitting streak to six straight games.  Dex is hitting .304 (7 for 23) during the streak, with 4 of the hits going for extra bases (2 doubles and 2 home runs) – a .652 slugging percentage.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill was also one of the bright spots of the Houston series.  Extracting himself from a small slump, O’Neill was 4 for 10 in the 3 games, with 3 walks.  Tyler is still having a very strong July, hitting .312 this month (24 for 77).

Goldschmidt

As mentioned above, Paul’s home run streak ended at six games.  Goldschmidt did, though, get a single on Sunday to push his hitting streak to seven games.  He is 10 for 29 during the streak (.345) with 4 singles to go with the 6 home runs – a .966 slugging percentage.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong had gotten a hit in 8 consecutive games in which he had had a plate appearance until he went 0 for 3 on Saturday.  He started his next streak with a single and a run scored on Sunday.

In the last 10 games in which he has had a plate appearance, Kolten is hitting .371 (13 for 35).  He is up to .344 (22 for 64) for the month.

Paul DeJong

After his big series against Pittsburgh, Paul DeJong finished the Houston series just 1 for 9.  He is still hitting just .225 (18 for 80) in July.

Harrison Bader

Nothing will drop in for Harrison Bader.  Hitless in 5 at bats during the Houston series, Harrison is now 0 for his last 14 at bats.  He is hitting .146 for the month (6 for 41), and is down , now, to .195 on the year.

Yairo Munoz

Not much went Yairo Munoz’ way against Houston, either.  Hitless in 8 at bats in the series, Yairo is now working on an 0-for-10.

Over his last 6 games, Yairo is 4 for 24 (.167), and is now hitting just .233 (14 for 60) for the month.

Final Notes from the Pirate Series

Yairo Munoz got the start in left field on Wednesday, breaking Tyler O’Neill’s streak of 11 consecutive starts in left.   That had been the longest active streak by any Cardinal at a single position.  That mantle now reverts back to Paul DeJong, who – after the conclusion of the Houston series – has made 14 consecutive starts at shortstop.

While Miles Mikolas – the Thursday starter – has pitched notably better since the All-Star break, he is still well on pace to set new career highs (all set last year) in runs, earned runs, hits allowed and walks.  He gave 3 more runs (all earned) on 5 more hits and a walk in his six innings, and has now served up 58 runs (56 earned) on 127 hits and 20 walks for the season.  His career highs were the 70 runs (63 earned), 186 hits and 29 walks he gave last year.  At his current pace, Miles will give up 92 runs (89 earned), 202 hits and 32 walks this season.

With their 6 runs on Thursday, St Louis finished the series with 30 runs scored – the most runs they have scored in any series this year (of course, this was a four-game series).  The previous high was the 26 runs they scored against the Dodgers from April 8-11 (also a four-game series).

NoteBook – Houston Series

Paul Goldschmidt picked up his seventh GWRBI with his Friday home run.  He is 2 behind Marcell Ozuna for the team lead.

When St Louis out-homered Houston 2-1 on Friday, they brought themselves into home run parity for the season for the first time since the twelfth game of the season  (they were actually ahead of the opposition at that point, 19-18).  The Cards ended Friday with 134 home runs hit and 134 home runs allowed.  As recently as game number 90 (on July 13), they were 16 home runs shy of the opposition (109 hit and 125 allowed).

With his 3 at bats on Thursday, Dexter Fowler surpassed the 289 at bats he totaled in his slump-and-injury plagued 2018 season.  Dexter now has 292 at bats for the 2019 season.

Carlos Martinez has started at least 1 game every year of his seven-year career.  On Friday he pitched in his twenty-fifth game of the year – all out of the pen.  He is 8 games pitched away from the 33 he pitched last year, when he was mostly a starter.  Even after missing the first part of the season with injuries, Carlos is still on pace to pitch in 39 games, which would be his most since he pitched in 57 games when he was mostly a reliever in 2014.

But no starts, yet.

Carlos has already set career highs in games finished (17, after finishing 13 in 2014) and saves (he has 10 this season after recording just 7 previously in his entire career).

One thing about Kolten Wong’s season.  He won’t be able to complain that he did have ample opportunity.  Kolten, who has had annual issues staying healthy (and producing enough to stay in the big leagues) played his 103rd game of the season on Sunday.  He played only 127 all last year.  His 10 at bats in the series brought him to 328 for the season.  He totaled 353 all last year.

The consistent playing time has seemed to pay off some.  Wong already has 85 hits (with his 3 against Houston) and 128 total bases this year, after finishing last year with 88 hits and 137 total bases.

He already has more runs batted in this year (40 after his Friday RBI) than he had all of 2018 (38).

When the Friday game started, St Louis had gone 8 games being at least tied in the game after 6 innings, but they trailed in this one by a 2-1 score at that point of the game.

In Saturday’s loss they broke a streak of ten straight games where they held the lead at some point of the game.

George Springer’s home run in the first inning on Sunday meant that Houston scored first in all three games of the weekend set.  The Cardinals have now surrendered the first run in five of the last six games.

St Louis is now 11-5-1 in series after winning the first game.

Dakota Hudson’s New Weapon

Yes, the slider sometimes misbehaves.

It did so in the first inning of last night’s game in Pittsburgh.  After Adam Frazier led off with a single, Dakota Hudson’s 3-2 slider to Bryan Reynolds sailed high, and Pittsburgh had their first two runners on base.  The slider to the next Pirate hitter, Starling Marte, did worse than sail high.  It tailed back right over the heart of the plate and waited for Marte to smash it – which he did.

Fifteen pitches into his evening, and Dakota Hudson was down 3-0, and the slider was – in no small part – responsible.

(Parenthetically, most of the TV viewers saw Marte after the home run smile to the camera and demonstrate with his fingers 3 to zero.  In baseball this is almost always a bad idea.  Under any circumstance a three-run first inning lead is far from iron clad.  All the more so when your team has been in a pronounced slump – as Marte’s has.  And even more so when the team you are playing is starting to heat up – and the Cardinals seem – finally – to be that team.  Through most of this season, an early three run deficit did feel like a thirty run deficit.  But for the moment, anyway, the team has turned the page on those issues and is becoming a confident enough offense that three early runs don’t phase them much.  Anyway, as so often happens, Marte’s chest-thumping meant little in the long run.  He and the Pirates would not score again.)

So, back to that slider.

Fast forward to the fifth inning.  St Louis now leads 4-3.  But there is more trouble on the way for Hudson.   After another lead-off single from Frazier, Dakota fell behind both Reynolds and Marte to the point that they declined to chase Hudson’s sinker, and both drew walks.  Walks have been a growing concern over Dakota’s last several starts.

Now we had trouble.  Bases loaded.  Nobody out.  And to the plate was Pittsburgh’s blossoming superstar, switch-hitter Josh Bell.

Hudson threw two excellent fastballs under Bell’s hands that he fouled off.  On 0-2, Dakota went back to that slider.  It darted in along much the same track as the fastballs.  But, before Bell’s bat could turn on it, it dropped like a stone for the strikeout.

That was the turning point.  After that, Colin Moran bounced into a double play, and the inning was over.  Hudson and some more splashy work by the Cardinal bullpen would allow the birds to hold on to this one by that 4-3 score (box score).

Along the way, Hudson would cobble together his eleventh quality start in his last 15 games, and stretch to 17 consecutive starts his streak of not allowing more than 3 earned runs – quite a trick after he was down 3-0 before he recorded his first out.

In his early starts this season, Dakota Hudson frequently faced lineups stacked with left-handed bats.  And all too often those bats took advantage of the young Cardinal starter.

One of the adjustments that Dakota has made as the season has progressed is developing a weapon that can neutralize those left-handed bats.  More and more, now, that weapon is becoming his wipe-out slider.

In his 6.1 innings last night, Hudson finished with 5 strikeouts – all swinging.  The two right-handers that he got (Chris Archer and Jacob Stallings) both went down on fastballs.  But the three lefties that he chalked up (Bell and Moran twice) all got that nasty, nasty slider.

So, yes, Dakota has a weapon that has equalized things a bit against lefties.  Even more interesting to me is this.  All 5 of Hudson’s strikeouts came on 0-2 pitches.  None of them even prolonged the at bat to four pitches with a foul ball.  Moreover, they were the only 5 at bats of the night against Hudson that ended 0-2.  In his 22.1 innings this month, Hudson has struck out 10 of the 12 batters whose at bat ended with an 0-2 count.

This slider is now becoming a put-away pitch that batters who are backed up in the count are kind of at the mercy of.  As a companion pitch to his ground ball arsenal, this bodes very well for the future.

But it would help if he could get it to behave a little better early in games.

More Hudson

After an earlier streak where he went 7 consecutive starts without allowing a home run (and serving up just 1 home run over a ten-start stretch that reached 60.1 innings), Dakota has now given up at least one home run in six consecutive starts.

Even though his four July starts haven’t been his smoothest, Hudson has still won them all.  He is now 8-1 over his last 12 starts, carrying a 3.01 ERA in those games and getting 56% ground balls.

How Good is Giovanny Gallegos

After Hudson’s 6.1 innings, and with the Cards clinging to a one-run lead, manager Mike Shildt went to Giovanny Gallegos for 5 critical outs as he finished the seventh and worked the eighth.  In typical style, Gallegos finished them off, five-up and five-down with 3 strikeouts.

How good is he?  By the numbers, you would have to say that Giovanny is as dominant as any relief pitcher in baseball.  Here’s a taste:

Last night’s game was Gallegos’ sixth consecutive scoreless outing.  In those games, Giovanny has pitched a total of 9.2 innings allowing 2 hits and walking 1 while striking out 13.  Over his last 22 games, Gallegos has completed 27.2 innings in which he has been brushed for 2 runs on 13 hits.  His 2 walks have been offset by 37 strikeouts.  In this stretch, Giovanny has thrown 71% of his pitches for strikes.

The numbers on these last 27.2 innings add up to a 0.65 ERA and a batting line of .141/.167/.228.

This is dominance.

Not that it matters, but with all the strikes that Gallegos throws, he almost never finds himself behind in the count.  Last night he was behind only one of the 5 batters that he faced, getting Reynolds to strike out on a 3-2 pitch.

Over the last month, only 5 of the 35 batters to face Gallegos have put themselves ahead in the count.  They are 0-for-4 with a walk.  This season, Giovanny has faced 178 major league batters.  He has worked behind on only 37 of them. And as I say, it matters little.  Even the ones who do get ahead in the count against Gallegos are only hitting .172 with 1 home run.

Kolten Wong

There was a time not too long ago when Kolten Wong was daily listed among the struggling hitters.  Those days, for the moment, are past.  Wong singled, doubled and drove in St Louis’ first run of the game.  Kolten has now hit safely in five consecutive games in which he has had a plate appearance, going 7 for 17 (.412) in those games.

For the month of July, Kolten is a .348 hitter (16 for 46).

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill’s recent slump continued last night.  Hitless in 4 at bats, Tyler is now 0 for his last 12, and 2 for 22 (.091) over his last 5 games – games in which he has no extra base hits, no walks, and 1 run batted in.  It has been 13 games since Tyler’s last walk.

Matt Wieters

On May 29, the Cardinals were planted by Philadelphia, 11-4.  That loss culminated a 6-18 spiral that knocked the team from first place in this division to two games under .500 at 26-28.

That was 46 games ago.  Since that time, St Louis has been steadily re-gaining ground in the division, winning 27 of these last 46 games.  One of the notable things about these games is that Matt Wieters has been the catcher in almost half of them.  Matt has started 22, Yadier Molina just 18 of them before his injury sidelined him, and Andrew Knizner has started the other 6.

Wieters has made some offensive contributions to the surge, including 6 home runs – most of which have been telling, even if they haven’t been terribly frequent.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Wieters is hitting .188 (15 for 80) over the last 46 games.

Yairo Munoz

In and out of the lineup, and starting the last two games in center field, Yairo Munoz has seen his batting average slip a bit recently.  Munoz was hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is just 10 for 43 (.233) for the month of July.

In last night’s ninth inning, Munoz fell behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Stratton 0-2, and struck out swinging on the next pitch (that slider out of the zone).

Perhaps hitting behind in the count is one area where a player’s lack of regular at bats may take its greatest toll.

Over his last 76 plate appearances, Munoz has found himself behind in the count 34 times.  Yairo is just 3 for 34 (.088) in those at bats with no extra-base hits (in fact, one of the three singles was an infield hit), no walks, 12 strikeouts, and 1 double play grounded into.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s RBI double brings him to within one run batted in of last year’s total.  He drove in 38 last year and has 37 now this year.

Finding a Way to Win the Close Ones

In his remarks after the game, Paul Goldschmidt (whose grand slam had sent home the winning runs) more or less put his finger on the issue.  He said:

“I think we’re going to have to find a way to win these games.  There’s going to be the games you just lose, and there’s going to be the ones you come out there and win.  But we have to find a way to win the close ones.”

These words of wisdom (quoted in the mlb.com game account) came in the aftermath of another one-run game – this one a 6-5, ten-inning conquest of the Pittsburgh Pirates (box score).

The Cardinals have now played 17 games in the month of July, and nearly half of them (7 to be precise) have been decided by one run.  There is a romance to the one-run game.  As the Cardinal’s slugging first baseman pointed out, a season is determined by that percentage of games that could go either way.  The ones that are decided less by talent and more by character.

It’s part of my interest in one-run games.  Games where the difference is truly as thin as one at bat either way.

Almost always, one-run games are characterized by strong pitching efforts.  They are generally 4-3 or 3-2 games.  The Cardinal’s one-run games this month, though, have been decidedly offensive by comparison.

Of the 7 there were 2 that were clearly pitching duels – a 1-0 game and a 3-2 game.  But the other five are a 5-4 game, two 6-5 games, and the 12-11 game of last Friday.  In their 7 July one-run games, the birds have hit 12 home runs and averaged 5 runs a game.  But the Cards are only 4-3 in those games, because the pitching staff has scuffled to a 5.02 ERA in them.

For the season, St Louis has fought through 29 one-run games.  They have won 14 and lost 15.  The Brewers, by comparison, are 15-11 in one-run games, the Braves are 18-11, and Philadelphia is 13-10.

San Francisco is 23-10 in one-run games.

It’s a trait you almost always see in the tough teams.  But something not consistently found in the Cardinals.

Not yet, anyway.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman contributed 2 hits and a run scored to the victory.  Tommy has been in the starting lineup for 7 straight games, and is hitting .300 (9 for 30) in those games.

Edman has also been one of the team’s most consistent forces in one-run games since bursting onto the scene.  He has played in all 7 this month (starting 6) and is hitting .407 (11 for 27) in them.  He has played in 10 one-run games since his call up.  He is hitting .438 (14 for 32) with a home run and 4 runs batted in in those games.

Tyler O’Neill

After a torrid start after his recall, Tyler O’Neill – now that he has been made a fixture in the lineup – is starting to fade a bit.  After his 0-for-5 last night, Tyler is just 2 for 18 (.111) – all singles – over his last 4 games.  He has no walks and six strikeouts in those contests.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz was also one of the Cardinals held hitless last night – he was 0-for-4.  Munoz has been one of the team’s better hitters in one-run games, but not this month.  In the 7 July one-run games, Munoz is now hitting .217 (5 for 23) with no walks.

Daniel Ponce de Leon

Daniel Ponce de Leon started the affair and lasted just 3 innings.  Four walks in those innings hastened his exit.  Still, for the innings that he pitched, Daniel was only touched for one run.  When he starts, I’m surer management would like to see him get deeper into games, but for the month of July so far Ponce de Leon holds a 3.00 ERA over 18 innings.

Daniel has also been one of those players who have stepped up in the one-run games he has been a part of.  Ponce de Leon has only pitched in 5 of the 29 Cardinal one-run game (4 as a starter), but holds a 2.66 ERA and a .211 batting average against in those 20.1 innings.

Tyler Webb

Just recalled from Memphis, Tyler Webb was thrust right into the middle of another one-run game.  He threw two scoreless innings (the seventh and the eighth) to help send the game into extra-innings.

Tyler has pitched in only 4 games this month in and around his trip to Memphis, but two of those have been one-run affairs (he also pitched in the 5-4 loss in Seattle on July 2).  He pitched 1.1 hitless innings in that one as well – although he granted one intentional walk.

Webb has 3.1 hitless innings in the one-run games he’s pitched this month, and for the season has allowed just 1 run in 6.1 innings during parts of 8 one-run games.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia struck out two more batters in his .2 scoreless innings last night.  Since returning from his paternity leave, John has pitched 9 innings, giving 2 runs on 4 hits.  He has struck out 17 of the last 33 batters to face him.

Brebbia has now pitched 10 innings across 9 one-run games this season.  He holds a 1.80 ERA and a .194 batting average against in those games, while striking out 15 batters.

Carlos Martinez

This was a 6-3 Cardinal lead in the tenth inning when Carlos Martinez walked in to preserve the lead.  He did – after 6 batters and 3 hits that included a home run.  He was saved from his first blown save of the season (as a closer) when Jose Martinez cut down the tying run at the plate.

Carlos is now a troubled closer.  He has given up runs in 4 of his last 5 games.  Over his last 5 innings, Martinez has given 6 runs on 10 hits and 4 walks.  His ERA for his 8 July innings has risen to 6.75.

Carlos has all 4 of the saves the team has in one-run games this month – but they haven’t been pretty.  In the 4 innings of those saves, Martinez has allowed 4 runs on 9 hits.  For the season, Carlos has thrown 11 innings in 10 one-run games with a 4.09 ERA and a .311 batting average against to show for it.

Carlos continues to be a concern.

NoteBook

The grand slam proved to be Paul Goldschmidt’s sixth game-winning run batted in of the season.  This ties him with Paul DeJong for second on the team behind Marcell Ozuna’s 9.

Kolten Wong’s intentional walk was his thirty-third walk of the year.  He drew only 31 in 407 plate appearances last year.  In his seventh season, Kolten has never walked more than the 41 walks he drew in 411 plate appearances in 2017.

Rotation More or Less Survives Cincinnati

The Cardinal pitching staff came into Cincinnati on something of a roll.  In the previous seven games they had given just 17 runs (2.43 per), getting quality starts in 6 of the 7.

But, they call it the Great American Smallpark for a reason.  For four games over the long weekend in Cincinnati, the Cardinal pitching staff felt itself back on its heels at times – especially through the first two games, where Cincy scored 15 runs.

The signature game of the set, of course, was the Friday game when St Louis rallied from a 7-0 deficit to take a 12-7 lead, only to end the game clinging to a 12-11 victory (box score).  By series end, even though St Louis won three of the four, they had allowed 19 runs – nearly 5 a game (with a 4.89 ERA).

Along the way, this division rival (Cincinnati) got their shot at almost the entire rotation – with varying results.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson started and won the Thursday game (box score).  The start was messier, though, than most of Dakota’s earlier victories, as he made it through five innings, but gave 3 runs on 6 hits – 3 of them for extra bases – 2 walks and a hit batsman.

After a heroic June, Hudson has been less spectacular here through the early games of July.  Three starts into the month, and Hudson sports a 4.50 ERA.  He has managed to be the winning pitcher in all three of those games, though, because Dakota gets run support.  He got 7 runs in his 5 innings on Thursday (more than any of the other starters in this series) and has received 17 support runs this month – more than anyone on the staff – at an average of 9.56 support runs per every nine innings – higher than anyone else on the staff who has pitched more than 10 innings this month.

For the season, he leads the staff with 72 support runs, and his 6.31 average per nine innings is second among starters to Michael Wacha – who has been getting 6.41 support runs per nine innings as a starter.

One of the recent trends working against Dakota is increasing fly ball rates.  For the season, Hudson still leads the rotation in ground ball percentage (59.4%), but 10 of the 17 Reds that put the ball in play against him, hit the ball in the air.  Through three starts in July, Hudson has given 25 fly balls and only 22 grounders.  Hudson really needs those ground balls to have success.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright was the Friday starter, and he got battered a little bit.  The 7-0 deficit occurred on his watch, as he lasted just 3.1 innings, giving all 7 runs on 9 hits.

July hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts for Waino, who is now wearing a 5.28 ERA for the month, to go along with a .283 batting average against.

In the run support game, Adam is kind of the opposite of Hudson.  St Louis scored 12 runs on Friday night – none in support of Waino.  In three starts and 15.1 innings this month, Adam has seen 5 runs of support.

For the season, Wainwright is the least supported of all Cardinal starters, getting just 2.76 support runs per nine innings.

Fly balls are a problem for Adam as well, and he has been struggling as much as anyone to keep the ball on the ground.   Against the Reds, he induced only 3 ground balls – as opposed to 11 balls in the air.  This is not the best approach to take in Cincinnati.

For the month, Waino’s ground ball rate (39.5%) is the second worst among the rotation.  His fortunes will rise as this number rises.

Adam’s innings Friday night were few, but were brutally long – another thing that has haunted his starts this month.  It took Wainwright 77 pitches to bleed through his 3.1 innings.  His 15.1 innings this month have cost him 275 pitches – an average on 17.93 that is the most by any member of the rotation.

Miles Mikolas

The Saturday start went to Miles Mikolas.  While not brilliant, he gave us the only quality start the rotation enjoyed last weekend.  He went 6 giving 3 runs on 6 hits.

Keeping with the trend of losing quality starts, Mikolas endured the only loss over the weekend by a score of 3-2 (box score).

While Hudson has been surrendering more and more fly balls recently, Mikolas is taking over Dakota’s role as primary worm killer.  If there was, in fact, a team-wide strategy to get ground balls, Miles was the only one to execute the plan – he got 10 grounders as opposed to 7 fly balls.

Three starts into July, and Mikolas leads the rotation getting 59.3% ground balls.  For the season, he is still second to Hudson (with a 52.1%), but has been closing lately.

With the increased ground balls comes increased pitch efficiency.  Coming off a complete game shutout in which he threw just 100 pitches, Mikolas cleared his 6 innings in Cincy on just 91 pitches.  In three starts, Mikolas has worked 19 innings on just 263 pitches – a 13.84 average that is unapproached by anyone else in the rotation.  For the season, he also leads the rotation, averaging just 15.30 pitches per inning.

For Miles, this was the seventh time this season that he has started on four-days rest, and the numbers are starting to suggest a notable difference when he comes back after just those four days.  He is 4-3 with 6 quality starts and a 2.93 ERA on four days.  He has also started 7 times on five-days rest, throwing just 1 quality start to back a 1-4 record and a 6.48 ERA.

He has pitched 5 times on more than 5 days, also with excellent results – 4 quality starts and a 2.73 ERA.  So, so far as he’s been able to avoid that fifth day, he has very much resembled the Mikolas from last year.

Jack Flaherty

Sunday’s starter Jack Flaherty lasted only 4.1 innings, and had traffic all over the bags.  He gave 6 hits, 2 walks, and hit a batter to keep things very interesting.  But he struck out 7 and gave no runs, giving the team every opportunity to hold off Cincinnati during a 3-1 victory (box score).

It has been a season of development for the talented young right hander, who has pitched this month much better than his 0-1 record suggests.  He now holds a rotation-best 2.35 ERA for July.

Jack is the rotation’s most extreme flyball pitcher.  Sunday in Cincinnati, the Reds put 9 of their 12 fair balls into the air against Jack.  For the season, his 61.5% flyball rate is the rotation’s highest.

One thing about being the strikeout pitcher.  It is more pitch-count heavy.  Flaherty brought 86 pitches in his 4.1 innings on Sunday.  For the season, Jack has needed an average of 17.37 pitches to work his way through an inning.  That number, of course, is the highest among the rotation.

Flaherty is another pitcher who – so far – has performed much better on regular rest.  Sunday afternoon was his eighth start on four-days rest.  His record is only 1-4 in those games (as his run support is a terrible 2.14 when he pitches on four days), but he has thrown 4 quality starts and carries a 3.30 ERA and a .198 batting average against in those games.

By comparison, Jack has pitched 5 times on five days (2 quality starts and a 4.73 ERA) and 5 times on six days (1 quality start and a 5.63 ERA).

John Gant

John Gant hadn’t pitched in five days when the Cincinnati series started.  He then pitched in 3 of the 4 games against the Reds, looking more like himself as the series went along.

He did get clipped for 4 hits in 10 at bats during the series, something that has been happening more often this month.  The 25 opposing batters that Gant has pitched to this month are hitting .364 against him.

Gant (who is still 7-0 out of the pen) has had generally impressive luck getting runs scored while he is the pitcher of record.  He got runs scored for him in two of the three games he pitched in in Cincinnati.

For the season, Johnny has gotten more support runs (38) than Wainwright.  In his 40 middle relief appearances, Gant receives an average of 7.38 support runs per nine innings.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos was awarded the win on Sunday as he worked out of a bases-loaded, fifth-inning jam.  He also pitched well in the Thursday game.  For the series, he pitched 3.1 innings, giving no runs, 1 hit, 1 walk, and striking out 6 of the 11 men to face him.  He inherited 5 runners in the two games and stranded them all.

Gallegos – whose season ERA has faded to 2.31 – has pitched 9 innings over 6 games this month, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits, walking 1 and striking out 13.  If a starting pitcher put together those numbers, you would call him dominant.

Giovanny – who threw 36 of his 53 pitches against Cincy for strikes, is the most venerated strike-thrower on the Cardinal staff.  For the season, he is throwing 70% of his pitches for strikes.

Concern Over Carlos

The Friday game became anxiety-laden when closer Carlos Martinez allowed 2 ninth-inning runs on 2 hits and 2 walks.

Martinez has suddenly become something of a concern.  After an extended period of excellent pitching, Carlos’ pitches have recently been up.

For the month of July, Carlos has been saddled with a 6.43 ERA, a .276 batting average against, and 5 walks in 7 innings.  In his 6 games as a closer in July, Martinez has walked 4 batters in 5.2 innings – leading to a 4.76 ERA.

That kind of ERA from your closer will generally lead to trouble.

Interestingly, Martinez – a former starter – has worked better out of the pen whenever he has pitched with no rest.  Both of his outings during the Cincinnati series came on one day’s rest.

Martinez, of course, missed the first 44 games of the season with a rotator cuff strain suffered in spring training, so the sample sizes on these are still quite small.  But thus far, Carlos has been asked to pitch 7 times after pitching the previous day – totaling 5.2 innings.  In those innings, Martinez holds a 1.59 ERA and a .238 batting average against allowing no extra base hits (this is facing 24 batters).  He throws 72% of his pitches for strikes in those games, while averaging just 14.47 pitches per inning.

On any kind of rest, Martinez has pitched 14 times, working 18 innings with a 4.50 ERA.  In those games, only 62% of his pitches have gone for strikes, and his innings last an average of 17.11 pitches.

These, again, are very early results but surprising even so given his history as a starter.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt had made 24 consecutive starts at first base before not starting Sunday’s game.  That had been the longest active consecutive starting streak by any Cardinal at any position.  Surprisingly, that mantle now falls to Tyler O’Neill, who has started the last 9 consecutive game in left.

Friday’s 12-11 game lasted a marathon-esque 3:49.  It was not, however, the longest nine-inning game played by the Cards this season.  That happened on April 15 in Milwaukee where it took the Cards and the Brewers 3:51 for Milwaukee to hold of St Louis 10-7.

At 92 degrees (officially) the Friday game was the hottest of the year.  The previous high of 91 degrees had been established on April 13 against these same Cincinnati Reds – but in Mexico.  This was then supplanted as the year’s hottest game when the game-time temperature for Saturday’s game checked in at 94 degrees.

The four game series in Cincinnati averaged 90.8 degrees officially, making it the hottest series of the year so far.  The Arizona series that opened the second half had been the hottest at 88.7 degrees.

After Josh VanMeter’s home run gave Cincy the lead after 7 on Saturday, it marked the first time in 8 games – since they lost to Arizona 4-2 on July 12 – that the Cards trailed going into the eighth inning.

Sunday’s victory was the team’s tenth of the month.  They won just 9 games in the entire month of May.

The Sunday victory also broke a five-game streak during which the Cards had trailed at some point of the game.

Andrew Miller made the Sunday game exciting as he served up a late home run to Phil Ervin.  In just 32.2 innings this season, Miller has tied his career high of 8 home runs allowed in a single season.  This is the fourth season he has allowed that many.  Of course, there is still an awful lot of season left for him to establish a new career high.

Andrew has now allowed 18 runs this season – the most he’s ever allowed in a season since he became a full-time reliever after 2011.  The 14 earned runs he has allowed are 2 behind the 16 he allowed last year.  To this point, those are the most earned runs he has allowed in a season since 2011.

The Ervin home run, by the way, was the 131st hit off Cardinal pitching this year.  Last year, they were touched for only 144 all year.

St Louis is now 10-4-1 in series when they win the first game.

Of Damage and Home Run Dependence

It was bound to come at some time, of course.  Major league teams don’t make it through a whole season without hitting at least one grand slam home run.   Ninety-five games into the season is, perhaps, longer than most thought it would take (although this is not without precedent), and I doubt most prognosticators would have tagged Tommy Edman as the author of the Cards first grand slam of the year, but you knew it would eventually happen.

According to baseball reference, only the Cleveland Indians have yet to contribute to the 87 four-run home runs tallied by major league teams this season.  The Cardinals – now off the schneid – are one of six teams that have grandly cleared the bases just once this season.  The Houston Astros – who have teed off with the bases loaded 9 times, have done so with more frequency than the eight fewest teams combined.

It is, perhaps, fitting that Edman’s jolt came when it did, as the Cardinals are currently riding a fairly impressive wave of doing damage with runners on base.  With last night’s 7-4 victory (box score) St Louis has wins in five of its last six games.  In the six games, the Cards are only hitting .249 as a team, but are slashing .324/.395/.706 once a runner reaches base.  For the month, they have a .374 slugging percentage when there is no one on base, and a .536 slugging percentage once someone manages to reach.

Over the last 6 games, St Louis has hit only 8 home runs – but only one of those (the home run Tyler O’Neill hit off of Chris Archer in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s game) came with the bases empty.  Beginning with Yairo Munoz’ two-run shot off of Seattle’s Anthony Bass on July 2, 12 of the Cards last 17 home runs have brought home at least one extra run.

It still wouldn’t hurt this team to set the table a little better – they managed a .176 on base percentage with the bases empty last night, and are at .256 over the last six games.  But if you are going to do some damage, better to wait until there are runners on to take advantage, right?

For the month of July so far, this team averages one home run every 36.7 at bats with the bases empty, against one home run every 13.8 at bats with a runner on.  Twelve of their last 16 extra-base hits have come with at least one base occupied.

This is all – as long as it lasts – a positive trend.  It does, though, re-raise the question of home run dependency.

Last night, 6 of the 7 Cardinal runs came courtesy of the long ball.  Over the last 6 games, 60% of the offense (18 of the 30 runs scored) have scored due to the home run.  Through the end of June, the Cardinal dependence on the home run was at a reasonable 41%.  This month, 61% of the offense (36 of 59 runs) has come on home runs.

With the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna all modeling Cardinal red this year, this was a team that was expected to hit some home runs.  But home run dependency – especially for a team that plays in a stadium like Busch with the hottest days of the summer still before us – can be a decidedly double-edged sword.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill is still in the midst of his hot streak – and, boy can he make it look easy.  O’Neill’s overall hitting streak is up to six games, during which he is 12 for 24 – with 11 runs batted in.  He has also hit safely in each of his last 9 starts, batting .444 (16 for 36), and slugging .833 (2 doubles and 4 home runs).

For the month of July, O’Neill is hitting .409 (18 for 44) and slugging .750.

Over the last 6 games, Tyler is a very impressive 8 for 11 (.727) when he hits with runners on base.  Five of the 8 hits are for extra bases – resulting in a 1.727 slugging percentage.  That will play.  For the season O’Neill is 15 for 42 (.357) with runners on base, with 4 doubles and 3 home runs – a .667 slugging percentage.

This is a nice specialty to have.

Matt Wieters

The worm might be starting to turn a bit for Matt Wieters.  With 2 hits last night, Matt is 4 for 13 (.308) over his last 4 games.

Kolten Wong

Very quietly, Kolten Wong is putting together a very solid July.  He had two hits again last night, and is now 11 for 32 (.344) for the month.

Included in this is a .389 average (7 for 18), and .450 on base percentage with the bases empty.  Kolten is  one of those guys who looks like he could embrace the table-setter’s role.

Dexter Fowler

While some Cards are starting to heat up, Dexter Fowler looks like he’s starting to cool a little.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Fowler is 0 for his last 8.  He was moved into the fifth slot in the batting order five games ago.  To this point, he is hitting .235 (4 for 17) with 1 run batted in in those games.

Pitching Staff Reverses Field

While the offense has become more reliant on the home run, lately, the pitching staff has been moving things in the opposite direction.  Rigorously bombed for most of the season, the St Louis pitching staff has allowed just 3 homers over their last 6 games, and only one of the last 7 home runs hit against the Cards has accounted for more than one run.

July began with 18 of the first 28 runs scored against the birds coming on home run balls (64%).  Over the last 6 games though, that number has dropped to just 19% (3 of 16).

Dakota Hudson

After authoring 8 straight quality starts, Dakota Hudson has lost his way a bit.  He scuffled through five innings last night (3 runs, 6 hits) and now carries a 4.58 ERA over his last 4 starts.  He has walked 10 batters in his last 17.2 innings.

Last night, 5 of the 9 batters he pitched to with the bases empty, reached (3 singles 2 walks).  The 36 batters he has faced this month with the bases empty have a .417 on base percentage against him.

Please Tell Memphis that Mr O’Neill Sends his Regrets

No AAA affiliated franchise has things easy.  Almost without fail, as soon as someone starts to really put things together, the parent club decides that they have a need for that individual, and he magically disappears from the AAA team’s roster.

In Memphis, the Cardinals’ AAA affiliate, that situation might be less volatile than in some other cities.  With a mostly static roster, the Cards have found it relatively easy to leave their hot prospects in their minor league abodes, honing their various crafts.

Such has been the situation for one Tyler Alan O’Neill.  Once upon a time, Tyler O’Neill was a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners, becoming a Cardinal almost exactly two years ago today as the result of a July 21, 2017 trade.  Since then, he has had 216 at bats in St Louis, and 573 in Memphis.  He came north with the parent club this year, but, with playing time hard to come by, was returned to Memphis when Luke Gregerson was ready to come off the injured list.

And there Tyler stayed.  With his rookie status already exceeded, O’Neill was no longer listed among the Cardinal prospects.  So while Cardinal Nation followed the progress of the Nolan Gorman’s and the Randy Arozarena’s with considerable focus, Tyler O’Neill labored in relative anonymity.

Memphis, however, was more than happy to have him.  In about a year’s worth of at bats (573) Tyler has delivered 49 home runs for Memphis.  Add the 14 he’s now hit in the show, and, in just under two years in the organization, Tyler O’Neill has accounted for 63 home runs.  He has averaged one for every 11.7 at bats in AAA Memphis.

Who knows how long he might have remained there.  But about 14 games ago, Marcell Ozuna fractured some fingers while on the base paths and the big league birds were in need of an outfielder.  The thinking was that – as before – once Ozuna was pronounced fit, Tyler would be returned to his minor league venue.

Those plans may now be on permanent hold.

Yesterday afternoon, Tyler O’Neill drilled his fourth home run of the recent home stand and was a significant contributor to the Cards 6-5 victory over Pittsburgh (box score).  O’Neill was 7 for 12 against Pittsburgh (.583) with three of the hits being home runs.  He drove in 6 runs in the 3 games, and slugged 1.333.  The win was St Louis’ fourth in the last 5 games of the home stand.  Tyler hit .500 over the 5 games (10 for 20) and slugged 1.2000 (2 doubles, 4 home runs), while driving in 11.

O’Neill has now hit safely in 8 straight starts, hitting .438 during the streak (14 for 32), and slugging .875. For the month of July, Tyler O’Neill is carrying a .400 batting average (16 for 40) and a slugging percentage of an even 1.000.

It’s a very small sample size, I grant you.  But if this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to Memphis.  If this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to the bench when Ozuna comes back.  Someone else will lose those at bats.

In baseball, if you hit, you play.  If you hit a lot, you play a lot.

By the numbers, the Tyler O’Neill of July is very unlike the O’Neill we’ve seen here before.  If anything, his aggressiveness has increased.  Last year, he swung at 52.3% of the pitches thrown his way.  In his first 48 plate appearances this year, he swung at 52.4%.  In his 42 July plate appearances, O’Neill has chased after 58.3%.  Over the last 5 games, Tyler has swung at 50 of 79 pitches thrown his way – a super-aggressive 63.3%.

This aggression is even more pronounced on the first pitch.  Last year, Tyler went after the first pitch 36.6% of the time, and 37.5% during the early part of this year – both aggressive numbers.  He has offered at the first pitch 52.4% of the time so far this month.  He went after 8 of 12 (66.7%) against the Pirates.

But, even though he is swinging more often, he is making contact as never before.  As a rookie in 2018, O’Neill missed on 44.3% of his swings.  He was up to an amazing 50.5% of his swings through his first 48 plate appearances of 2019.

In July, Tyler is missing on just 28.6% (team average is 23.8% for the year).  In 31 swings against the Pirates, O’Neill missed the ball just 4 times (12.9%).

Thirty-one swings is far too few to prove anything definitively.  But if, indeed, Tyler O’Neill is making serious progress on connecting when he swings, then he will definitely not be going back to Memphis.

Little Other Offense

In winning two of three from Pittsburgh, the Cardinal offense was led, principally by O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt.  Together, they drove in 10 of the 14 runs the Cards scored in the series.  After them, there weren’t an awful lot of contributors, as the team finished the series with just 20 hits and a .220 batting average.  There are a handful of Cardinals who are still trying to turn things around.

Kudos to the Rotation

Aside from Tyler O’Neill, the heroes of the Pittsburgh series were the arms of the rotation.  Daniel Ponce de Leon’s short start on Wednesday broke a string of six consecutive quality starts.  Even with that, the rotation contributed 19.2 innings against the Pirates with a 2.29 ERA.  They walked just 5 (2 of those intentionally) and allowed just one home run.

In winning 4 of the last 5, St Louis has done so behind a rotation that has carved out a 1.93 ERA and a .222/.295/.299 batting line against.

Miles Mikolas

Monday’s starter, Miles Mikolas set the tone for the series – not just in effectiveness (he threw a complete game shutout) but also in style.  Of the 32 batters to face him, 29 hit the ball in play, with 20 of the 29 (69%) hitting it on the ground.  Miles threw just 3.13 pitches per batter faced (leading to just 11.11 pitches per inning) while throwing 73% of his pitches for strikes.

For the series, the Cards finished up getting ground balls 57.7% of the time, throwing just 3.58 pitches per batter (14.04 per inning), and throwing strikes 66.5% of the time.

For the season, Miles has thrown 1099 of his 1658 pitches for strikes.  His 66.3% ratio is the highest of any Cardinal pitcher who has thrown at least 700 pitches.

Jack Flaherty

Tuesday’s starter, Jack Flaherty, came fairly close to losing his second consecutive 1-0 game.  He avoided the fate by driving in his own run with a double to earn himself a no decision.

The 0-1 record aside, Jack has been very good his last two times out – allowing 2 runs in 14 innings. Three starts into the month of July, Jack holds a 2.89 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Carlos Martinez

Ending a fabulous run of performances, during which he gave just 1 run over 12 innings, Carlos Martinez was touched for runs in both of the last two games pitching in the closer’s role.  He gave a total of 3 runs in 2 innings, earning a loss and a scuffling save.

Even though Carlos’ pitches were up more than usual, he still had batters pounding the ball into the turf.  Of the 10 who put the ball in play against him, 7 hit the ball on the ground.  For the season, Carlos’ 65.0% ground ball rate is second on the team only to Jordan Hicks (67.2%).

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run homer on Wednesday proved to be the game-winning RBIs.  Paul now has 5 GWHs on the season, ranking him third on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9) and Paul DeJong (6).

Before the Goldschmidt home run, St Louis went into the seventh inning trailing 4-3.  It was the first time in seven games that they trailed after six innings.  On July 6, in San Francisco they trailed 5-1 after six on their way to an 8-4 loss (box score).

All of the Cards’ last four series have gone to rubber games – with St Louis winning three of those.  They are now 5-5 in rubber games on the season.

On Tuesday night, the Cards eclipsed the two million mark in home attendance.  With 128,928 attending the three-game set against the Pirates, St Louis now sits at 2,053,573 for the season – an average of 42,782.8 per home game.