Marcell Ozuna’s Strangely Backwards Month

The longest Cardinal at bat for the month of May (by number of pitches) occurred during the second game of a May 22 double-header.  Kansas City was in town and pitching old friend Homer Bailey.

Homer was in a bit of first-inning trouble.  He had walked Matt Carpenter and given a single to Paul Goldschmidt.  With one out he now had to deal with Marcell Ozuna.

For 12 grueling pitches, Homer tried to put Ozuna away.  For the most part, Homer came right after him, but didn’t have enough stuff to get the third strike past Marcell.  But there was just enough late movement – especially on his splitter – that Marcell couldn’t keep it fair.  Ozuna ended up fouling off 7 pitches in the at bat – four times the splitter.

Finally, on the twelfth and final pitch, Bailey tried to run a fastball away from Marcell.  It didn’t get far enough away.  Well, not until after Ozuna flicked it over the right field wall for the home run that began the 10-3 rout.

By the second inning, when Ozuna came up again, St Louis was already ahead 5-0 and Bailey was out of the game in favor of Glenn Sparkman.  Mr. Sparkman’s duel with Ozuna was much shorter.  It lasted one pitch.  Glenn threw him a fastball at the top border of the zone, and Marcell popped it up.

These were exhibits A and B in what was a curiously backward month for Marcell.

Normally hitters thrive early in the count, with the advantage switching to the pitcher as the at bat goes on.

Across all of baseball (according to baseball reference) batters hitting that first strike are slashing .350/.412/.628.  Once the hitter gets two strikes on him, the tables turn.  Those guys are slashing .170/.245/.279.  The dynamic is less than even.  Only 21% of batters manage to hit the first strike, while slightly more than 53% find themselves in two-strike counts.

That batters tend to be more defensive with two strikes on them is expressed in a couple of ways.  In spite of the fact that two-strike counts represent more than 53% of plate appearances, they account for only 32% of all home runs.  Isolated power is another indicator.  Isolated power is simply the slugging percentage minus the batting average – the higher the number the more explosive the hits.  For all players hitting the first strike, the slugging percentage is .278 higher than the batting average (.628 v .350).  If the batter doesn’t hit the first strike, but hits the second strike thrown him, that number reduces to .240 (.574-.334).  When backed up with two strikes, the isolated power is just .109 (.279-.170).

Ozuna hit 6 home runs in May, and drove in 22 runs in 27 games.  He also hit just .226, striking out 22 times.  Four of those home runs came with two strikes on him (including the home run against Bailey).  Moreover, he hit .208/.311/.509 with two strikes on him – notably better than most of the league does.  His .301 isolated power number testifies to the fact that Marcell doesn’t swing defensively in these situations.

At the same time, though, Marcell was only 3 for 16 (.188) – with two of the hits being infield singles – when hitting the first pitch.  In fact, he grounded into more first pitch double plays (2) than he had first pitch extra-base hits (he had one double).

In all at bats where Marcell hit the first strike, he hit a modest .286, and his first-strike slugging percentage (.464) was lower than his two-strike slugging percentage.

Marcell Ozuna comes to the plate with the intent of hitting the fastball.  He infrequently chases pitches out of the zone – even when he has two strikes on him, but is less particular about where the fastball is inside the strike zone.  As long as it is over the plate, Marcell will accept it.

This has been something of a problem on first pitches, where Marcell has put a lot of pitcher’s pitches in play.  In fact, the best approach to Marcell last month was to throw him that first pitch fastball – just not over the middle of the plate.

Conversely, pitchers who try to nibble and put themselves in fastball counts when Ozuna is at the plate will frequently find – to their disappointment – that Marcell swings just as hard late in the count as he does on the first pitch.  To an extent, he becomes more dangerous as the at bat goes on.

This is notably different than the Marcell Ozuna of 2017, who hit .402/.402/.652 on the first pitch, and .424/.479/.715 on the first strike.  I don’t remember much about that Marcell Ozuna, but I’m going to guess his first-pitch selectivity was a bit more stringent.

Starters Rise to Occasion in Sweep of Cubs

So, it was another minimal offensive series for your St Louis Cardinals.  Granted, they faced three quality arms, but as the Sunday game ended, the Cards had scored just 11 runs during the three games, hitting .233 on just 21 hits.

Oh, did I mention that St Louis won all three games?  By scores of 2-1 in 10 innings (box score), 7-4 (box score) and 2-1 again (box score).

If this team is going to be special this year, it will be because of their pitching.  For the first fifty or so games, the rotation showed inconsistent flashes of potential.  For three games as May faded into June, and against their divisional rival from up North, the Cardinal starters were very special.

The Cards got 20 innings from their starters in this series – and might well have had a couple more, had Jack Flaherty’s Saturday start not been interrupted after five innings by rain.  For those 20 innings the Cubs dented St Louis’ starters for just 3 runs on 12 hits – a 1.35 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Yes, there was a bit of luck involved.  Especially on Sunday, when Chicago hit Adam Wainwright harder than the results showed.  Still, the club couldn’t have asked for more from the starters.

The bullpen was nearly as good, although hiccups from Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia threatened two of the games.

In fact, that might be the most satisfying element of the series.  Each game was tightly contested, and Chicago could very easily have swept the home team.  These were, in fact, the type of games that the Cards have repeatedly lost to Chicago over the last few years – the character games.  For one weekend at least, it was St Louis coming through with the clutch hit and the big defensive play.

To keep things in perspective, there is still a lot of baseball to be played – and many more contests against Chicago.  This was just one chapter in a very long novel.  But it was not insignificant.  Much like their season series against their other primary division competitor.  After losing 5 of the first 7 against Milwaukee, they came back to sweep the Brewers the last time they played them to even that series.  This sweep, though, does more than just answer the Cubs earlier sweep of the Cards.  Getting off the deck and answering these two teams provided a significant confidence boost.

And confidence, by the way, is not in short supply.  I don’t think I ever remember a more confident two-games-over team.

The rest of the summer will tell whether that confidence is warranted or just bravado.  One thing to remember, though.  Both of St Louis’ answering sweeps were at home.  If they have true designs on the division title, this team will have to find some way of coping with Miller Park and Wrigley Field – Wrigley as soon as this Friday.

Fifty-eight games into the 2019 season, this team is still a mystery.

Miles Mikolas

Three starts ago, Miles Mikolas endured a nightmare start in Texas – he gave 7 runs (and 2 home runs) in less than 2 innings.  That disaster stands in sharp contrast to Miles three starts before and his two starts since.  In those other 5 games, Miles has pitched at least 6 innings in all of them, (and 7 in the other 4) without giving up more than three runs in any of them.  In fact, he gave up as many as 3 runs in only one of those games.

Over the 34 innings that surround that Texas game, Miles has allowed as many runs (7) and home runs (2) as he did in that Texas game.  He holds a 1.85 ERA in those other games, holding those teams to a .213 batting average, while walking just 4.

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty followed Mikolas’ 7 strong innings (1 run on 6 hits) with a strong effort of his own.  After allowing solo home runs in the first two innings, Jack settled down and kept Chicago off the scoreboard till the rains came in the fifth.

The rain interrupted a streak of three consecutive quality starts from the young right-hander.  Over his last 4 starts, Jack has a 2.74 ERA over 23 innings with 26 strikeouts.  His last 4 opponents are hitting .182 against him.

Through the month of May, the 30 batters that swung at Flaherty’s first pitch ended up hitting .320.  On Saturday the 6 Cubs who chased after Jack’s first pitch finished 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts.

In fact, in that Saturday game Chicago’s hitters combined to go 0 for 11 when they swung at the first pitch.  For the series, the Cubs were just 3 for 32 (.094) in at bats where they swung at the first pitch (the major league average when swinging at the first pitch is .268).

John Gant

One of the bullpen heroes of the series, John Gant pitched in two of the games, winning the Saturday game and saving Sunday’s contest.  He allowed a walk, but retired the other five batters he faced.

John is on another streak of scoreless outings, as he has allowed no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks over his last 7 innings over 6 games.

Johnny has been much better than anyone could have expected.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks was the winner in the Friday game, pitching two innings.  He was brought back to save the Sunday game, but faltered.  Manager Mike Shildt says he isn’t concerned, but maybe he should be at least a little.

Hicks has now given runs in 3 of his last 6 games.  Over his last 5.2 innings, Jordan has given 6 runs on 7 hits and 5 walks.  The 29 batters he has faced over those appearances are hitting .292 against him – far too high for a kid who throws 104+.  With the walks, the recent on base percentage against him is .414.

Offensive Struggles

I began by referencing the recent offensive brown-out.  Even though the pitching (and defense, by the way) made what little offense they got stand up, the Cards have been a less than stellar offensive machine for quite a while now.

Over their last 16 games, this team is averaging 3.94 runs per game with a distressing .217 team batting average.

Kolten Wong

When Kolten Wong rolled to second in the second inning of the Friday game, he extended his current hitless streak to 22 at bats.

From that moment on, Wong owned the series as much as any non-pitcher could.  He got 6 hits in his last 9 at bats (two hits in each game), stole two bases, scored twice, drove in two – including the important first run in the Sunday game – and made the defensive play of the series to end the eighth inning of the Sunday game (you have probably seen the highlight of Wong racing almost into mid right-field and going full extension to gather in Anthony Rizzo’s soft liner.

Wong had himself a series.  Historically, Kolten is either icy-ice cold or broiling hot.  No one in this clubhouse would complain if Wong went on a substantial tear.

For the series, Wong was 2 for 4 in at bats where he swung at the first pitch.  For the season, that is when he is at his best.  He is still hitting .316 (18 for 57) when swinging at the first pitch.

Marcell Ozuna

Left fielder Marcell Ozuna didn’t get a hit in 3 at bats in the Sunday game, breaking a short but very loud five-game hitting streak.  During those previous 5 games, Marcell went 9 for 19 (.474).  He hit 2 home runs, drove in 6, and slugged .842.

Matt Carpenter

For much of the early season – for whatever reason – Matt Carpenter has been noticeably more aggressive on the first pitch.  In April, he chased the first pitch thrown him 22.4% of the time.  In May, it was 24.1%.  In all of this, the results weren’t much.

Lately, he has returned to the Matt Carpenter we remember, and his numbers have been steadily rising.  He had 10 plate appearances in the Cub series and took the first pitch 9 times.  He finished the series 3 for 9 with a walk.  Over his last 16 games, Matt has taken the first pitch thrown 81.7% of the time – and is slashing .310/.408/.548 when he does.

You would think this would make him all the more dangerous when he does swing at the first pitch, but that hasn’t materialized yet.  Over those same 16 games, Matt is slashing .200/.273/.500 in the plate appearances in which he chases that first pitch.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader hit a home run late in the Saturday game.  It was his only hit in the last two series (1 for 19 – .053).

Paul DeJong

And Paul DeJong’s tailspin continues.  He did get a late single in the Sunday game, but that represents only his second hit in his last 11 games (and 36 at bats).  Over the 16 games that the Cards have scuffled for runs, Paul is hitting .145 (8 for 55) with just 1 home run.

Paul swung at the first pitch only twice in his 11 plate appearances in the series.  In his red hot April, DeJong swung at the first pitch 24.3% of the time, and with devastating effect – a line of .438/.455/.719.

In May, he took the first pitch 86% of the time.  Over the last 16 games he has watched the first pitch 89.4% of the time – more frequently than Carpenter.

The numbers suggest a more timid approach at the plate, but that’s not what I see from him.  After his blazing April, pitchers seem much less anxious to challenge Paul early in the count.  He sees a great many first pitches just off the plate or just low – occasionally, these pitches cross the corners of the strike zone.

After they establish the outside, many pitchers are then able to jam DeJong later in the at bat.  They have had some success doing that.

Mostly, though, Paul appears to still be taking disciplined at bats.  I don’t see him chasing many pitches at all.  But he is missing his pitch when he gets it – or fouling it off.  Timing just a little off.  Or, when he does get into one, someone makes a great play on it – like Albert Almora did in the Saturday game.

DeJong, I think is close.  One thing he won’t have to worry about is opportunity.  As with Wong and Carpenter and all the other starters who went through extended slumps, he can depend that Shildt will continue to write his name on the lineup card even if he goes 2 for his next 50.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards did score first yesterday.  They have scored the first run in 5 of their last 7.

The Cardinals have won only 7 series all year, but 4 of them have now been by sweep.  Of the 5 series that St Louis was in position to sweep, only Washington – who faced a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cards – was able to avoid the redbird brooms.

The Cub series was also just the eighth series this year in which the Cards won the first game.  They are 5-3 in series when they win that first game.

With his 8 innings on Sunday, Adam Wainwright now has 66.1 on the season.  He pitched only 40.1 innings all last year.  He also now has 1,998.1 for his career – leaving him just 5 outs shy of 2000.

Dakota Hudson and His Heavy, Heavy Sinker

From a mostly disastrous May, the St Louis Cardinals will have very few positives to carry with them into June.  One of those positives will be the re-discovery of Dakota Hudson.

Hudson wasn’t a favorite to win a spot in the rotation during spring.  Most thought he would end up in the bullpen.  In April, it looked like he should have started the season in Memphis.  None of his first 5 starts met the criteria for a quality start, he served up 8 home runs in 24 innings, and held a 5.63 ERA and a .327 batting average against.

The Dakota Hudson of May has been significantly different.  After dispatching Philadelphia, allowing 1 run on 4 hits through 6 innings of a 5-3 victory (box score), Dakota wrapped up his second month in the rotation with 5 quality starts in 6 games, a 2.80 ERA, and just 1 home run surrendered in 35.1 innings.

Differences?  There were a couple on display last night.  The recurring theme would be trust.

The April Hudson tried – I think – to be too fine.  Trying to locate his power sinker in the lower part of the strike zone, he had difficulty adjusting if the other team forced him to bring his pitches up.  He also didn’t show a lot of trust in his other breaking pitches.

The results were 11 unintentional walks – an average of 4.88 per nine innings.  More telling, Dakota missed with his first pitch to 48 batters in April.  They finished with 8 singles, 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 10 walks and 1 sacrifice hit.  Those 48 batters drove in 9 runs with a .432/.553/.973 batting line.

Last night, against a Philadelphia lineup that has bedeviled the Cards throughout the series, Dakota didn’t worry at all about elevating his sinker, and even if behind in the count, he didn’t hesitate to throw his entire arsenal – including a slider that has become particularly nasty.

Aside from the two intentional walks dished out to Rhys Hoskins, Dakota threw ball one to 10 of the 21 batters he faced.  Six of those misplaced first pitches were sinkers – three of them low and the other three inside.  Philadelphia did a credible job all evening of laying off the low sinker.  What they learned was that the sinker wasn’t necessarily easier to hit when it was up in the zone.

One of those batters (Jean Segura) did end up drawing a walk.  None of the other 9 reached base.  Dakota came back to strike out two of them (Bryce Harper in the first and Hoskins in the second) on that nasty slider.  Six of the other seven grounded out, four of them on sinkers up in the zone.

The seventh was Cesar Hernandez who smoked a high sinker right at shortstop Paul DeJong for the double-play that ended the sixth-inning mess.

For the month of May, Dakota allowed 11 unintentional walks (2.80 per innings), while batters hit .229 against him after he missed with the first pitch.  It is a much different Dakota Hudson.

There is a great benefit in having that heavy, heavy sinker – especially when you have this kind of trust in it.

What to Do About the Pen

Even deploying his presumed best arms, the bullpen almost let the game get away again.  With 2 more runs allowed last night, the St Louis relief corps enters the last day of the month with an aggregate 5.08 ERA.  The struggles of the starters and the offense have occupied significant attention, but a nettlesome bullpen has certainly contributed to the month’s woes.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continues hot.  With 2 more hits last night, Paul has hit in 5 of his last 6, with multiple hits in four of the five games.  He is hitting .476 (10 for 21) over that span.

Matt Wieters

An injury to Yadier Molina is never good news.  His backup, Matt Wieters has taken some advantage of the opportunity.  He has started 3 of the last 8 games and has had 2 hits in each of them – giving him 6 in his last 11 at bats (.545).  Moreover, half the hits have been for extra bases (a double and 2 home runs).

Wieters now has 3 home runs this month in just 20 at bats, while hitting .400 in May.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong hit a home run in the seventh inning of the last game against Kansas City.  He hasn’t had a hit since – his current hitless streak sitting at 21 at bats.  He has struck out in 7 of those at bats.

Over his last 10 games, Wong is 2 for 33 (.061).  He is down to .155 for the month, and .216 for the season.

Paul DeJong

In an even greater slump – if such a thing were possible – is Kolten’s double-play partner Paul DeJong.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul is 1 for his last 26 (.038).

DeJong is down to .207 in the month of May.

Harrison Bader

Add Harrison Bader to the list of the slumping.  He was also hitless in 4 at bats and over his last 5 games has 1 single in 14 at bats (.071).

NoteBook

Marcell Ozuna’s second inning home run was the game-winning RBI – the eighth this season for Ozuna.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.

 

Nola Dominant in Conquering Cards

What an interesting contrast in styles last night as Philadelphia dealt the St Louis Cardinals their eighteenth loss in their last 24 games – this one by a convincing 11-4 score (box score).

The Cardinals gave the ball to their eighth-ranked prospect, a left-handed fire-baller named Genesis Cabrera.  Making his major league debut, Cabrera lasted just 3.2 innings and 53 pitches.  Thirty-eight of the 53 pitches were fastballs, averaging almost 97 mph with the fastest reaching 98.8 on the BrooksBaseball gun (found here).

On the other side, Philadelphia turned to veteran right-hander Aaron Nola.  Aaron gave Philadelphia 7 innings yielding just 1 run on 4 hits while striking out 8.  Aaron’s fastball is not considered elite.  Again, according to Brooks, Aaron averaged just 93.1 mph on his heater.  The difference making pitch yesterday was his curve.  There are few things more devastating for a slumping team (like the Cardinals) than to face a pitcher that’s throwing his curve for a strike.

For the game, Aaron threw 35 of them (slightly more than one third of his 102 pitches).  The Cardinals swung at 17 of the 35.  Of the 17 swings, they put the ball in play 8 times (getting 2 hits); swung and missed 5 other times; and fouled off the other 4.  Of the 18 curves that they took, 11 were called strikes – 61.1%.

That 61% was enough.  Although the pitch was only a third of his repertoire, because he demonstrated that he could throw it for a strike most of the time, that curve occupied the batter’s mind.  In many cases last night, worrying about that curve made the Cardinal hitters noticeably defensive.

Perhaps the best example of this was the fourth inning.  Nola took the mound staked to a 4-0 lead.  Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter gave him a tough at bat, eventually being called out on strikes on the sixth pitch (a fastball just above the knees).  But Nola then hung a first-pitch curve to Matt Wieters, who sent the pitch out of the park.  Philadelphia’s lead was now 4-1.

Facing a possible momentum switch, Nola now worked over two talented, but fairly young hitters in Yairo Munoz and Harrison Bader.

Aaron started Munoz out with a change that Yairo swung over top of.  The 0-1 pitch that followed would be the only fastball that Munoz would get in the at bat.  It was, in fact, the last fastball Aaron threw that inning.  The pitch was in off the plate, but Munoz wanted it and fouled it off.  Now ahead 0-2, Nola went back to that curve – well outside, but with two strikes Yairo was protecting and fouled it off.  The fourth pitch was a change that floated down and in, but Munoz couldn’t hold up and he struck out, swinging.

Now it was Bader’s turn.  This was even easier.  Aaron went changeup low, changeup inside, curveball outside – three pitches, no fastballs, three swings, three misses.

By the scoreboard, all of Aaron’s last seven pitches of the inning were strikes – although only the first pitch to Munoz would actually have been called a strike.

This was a fairly consistent pattern throughout.  For the game, half of the 38 batters the Cardinals sent to the plate never saw an official ball during the plate appearance – about twice the usual rate.

Between Aaron floating enough first-pitch curves over for strikes, and the anxious Cardinal hitters expanding their zones, Nola found himself working comfortably ahead most of the night.

Five different batters hit 0-1 offerings.  All of them grounded out.  Nola played that game with Paul DeJong three different times, getting a called first strike (twice on that curve) and then a groundball as DeJong jumped on the next offering.

Seven other Cardinals faced 0-2 counts.  Six of them struck out – all swinging, mostly at breaking balls like Munoz and Bader.  Across all of baseball (according to baseball reference) batters strike out in 0-2 counts about 50% of the time.

That curve ball is, arguably, baseball’s most difficult pitch to command.  When commanded though, it is, arguably, baseball’s most potent equalizer.

Last night for Nola and the Phillies, it was all of that.

Cards Lose Consecutive One Run Games

The games were not quite identical.  In the Tuesday game, the Cardinal scoring happened in the first four batters of the game.  In the Sunday game, the runs against the Cardinals all came late at the expense of the bullpen after a clean outing by the starter (Jack Flaherty).  In the Tuesday game, the scoring against the Cards came against the starter before a clean effort by the bullpen.  In the Sunday game, St Louis wasted multiple opportunities with runners on base.  On Tuesday, the Cards only had 1 at bat with a runner in scoring position.  In the Saturday game, the winning run was walked home.  In the Tuesday game no Cardinal pitcher permitted a walk.

All that being said, the similarities between the two games are notable.  Early 3-0 Cardinal lead? Check.  Almost no hits from St Louis? Check (after getting 3 hits on Sunday, they managed just 4 on Tuesday). Encouraging performance from the starting pitcher wasted? Check (Flaherty gave no runs on 3 hits through 6 innings, striking out 7; Adam Wainwright did serve up 4 runs in his 6 innings, but also walked none and struck out 10).  Kolten Wong striking out on three pitches for the final out? Check.  Final score: Cardinals 3, Bad guys 4? Check. (Sunday box score) (Tuesday box score).

One run games are one of my “character” markers – one of those numbers that speaks directly to the team’s ability to win the tough games.  As with my other character markers (games after a loss and games against winning teams) this number also suggests a team-wide lack of character.  The Cards – losers now of 17 of their last 23, are 5-10 in one run games – having lost their last seven such contests.

In the seven one run losses this month, St Louis has scored just 18 runs (2.57 per game), hitting .188 and slugging just .274.  In those games, they have had 78 base runners.  They are also 11-0 in stolen bases in those contests.  But they have been consistently unable to produce that hit that will turn the game.

Tonight’s game will mark the statistical one-third point of the season.  The Cards are, in a sense, lucky to be only 4 games behind in the division.  They could easily be buried.  The rest of this division has left the door open a crack, but at some point St Louis will have to do better than losing two of three games to take advantage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Perhaps the only glimmer of good news from Tuesday’s loss is the continuing resurgence of Paul Goldschmidt.  The off-season’s big “get,” Paul hasn’t actually been the impact bat yet the Cards had hoped for.  But he began to turn it around against Atlanta, and added 2 hits – including a home run – last night against Philadelphia.

Paul now has multiple hits in 3 of his last 4 games, hitting .467 (7 for 15) in those games.

Dexter Fowler

In the only lineup change that manager Mike Shildt has made during the Cardinal’s 23-game collapse, four games ago he installed Dexter Fowler as the leadoff batter.  In what can only be described as a microcosm of the way the month has gone, Fowler – whose on base percentage has been over .400 for most of the year – has responded to the change with an 0-for-14 slump with no walks.  He has 3 hit-by-pitches during his stay at the top of the order, bringing his OBP for those games to .176 (with 7 strikeouts).

Fowler falls to .180 for the month (11 for 61), although his 13 walks do have his OBP for May at .359.

Dexter has played – and started – 6 of the 7 one run games played by the Cards this month.  He is 2 for 21 (.095) in those games.  For the season, in the 15 one run games the Cards have played, Dexter is hitting .162 (6 for 37) with 1 run batted in.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter has also shown signs of life lately.  Not last night, though.  His 0-for-4 keeps him at .236 for the month (21 for 89).

Carpenter has also struggled in the one runs contests St Louis has played.  This month, he is just 4 for 26 (.154) in the seven one run games.  For the season, he is hitting .186 (11 for 59) in the Cardinals’ 15 one run games, with 1 home run and 3 runs batted in.

Paul DeJong

Still no turning of the page for Paul DeJong.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Paul is hitless over his last 6 games, and hitless in his last 21 at bats.  One of the heroes of April, DeJong is hitting .215 in May (17 for 79).

Kolten Wong

Like his double-play partner, Kolten Wong’s bat has all but disappeared.  Hitless in 3 at bats, Kolten has gone 4 games without a hit, and is hitless over his last 16 at bats.  Wong is now down to .165 for the month, and .222 for the year.

Kolten is 2 for 22 (.091) this month in the seven one run Cardinal games

Yadier Molina

For the season, Yadier Molina holds the lowest batting average of any of the Cardinal regulars in one run games.  After his 0-for-2 last night, Molina is hitting .148 (8 for 54) in St Louis’ one run games with 3 runs batted in.  He is 3 for 22 (.136) in the seven played this month.

Adam Wainwright

Starter Adam Wainwright made a lot of good pitches last night.  He worked his way (as mentioned earlier) through 6 innings striking out 10 and walking none.  At the end of the day, though, he made just enough mistakes – allowing 4 runs on 8 hits including a home run – to cost him the game.

Suddenly, that has become a recurring theme for Adam.  Earlier this season, he and Miles Mikolas were the two pitchers holding the rotation together.  Over his last three starts, Waino holds a 7.20 ERA and a .322 batting average against.

In the now-dismal month of May, Adam has made 5 starts.  He is 1-3 with a 6.33 ERA and a .284 batting average against.

Of Adam’s 11 starts this season, 5 have ended up as one run decisions.  The Cards are 2-3 in those games.  Adam, himself, is 1-2 in those one run games, with a 4.78 ERA and a .295 batting average against.  He has also struck out 29 batters in those 26.1 innings.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos surrendered a damaging two-run home run on Friday, but has been pitching better recently.  He threw two scoreless innings last night.  That home run accounted for the only runs Gallegos has allowed over his last 7 games.  The last 27 batters to face him have only 3 hits and 1 walk – a .115 average and a .231 on base percentage.  Giovanny has thrown 72% of his last 120 pitches for strikes.

The Numbers Behind the Mystery of Michael Wacha

It was as recently as 2017 when the then 25-year-old Michael Wacha (according to BrooksBaseball) was bringing his four-seam fastball at almost 96 mph (95.64 was the actual average).  That has been his career high.  He was also throwing his cutter faster (91.25 mph) than at any other time in his career.

Both of those pitches took a slight step back last year, with the four-seamer registering at 94.33 and the cutter at 90.06.  At these levels, though, they were still effective enough to set up that money-pitch change.  Wacha was 8-2 with a 3.20 ERA in an injury-shortened season.

As the struggling Cardinals set themselves to face the Philadelphia Phillies, they will do so without a healthy Michael Wacha as part of their rotation for the first time since early in the 2013 season.

The entirety of the decline of Michael Wacha seems directly tied to a sudden and surprising loss of velocity.  For the first time in his career, his four-seam fastball is averaging below 93 mph (92.93) and the cutter has also dropped to 89.03.

The advantage this drop gives to hitters is especially profound on the first pitch of the at bat.  What Michael would like to do – and what he has always done – is to use his fastball and cutter to get ahead in the count, putting the batter in a position where he has to offer at the changeup.  But – especially this month (in which he bears a 6.64 ERA) – that strategy has become a liability as batters are jumping on Michael’s first pitch.

Across all of baseball, the first pitch is hit about 10% of the time.  In May, 21 of the 95 batters Wacha has faced have jumped on his first pitch – about twice the usual rate.  And they have done so with predictable results.  Again, across all of baseball (according to baseball reference) batters who hit that first pitch (or are hit by that first pitch) slashing .348/.359/.610.  Against Wacha the 21 first-pitch hitters have 9 hits (a .429 average) that includes 2 doubles and 2 home runs – the two home runs being the defining moments of Michael’s struggles.

Of the 9 first-pitch hits surrendered by Wacha this month, 4 have come off that diminished fast ball.  Those pitches have averaged just 91.45, and when they have been up – and all four of them were up at least a bit – they become not much more than batting practice pitches.  Both doubles and one of the home runs hit against Michael came off this limping fastball.  In fact, the home run he allowed was on the fastest of these pitches – although fastest in this context is still just 93.1 mph.

That pitch came in the third inning of the first game of the May 22 doubleheader against Kansas City.  Already ahead 4-0, KC had a couple runners on base and were looking for the knock-out blow.  At the plate Jorge Soler was looking for that fastball, which, even though it was many inches inside was manageable enough that he drove it down the line and over the wall in left.  Knock-out blow achieved.  That pitch was well inside, but it was up.

As problematic as the fastball has been, the cutter may have become even more of a liability.  As the gap between the four-seamer and the cutter condenses – and it is now just a difference of 3.9 mph – its ability to slow down opposing bats also diminishes.  Three other first-pitch hits came off the cutter.  But this is a pitch that Wacha throws on the first pitch about one third of the time he throws the fastball.

It was a cutter – up in the zone of course, but slightly in on his hands – that Chicago’s Taylor Davis jumped on for the grand-slam home run that tied the May 4 game in Chicago at five each in the fourth inning.

As much, perhaps, as any other moment, that swing may have turned the tide on the Cardinal season.

The message from these numbers is fairly clear.  When Michael can get ahead of hitters, he still has plenty of weapons to polish him off.  Even in this difficult month of May, batters who fall behind Wacha are hitting just .136 (3 for 22) with no extra-base hits.

The problem is getting there, as Wacha has been ahead of less than 26% of the batters he has faced this month.  The clear reason is that he no longer has enough fastball to be able to leave it upstairs early in the count.

Where did the fastball go?  Well, that is the part of the mystery that we don’t have an answer for just yet.  But there almost certainly is an answer out there somewhere.  Michael insists that there is no physical difficulty – and I tend to believe him.  Wacha has extensive experience with injuries and knows how counterproductive it is to pitch through them.

So that leaves mechanical.  And mechanical means that – at some point – an answer should be found.

The move to the bullpen is not at all intended to be temporary.  Although the twists and turns of the season may bring him back into the rotation, that is clearly not the intention.  The Cardinals have – in essence – moved on.  Prospect Genesis Cabrera will get the first look, and behind him are Austin Gomber and Alex Reyes as they heal from their various ouchies.  With Macha not expected to be back next year, the organization clearly feels it’s time to turn the page.

That, however, does not necessarily mean that Michael Wacha’s significance to this organization is over.  As the recent bullpen fissures suggest, this team could certainly find an important relief role for a veteran pitcher with a 96-mph fastball.

Provided, of course, that someone can find where that 96-mph fastball has disappeared to.

Cards Unable to Salvage Home Stand; Fall Back to .500

For a few hours on Sunday evening, it looked like the home stand might be salvaged.

Part of the early season Cardinal success was built on a terrific start at home.  After struggling a bit with San Diego in their season-opening series, St Louis won 11 of its next 13 home games.  As the wheels began to come off in May, though, they began to struggle at home as well.  A seven-game home stand against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh resulted in five losses.  This week, the Cardinals’ most recent home stand started to go south as well, as they lost two of the first three games.

Then, on Saturday evening, just as another loss seemed inevitable, the Cardinals suddenly put together a four-run eighth-inning rally – capped by Jedd Gyorko’s first home run of the season – to pull out a rousing 6-3 victory (box score).

And then, on Sunday evening, it looked for a while like it just might carry over.  A great start from Jack Flaherty and excellent bullpen work from John Gant and Carlos Martinez left the Cards one inning away from a 3-0 victory that would give them consecutive wins for the first time this month, their first series victory in nearly a month, and break a string of 5 consecutive losses in the third games of a series.

But, victory again proved elusive, and the talented young Atlanta team answered the Cardinals’ Saturday miracle with one of their own, earning a 4-3, 10-inning victory (box score).

In the aftermath, the bullpen found itself the focus of the discussion – and with good reason.  The pen worked just 8.2 innings during the series, but gave 7 runs on 13 hits and 8 walks, their 7.27 ERA accompanied by a .361/.477/.528 batting line against.

The less frequently told story, though, was the continued offensive decline.  In the Sunday finale, the Braves and their starter Julio Teheran repeatedly invited the Cards to blow the game open.  Julio and his four relievers walked 6 batters, hit two more, and allowed a wild pitch and three stolen bases while their defense added a couple of errors behind them.

St Louis put runners in scoring position in 5 of the first 7 innings.  At the end of the day, though, they managed just 3 hits – all singles – ending with just the three runs.

The fading Cardinal offense finished the three games against the Braves with a .192 team batting average and just 3 extra-base hits – scoring just 11 runs in the three games.

For the five-game home stand (in which they finished 2-3) they hit just .216.  From the start of the losing trend, this team is hitting .233 – just .226 in the last 12 home games.

Matt Carpenter

The Brave series wasn’t devoid of good news.  One of the more interesting developments was the re-positioning of Matt Carpenter deeper in the lineup (he hit fifth during the series).  This is not the first time something like this has been contemplated.  Carpenter has batted lower before, but always without any tangible results.

This time, though, Matt responded quite well over the weekend, going 6 for 12 with a home run and 3 runs batted in against Atlanta.

Paul Goldschmidt

The Paul Goldschmidt eruption that everyone has been waiting for has not yet occurred.  Paul had no extra-base hits, and drove in just 1 run during the recent home stand.  But, Paul did have seven hits in the 5 games, including a 5-for-11 performance (.455) against the Braves.

While the last 12 home games have not gone well for the Cards, Goldschmidt s hitting .354 (17 for 48) in his home games this month.  Again, though, the extra-base hits and runs batted in have been conspicuously missing.  His 17 home hits include 1 double and 1 home run.  He has driven in 5 runs in 12 home games this month.

Harrison Bader

Of the Cardinals’ four “starting” outfielders, the only one hitting the ball right now is Harrison Bader.  He went 3 for 9 against the Braves.  Harrison has started 6 times over his last 8 games, hitting .440 (11 for 25) over that period. He is hitting .306 this month (15 for 49), and .322 (19 for 59) in the 26 games since he returned from a hamstring issue.

Marcell Ozuna

After a great start to the home stand against Kansas City, Marcell Ozuna was one of many Cardinals to dry up against Atlanta.  He finished the series with 1 single in 11 at bats (.091).  During the 6-16 slide, Ozuna has started every game, batting fourth and playing left field.  He is hitting .172 (15 for 87) in those games.

Marcell hit well enough at Busch during his first season as a Cardinal (.299 with 13 home runs).  He has been less comfortable at home this year.  In his 12 home games this month, Marcell is hitting .149 (7 for 47) with just 1 home run.  For the season, he is a .196 hitter at home (19 for 97), although 12 of those hits are for extra-bases, including 6 home runs.

Hitless Against Atlanta

In the detritus of the Brave series are a trio of regulars who failed to get a hit.  Newly promoted to the leadoff spot, Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch in each game – the only times he reached base in the series.  Otherwise, he was 0-for-10 with 5 strikeouts.

Number three hitter Paul DeJong was also 0-for-10, and eighth-place hitter Kolten Wong never reached base (except by error) in his 13 plate appearances.  Toss in Jose Martinez – who made one start and went 0-for-4, and these four Cardinals combined for an 0-for-37 series.

By contrast, Yairo Munoz – who is hitting .342 (albeit in very part time play – watched every at bat of the series from the bench.

Fowler

Fowler’s has been one of the missing bats this month.  He is still reaching base – he’s had 13 walks and now 4 hit-by-pitches this month, but is hitting just .193 (11 for 57) in May.

Dexter is 6 for 32 (.188) at home.

DeJong

With his 0-for-10 series against Atlanta, Paul DeJong finished off a hitless home stand (0-for-15).  His overall hitless streak has now reached 18 at bats since a two-run, first-inning double against Texas lefty Drew Smyly on the nineteenth.  Paul has slipped below .300 for the season, and is now hitting .224 (17 for 76) in May.

Paul is 5 for 37 (.135) with 1 home run and 4 runs batted in in 12 home games this month.

Wong

Kolten is now down to .226 for the season, and .171 (13 for 76) for the month.  He is hitless in six of his last seven games.

The upcoming road trip – brief though it is – may be a blessing for Kolten.  He has had a great season on the road (.312/.418/.558), but has done nothing but struggle at Busch, where he is 14 of 91 (.154) with only 5 extra-base hits (4 doubles and a home run).

Cheers for the Rotation

If the bullpen and the offense came up measurably short over the weekend, the efforts of the starters in those games deserves recognition.  Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty each tossed quality starts at the Braves, while they combined to pitch 19.1 innings allowing only 5 runs on 15 hits and just 2 walks.  The starters limited a dangerous Atlanta lineup to a 2.33 ERA and a .217 batting average.

Cardinal starters now have 9 quality starts in the last 14 games.

All season, the starters have been much more solid at home than on the road.  They now have a 3.56 ERA in 28 starts in their own ballpark, against a 5.88 ERA in 24 road starts.

Mikolas

Few pitchers personify the radical home/road splits of the starting rotation more graphically than Mikolas.  Miles has pitched at home 3 times this month, throwing quality starts in each occasion.   He has walked just 1 batter in 21 innings at home in May, while posting a 2.14 ERA and a .178 batting average against.

For the season at home, Miles had quality starts in 5 of 6 starts, a 3-3 record, a 3.15 ERA and a .196 batting average against.  He has walked 5 batters in 40 home innings.

On the road this year, Mikolas has had a tougher time of things, with 1 quality starts in his 5 road efforts leading to a 1-2 record, a 7.66 ERA, and a .350/.387/.650 batting line against.  In 22.1 road innings, Miles has been spanked for 35 hits, including 7 home runs.

Hudson

Dakota Hudson has been one of the most encouraging stories of the month.  Dakota approaches his last start this month riding a streak of three consecutive quality starts.  He has 4 quality starts in 5 games this month, where he holds a 3.07 ERA.  Dakota has allowed just one home run in his last 6 games (35 innings) – a span during which opposing hitters are hitting the ball on the ground 64 % of the time.

Hudson also has significant home/road splits.  He is 2-1 with a 3.58 ERA in 6 home starts, and 1-2 with a 5.23 ERA in 5 road games (4 starts), but that number has been modifying this month.  His first two road starts in May were both impressive.  He lost 2-1 in Washington on May 2, but gave the team 6 innings, allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits.  He got the only win in the Texas series on May 18, going 6.1 more innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits.

Flaherty

Jack Flaherty also has now thrown three consecutive quality starts of increasing dominance.  On Sunday night against the Braves, Jack threw six innings of 3-hit, shutout ball, walking no one and striking out 7.  Flaherty has a 2.50 ERA and a .172 batting average against over his last 3 starts.

Flaherty – whose next start will be at home against the Cubs – is 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 6 home starts.  He is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in 5 road starts.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller eventually surrendered the tying run Sunday night.  It was almost impossible not to.  He came in with the tying run at third and no one out.  He got the first strikeout, but couldn’t get the second.  Ozzie Albies won a ten-pitch duel with Miller by poking a game-tying single into right.

Miller, was, however, the winning pitcher on Saturday night, and has been steadily getting better.  In 10 innings over his last 11 games, Andrew holds a 1.80 ERA and a .188/.235/.281 batting line against.  He has also struck out 12 in those 10 innings.

Jordan Hicks

After picking up his first save of the month on Saturday, Jordan Hicks was back to the mound in the ninth inning Sunday night.  It was the first time he pitched on consecutive days this month.  He retired none of the four batters he faced.  Jordan was also the losing pitcher in the last game of the Texas series, when he allowed 2 runs in 1.1 innings.

Over his last three games, Hicks has now allowed 5 runs on 6 hits in 2.1 innings.  The last 15 batters to face him are hitting .462.  On the last 23 swings taken against the kid with the 102 mph fastball, there has only been one swing-and-miss.

NoteBook

Friday’s loser, Miles Mikolas – although he pitched quite well – absorbed his fifth defeat of the season, tying his career high.  He lost only 4 times in all of 2018.  He also allowed 2 more home runs, bringing him to 12 already this season in just 62.1 innings.  He served up 16 all of last year in 200.2 innings.

Also, in the Friday game, Matt Carpenter launched a ninth-inning home run that accounted for the five-hundredth run batted in of his career – just the fifteenth of this season.  Carpenter has hit at least 21 home runs a year for the last 4 years, but (because he has mostly hit leadoff) has never driven in more than 84 runs a year.  This year, he is on pace to finish with 49 runs batted in.  It would be his lowest total since driving in 46 back in 2012.

Sunday’s loss ended up taking 4:07 to finally unravel.  It was the Cardinal’s second four hour game this season, and their longest game at home.   On April 1 in Pittsburgh it took them 4:50 and 11 innings to finally subdue the Pirates 6-5.

Next up are the Phillies, who – in spite of their loss on Sunday – took two of three from Milwaukee.  Over the Cardinals’ last 8 series, Philadelphia will be the sixth team that they have faced that won its previous series.

Random Numbers for the Memorial Day Weekend

As the Cardinals get set to entertain the Atlanta Braves over the holiday weekend, we’ll take a look at some very random numbers (none of which have anything to do with memorial Day) of varying significance that have shaped the season to this point.

May began in Washington, after the Cards finished April winning the first two games of that series.  Game Three on May 1 also went to the Cards, 5-1.

That was the last time St Louis has won either a game three or a game four.  They wrapped up the National series losing game four 2-1.  They have since lost Game Three to the Cubs, 13-5 (May 5), Game Three to Philadelphia, 5-0 (May 8), Games Three (2-1) and Four (10-6) to Pittsburgh on May 11 and 12, Game Three to Atlanta, 10-2 (May 16), and to Texas, 5-4 in 10 innings (May 19).

Good thing the Kansas City series was only two games.

They were 6-1 in game threes and 1-1 in game fours in March/April.

Twenty games into the month of May, the Cards have been shut out three times, and held to fewer than three runs 10 times.  They have lost all 11 games this month where they have scored less than five runs.  They were only held to fewer than four runs 5 times in March/April – and managed to win one of those.

Meanwhile, they have allowed at least five runs 9 times this month – losing all 9 games. They have allowed five runs or more 23 times in their first 49 games this year.

They have scored at least ten runs 3 times this month (and 6 times for the year).  They have also allowed at least ten runs 4 times this month (and 6 times this year).  They scored ten or more runs just 12 times all year last year, and allowed ten runs or more just 8 times in 2018.

In 12 of the first 20 games this month St Louis as failed to score the first run of the game.  They have lost 11 of the 12.

On May 9, Michael Wacha took the mound at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  After he retired the first two batters in the first, Gregory Polanco drove a home run to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh.  Wacha got out of the inning with no further scoring.  St Louis then rebounded with four runs in the bottom of the second and never looked back on their way to a 17-4 victory (box score).

That was the only game this month that St Louis has come from behind to win.  They had 10 come-from-behind wins in March/April.  They have also lost 11 games this season (5 in May) in which they had a lead at some point.

Schizophrenic Cards Win and Lose in Doubleheader

Yesterday afternoon the cross-state neighbors dropped by for their annual visit to St Louis.  The entire St Louis portion of the matchup between the Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals played out in a double-header yesterday – thanks to the unyielding rain that washed out Tuesday’s scheduled contest.

As the Cardinals have been two entirely different teams this year, it is only fair that the Royals got to play them both.  For the afternoon tilt, the home team trotted out its May version – a team that was appropriately spanked 8-2 (box score).  In the night-cap, the vintage March/April version of the team dropped by, orchestrating a 10-3 victory (box score).

What to make of the schizophrenic Cardinals will be a mystery that we will probably be all summer unravelling.  The question of this teams’ character, though, continues to hover over this franchise.  The victory in the second game brought a temporary respite to a losing streak that had reached 14 of their previous 18 games.  The Cubs went through an early season skid in which they lost 8 of 10 before regaining their footing.  Sometime later, the Brewers lost 12 of 18 before rebounding.

It remains to be seen when (or if) the team in St Louis can turn itself around.

This is one reason I’m fond of the “After a Loss” statistic.  In baseball, everybody loses games from time to time.  That’s unavoidable.  But teams with championship character are hard to saddle with a second loss.  That’s the test.  How do they respond?

In the Cardinals’ case, the answer here is as schizophrenic as their season has been.  The March/April Cardinals were 7-3 the game after a loss.  In May, that team is 5-9 after a loss – leaving them an even 12-12 for the season.

Much of the recent damage has come at the hands of the Braves, Phillies and Cubs.  Those three teams are next up, so if St Louis has a response in them, this would be a good time.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna had a productive double header.  He drove in the Cards only two runs in the first game, then drove in 3 more in the night-cap with a three-run first-inning homer.  With 2 hits in the last Texas game, Marcell is hitting .417 (5 for 12) over his last three games.  He has only 8 hits over his last 8 games, but 6 have been for extra-bases (3 of them home runs).  He has driven in 11 runs in those games.

Michael Wacha

If there is one recurring theme in this lost month of May – especially when it comes to games after a loss – it is the continuing struggles of the rotation.  Michael Wacha was, in this sense, a microcosm of the season in yesterday’s first game.  He lasted almost 5 (4.2 innings to be precise), but after the Royals battered him for 6 in the third, the outcome was never in doubt.  In the 14 games after a loss this month, Cardinal starters hold a 6.26 ERA, with a .281 batting average against.  This is no way to stop a skid.

As for Wacha, he is now 2-2 in 4 starts this month with a 6.64 ERA.  Three of those starts have followed a Cardinal loss.  He has lasted 15.1 innings in those three starts, yielding 16 runs (14 earned) on 22 hits and 8 walks.  It’s an 8.22 ERA with a .349/.417/.556 batting line against.  Certainly a trend to be concerned about.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright struggled through 5 innings in the second game.  He gave 6 hits and 4 walks, but only 3 runs to be awarded the victory – however shaky.  This hasn’t been Adam’s best month. He threw 7 excellent innings against the Pirates on May 10, but his other three starts have been more or less a mess.  He is 1-2 in his 4 May starts with a 6.43 ERA.

Additionally, the three worst starts have come after a Cardinal loss.  He has lasted just 14 innings in those 3 games, allowing 14 runs.  For the season, Adam has made 5 starts after a Cardinal loss.  He is 2-2 in those games with a 7.13 ERA and a batting line against of .287/.387/.494.

More consistency on offense would be greatly welcomed.  However, without notable exception, everyone close to this team understands that the Cardinal fortunes hinge on the development of the starting pitching.

NoteBook

With the paid crowd of 42,529 in the second game, the Cardinals surpassed the 1,000,000 mark in home attendance (1,038,590) in their twenty-fifth home game.  They average 41,543.6 per home game.

Marcell Ozuna’s first inning home run stood up as the game-winning RBI.  He has 7 already this year.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.

Marcell doubled in both games – bringing him to 11 for the season.  He doubled just 16 times all last season.

He also grounded into double plays in both games.  Marcell has now tied his double-play total from all of last year at 10.

Kolten Wong’s late home run brought his season RBI total to 25.  He drove in just 38 all of last year.

Figuring Out the Outfield and Other Lineup Notes

The St Louis Cardinals head into these final days of May having experienced unusual consistency in their lineups (infield more so than outfield).  With 47 games already played, the Cardinals have six players who have started at least 42 games at the same position.

Last year at this point – for example – Kolten Wong had only made 32 starts at second.  Matt Carpenter had made 11 starts there, and Greg Garcia had started 4 times.

Paul DeJong had made just 39 starts at shortstop – with Garcia and Jedd Gyorko taking the other 8 games.

Carpenter had manned third base 24 times – somewhat more than the 18 starts that Gyorko had there.  At this point last year, Gyorko had made a total of 20 starts.  This year, he projects to get 21 starts all year.

Tommy Pham had started 39 games in center, and Dexter Fowler was the starter in right 37 times.

Yadier Molina – out with an injury – had started just 29 games, with Francisco Pena his primary backup making 12 starts.  Matt Wieters is Yadi’s primary backup this year.  He is projected to make 10 starts all season.

At this point last year, only two players had made as many as 42 starts at the same position – Marcell Ozuna making 43 starts in left and Jose Martinez making 42 starts at first.  All things being equal, DeJong would probably have made that many at shortstop, but he was already on the shelf with a broken wrist at this point last season.

This is one of the main cultural differences between this year’s team and the 2018 squad (that was 26-21 after 47 games).  In previous years, management has made a concerted effort to get the bench involved.  Gyorko, Munoz and Wieters are all counted on as being important pieces of the 2019 puzzle.  They have had 39, 35 and 20 at bats so far, respectively.

The Outfield Puzzle

With Molina catching 44 games so far, Paul Goldschmidt making 46 starts at first base, Wong making 44 starts at second base, DeJong making 46 starts at shortstop, Carpenter making 42 at third and Marcell Ozuna starting 45 times in left field, there are only two defensive positions (center and right) that have seen any real flux at all – and that only because Harrison Bader missed a few games with a hamstring.

But, Harrison’s recent resurgence at the plate has complicated the outfield picture.  In effect, Mike Shildt has four outfielders who all deserve to start and all need to play, but only three openings.

My suspicion is that Bader will be on the bench when the season resumes tomorrow afternoon.  Before that happens, it’s worth pointing out that he and Fowler have been the principle centerfielders this year, with Bader making 22 starts there, and Fowler 20.  The Cards are 13-9 in Bader’s starts, and 9-11 when Fowler starts in center.  The offense does improve if Dexter is starting.  St Louis averages 5.25 runs per game with Dex in center, as opposed to 4.68 runs per game with Harrison.  But the team ERA is almost a run and a half lower (3.50 to 4.99) with Bader in center.

Right field has been mostly Martinez (30 starts) and Fowler (16).  The record is slightly better with Jose out there (16-14 vs 8-8).  Offensively, the team scores a bit more with Martinez (5.17 runs per game to 5.06).  As you might expect, the defense favors Fowler, 4.23 ERA to 4.59.

Putting together a team is one of the great challenges in baseball – or, indeed, of any sport.  Maintaining that team over the long stretch of 162 games is maybe even more challenging.  I am not even suggesting a major outfield re-shuffling. My suggestion here is that maybe more people should have more chances to contribute.