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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.