Offense Pushes Arizona Around Again, 11-4

During the three games against the Cubs that closed out the last home stand and the first game in San Diego, the roller-coaster offense managed a total of 7 runs.  They have scored at least 7 runs in each of the five games since.  The season is 21 games old, and the Cardinals are still averaging 6.52 runs per game and slugging .504 as a team.

In winning four of these last five games, the rebounding Cardinal offense has hit .344 (66 hits in their last 192 at bats).  Twenty-four of the hits have been for extra bases, including 10 home runs.  In averaging 9 runs a game during this recent spree, the team has managed a .604 slugging percentage.

Along the way, they have beaten right-handed pitchers like so many drums.  After Corbin left last night, the Redbirds feasted on Arizona’s right handed bullpen to the tune of 6-for-14 (.429).  Over the last five games and 141 at bats, St Louis bats have slashed .376/.433/.695 against right-handers.

While going 7 for 18 (.389) with runners in scoring position last night, the Cardinals’ average in that situation actually went down.  Over the last five games, St Louis is hitting an even .400 (22-for-55) with a .673 slugging percentage with RISP.

The recent hitting spree has even extended to two-strike counts.  St Louis went 6-for-17 (.438) with four walks last night with two strikes on them.  The last 95 Cardinal batters who have hit with two strikes on them are batting .376 (32-for-85) with 9 walks.  The same holds true when there are two outs, the offense was also 6-for-14 with two outs last night, driving in 5 two-out runs.  Over the last five games, they have hit .368 (25-for-68) with two outs.  When the pitcher can’t get either the third strike or the third out, he’ll be in for a very long, short night.

Additionally, the late-inning thumping is starting to develop as a definite pattern.  Through five innings last night, the Cards had 2 runs on 3 hits.  Over the last four innings, they hit .478 and scored 9 runs.  Over the last five games, St Louis has scored a total of 6 runs while hitting just .227 in the first four innings of those games.  From the fifth innings on, the offense has kicked in 39 runs and hit .419.  All of their last ten home runs have come after the fourth inning.

Stephen Piscotty

Mr. Piscotty is heating up nicely in the midst of this resurgence.  After a 4-for-5 night, Piscotty has 11 hits in his last 24 at bats (.458) with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs (this is just the last 5 games) and a .792 slugging percentage.

Stephen’s only at bat against a right-hander last night was his RBI single against Delgado in the ninth.  The right-handed Piscotty is now 8 for his last 19 (.421) against right-handed pitchers.

Stephen took the first pitch in five of his six plate appearances last night, three of them balls and two others called strikes.  As Piscotty dials in, his selectivity improves.  He went 4-for-5 in the at bats where he took the first pitch.  He is 8 for his last 16 with three extra-base hits when laying off the first pitch thrown to him.  He was also 2-for-3 last night and 4-for-12 over the last five games when hitting with two-strikes on him.

Aledmys Diaz

At the very top of this over-achieving offense is rookie shortstop and eighth-place hitter Aledmys Diaz.  With two more hits last night, including the home run that switched the momentum of the game, Diaz is now hitting .591 (13-for-22) over the last five games, with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs of his own.  He has 21 total bases in his last 22 at bats (.955 slugging pct.).

Diaz is another right-handed batter who is currently savaging right-handed pitching.  One-for-two against righties last night, Diaz is 11 for his last 17 (.647) against them with a .941 slugging percentage.

Aledmys’ seventh inning single came on a 2-2 pitch.  Diaz has five hits in his last seven at bats with two strikes on him.

These waves of offense have mostly carried a pitching staff that still hasn’t completely righted itself.  The last time through the rotation, only two starters have managed quality starts, and the team ERA sits at an unimpressive 4.30.  This number includes a 5.52 ERA from the bullpen – most of this damage coming in the sixth inning of Monday’s game in Arizona.

One area where the pitchers have done well over these last five games is getting outs when there are runners in scoring position.  The Diamondbacks were only 1-for-8 last night, and over the five games opposing batters are just .204 hitters (10-for-49) in RISP situations.

Adam Wainwright

Of the 22 batters Adam Wainwright faced last night, only two swung at his first pitch.  For the evening, only four of the 37 Diamondback hitters offered at the first pitch.

Seung-hwan Oh

A bright spot all season, Oh has been one of a handful of relievers who have held solid during these last few choppy games.  Oh extinguished a two-on, one-out sixth inning mess and went on to retire all four batters he faced.  Seung-hwan has pitched in three of the last five games, retiring all eleven batters to face him – striking out six of the eleven.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan allowed a single to the left-hander Lamb, but retired all four of the right-handers to appear against him.  Over these last five games, righties are 0-for-11 with 4 strikeouts against him.

Inherit the Wind Entry 2: Painting the Floor

Rose Wegescheide (L) and Maureen Highkin (R) paint the floor at CCT to look like wood.
Rose Wegescheide (L) and Maureen Highkin (R) paint the floor at CCT to look like wood.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016  @ 7:30 pm.

There is no rehearsal tonight.  The usual commotion that almost always attends the theatre is all but nonexistent.  I have stopped by to bring dinner to my wife (meatball pizza!).

From about 7:00 until well into the night, she and her friend Maureen will be painting the floor (I have just come from a client’s, so I’m not dressed to help).

Every amateur theatre company in the city depends on people like Rose and Maureen – critical volunteers who sacrifice considerable time after work to attend to so many of the tedious chores that have to be done for the organization to function.  They sell concessions, they collect and catalog props, they paint the floors.  What they do, they do with little fanfare, little recognition – and, usually, little company.  In June, as our audiences come in, the first thing they will see of the show is the set – decked out in all its glory and ready for the evening’s drama.  The critics will come and comment on the set design.  The set might even win an award at next season’s TMA ceremony.

But designing the set and executing the design are two different things.  What my Rosie and her friend do is finely honed skill.  Over the course of the next several hours they will transform the theatre floor from a kind of art-deco, shades of gray, square box look that served for The Women into a totally convincing wood grain floor.   It is every bit as much an artistic achievement as anything that any of the actors will do in June.  By then, of course, little will be remembered of this night they gave to the company.  To many, they have just spent a little time painting the floor.  But those of us who bear the day-to-day operation of this company understand the debt we owe them.

It is 10:40 pm and my Rosie just got home.  She is pretty tired and fairly sore, but she comes home wearing that artists’ satisfaction that comes from doing very well what only a very few can do at all.

 

Inherit the Wind Entry 1: Blocking the Show

(This is the first installment of a production diary of Inherit the Wind.  For an explanation of what this post is doing in a baseball blog, read the Inherit the Wind page.)

You are, perhaps, wondering how these things begin.  Un-romantic as it may seem, it begins with a lot of standing around.

Of course, that’s just the actors.  Director Mark Neels, Assistant Director Darrious Varner and their designers have been planning and researching for months.  On the theoretical level, Inherit the Wind has been alive and flourishing in Mark’s head and heart for years.

But, when theory re-casts itself into reality, there is always a lot of standing around.  It is Monday, April 18 and we are blocking the crowd scenes.  The cast is a small army of more than 30 and most of us are present and milling about in the cafeteria.

If you are unfamiliar with the space where the Clayton Community Theatre rehearses and performs, the South Campus of Washington University was formerly a high school.  The theatre is upstairs and on the first floor is the old cafeteria.  When the theatre is unavailable – as it is tonight, for some reason – we rehearse downstairs in the cafeteria.  A few tables and chairs artfully arranged in a cleared area mark out the essential landmarks of the set.  Most of us sit in the “offstage” area waiting to enter.

Matthew Harrison Brady is arriving in town and, several at a time, the town is turning out to meet him.  Every few lines, another group of townspeople comes on, so every few lines the scene halts as Mark (more traffic cop than director at this point) brings the next group on, explaining where they are going and why.  Mark is very much in his element.  His excitement is contagious as he brings shape to a mostly chaotic scene.  Dr. Mark, I should say, as the young director is actually a PhD in history.

Inherit the Wind – speaking of history – is loosely based on the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.  The play has several meaty roles, but centers around the two lawyers, Matthew Harrison Brady (the William Jennings Bryan character) and Henry Drummond (the play’s incarnation of Clarence Darrow).  I have had the pleasure of working before with both of these actors and am enjoying watching these characters develop.

Mark Ables, a former board member at CCT, is Brady.  Mark is enormously personable.  He brings an easy smile and a natural warmth to the role.  But for all his easy charm, there is an executive “air” that always attends Mark – something that suggests that he would be perfectly at home chairing executive board meetings in some corporate office somewhere.  All of these aspects inform his portrayal of Brady, who was almost president three times.  Brady, as portrayed by Mark Ables, is, at the same time, very presidential and warmly human.

Jim Danic plays Drummond – Brady’s antagonist.  The two lawyers and actors bring opposite styles to the contest.  Where Brady/Ables is fastidious, Drummond/Danic is unapologetically rumpled.  Drummond/Danic roams the courtroom with a polished carelessness.  Danic’s strength is his clarity.  As Drummond he has little patience with fools or foolish ritual.  The law in his hands bypasses useless procedures and protocols to find the essential “rightness” of the question.  Danic brings an engaging combination of honesty and passion to Drummond.

The crowd scenes over, most of us are dismissed while Mark and the principals remain for further blocking.  There is a long way to go, but we have started.

Martinez Masterful in Desert, Wins His Fourth 8-2

Carlos Martinez was in charge again last night, with eight much-needed scoreless innings of three-hit ball, and the offense exploded late (again).  A five-run fifth-inning pushed St Louis to an 8-2 win in Arizona.

Martinez authored his fourth quality start of the season (in his fourth start).  With Michael Wacha (who is 3-for-4 in quality starts), the Cardinals have seven in these eight starts.  The rest of the starters combined have managed 3 over the course of the other 12 games.

Last season, Martinez threw first-pitch strikes to 63% of the batters he faced.  Through his first three starts this year, 71% of the batters he faced saw first-pitch strikes.  Last night, he missed with his first pitch to 16 of the 28 batters he faced.  It didn’t seem to matter.  The 16 batters who started off 1-0 went 1-for-16 against Martinez.

During Stephen Piscotty’s rookie campaign, the first pitch thrown him would mostly set the tone for the at bat.  If you were an opposing pitcher, throwing him strike one was usually a very good thing.  After a first-pitch strike, Piscotty hit only .265 (40-for-151) with just 3 walks.  But, if you fell behind him 1-0, Piscotty slashed .378/.480/.622 (31-for-82 with 4 home runs).

During the early part of this season, that aspect of Stephen’s game has been missing.  Going into last night’s contest, Piscotty was hitting just .192 (5-for-26) when he begins the at bat ahead 1-0.

Last night, however, four of his five at bats began with a first-pitch ball.  Stephen went 3-for-4 with a walk in those at bats.  He most closely resembled his 2015 self in his seventh-inning at bat as he let Dominic Leone fall behind 2-0 before he teed off on the 2-1 cutter, sending it soaring over the wall in dead-center.  By degrees, Piscotty is looking closer and closer to the weapon he was last year.

After his big series against San Diego, Jedd Gyorko has started the Arizona series 0-for-8.  In three of his five at bats last night, Diamondback pitchers threw him first-pitch fastballs for strikes, but kept them on the corners.  It’s playing with fire a bit, but if you can get ahead of Gyorko with the first pitch, you’re better off.  In at bats that begin with a first-pitch strike, Jedd is hitting .192 (5-for-26).  He hits .300 (6-for-20) when the at bat starts off 1-0.

With two more doubles, two more home runs, and eight more runs scored, the Cardinals hit the twenty game mark of the season scoring 6.30 runs per game and carrying a .504 team slugging percentage.  In 705 at bats they have hit 32 home runs.  They now have multiple home runs in four straight games, and have done this in ten of the twenty games played so far this season.  It took 39 games and 1,346 at bats last year for the Cardinals to hit their 32nd home run.  Mark Reynolds authored the “dinger” in the fourth-inning of St Louis’ May 19th game against the Mets’ Jon Niese in New York.  The solo shot upped St Louis’ lead to 4-0 in a game they would go on to win 10-2.  Their tenth multi-homer game came last year in game number 58. St Louis managed the feat only 36 times all last year.

Bullpen Falters, but Hazelbaker Impresses

I’m not really sure what to say about this game.  The 9-run, sixth-inning meltdown certainly left an array of numbers in its wake, but I hesitate to assign them much significance.  For the most part, Jaime Garcia, Matt Bowman and Kevin Siegrist have been very effective.  This was just one of those days.  And Siegrist’s struggles with the flu is all the more reason to dismiss last night’s loss as an anomaly.

On the not-so-anomalous side of last night’s game was Jeremy Hazelbaker.  Yesterday, we examined what the numbers suggested about Jedd Gyorko and Aledmys Diaz.  Last night was kind of a microcosm of Hazelbaker’s season so far.

Jeremy entered yesterday’s game in the fourth inning.  In the fifth inning, Jeremy got a 1-0 fastball a little away from him and floated it over the left field wall.  Then in the seventh, he jumped a 1-0 changeup that floated back over the heart of the plate, stroking it into right-center for a triple.  That was Jeremy’s night at the plate.  Four pitches, two mistakes, two extra-base hits.

For the season, 64% of Hazelbaker’s at bats are over before the pitcher throws ball two.  And that’s where he thrives.  In those 37 plate appearances, Jeremy is hitting .353 (12-for-34) with four of his five home runs, 12 of his 13 RBIs and a .824 slugging percentage.  When the at bat extends to the second or third ball, his effectiveness diminishes (a .222 average on 4-for-18 hitting).  Hazelbaker has only extended seven at bats long enough to see ball three.  During Hazelbaker’s 16 hits this season, he sees an average 2.94 pitches.  During his 43 outs (counting 2 sacrifice flies), Jeremy sees an average of 3.53 pitches.  During his 0-for-17 streak that brought him back to earth, Hazelbaker saw an average of 3.61 pitches per plate appearance, hitting the first pitch in only three of those at bats.

Nineteen games into Jeremy Hazelbaker’s career, he reads like a guy who comes to the plate with a clear idea of what’s he’s looking for and ready to jump it when it comes.  But as the at bat extends and Jeremy is forced to guess with the pitcher, the experience gap between Hazelbaker and the league begins to show.  How quickly he can catch up to the league will be one of the summer’s compelling stories.

Of the curious numbers from last night’s pitching meltdown, I leave you with these.  1) Arizona finished with an astonishing 23 at bats with runners in scoring position.  They had seven hits.  2) Through the first 18 games of the season, the bullpen had allowed only 4 of the 17 runners they inherited to score.  Last night, all five inherited runners scored – all in one inning.

On the offensive side, with three triples and two home runs, the team slugging percentage has pushed itself back over the .500 mark (to .501).  The home runs were numbers 29 and 30 on the season in 19 games and 670 team at bats.  Last year, it took the Cardinals 36 games and 1234 at bats to hit 30 home runs.  Jhonny Peralta did the honors in the sixth inning of that May 16th game against David Price of the Tigers.  Jhonny’s blast was the third and final solo home run the Cards hit against Price that day in a game Detroit would win 4-3 in ten innings.

Cardinals Worked the Count and Work Over San Diego, 8-5

Twenty-three of the 46 Cardinals who came to the plate last night worked the count into their favor, and with good effect.  Those 23 batters hit .526 (10/19) with two triples, a home run and an .895 slugging percentage.  For the season, the team hits .326 (61/187) when ahead in the count with 14 of their 28 home runs and a .626 slugging percentage.  Over the course of the season so far, though, Cardinal hitters have only managed to get into hitters counts 35% of the time.  Last night their discipline and execution provided another evening of offensive highlights.

If you’ve been watching Jedd Gyorko’s at bats so far in his initial season in St Louis, how would you classify him as a hitter?  Yesterday he hit two first-pitch fastballs, collecting a single and a ground out.  In his three other at bats, though, he took pitches – including fastballs for strikes – as he waited for the pitcher to fall behind in the count so he could pounce on the expected fastball.  The results: a triple on a 3-2 pitch (in an at bat that began 3-0 before Jedd took two fastball strikes); a home run on a 2-0 fastball; and a fly-out on a 3-1 pitch.  These at bats suggest someone who is more of a cripple hitter (and who is patient enough to get himself into favorable counts).

His first 41 plate appearances in a Cardinal uniform seem to suggest the same thing.  To this point, Jedd has hit behind in the count in just eight of those plate appearances (19.5%), while he has worked the count into his favor an impressive 46% of the time (19 of the 41).  Once ahead, Jedd is hitting .375 (6 for 16) good for 17 total bases, as those hits include 3 homers and a triple.  His early season slugging percentage when ahead in the count is an acceptable 1.063.  This is an approach that looks like it will work for him.  By demonstrating that he is more than willing to jump on the first fastball he likes, pitchers – wary of his considerable pop – are less likely to throw him that first pitch fastball.  This gives them every opportunity to fall behind with their breaking pitches.

Behind in the count isn’t usually a comfortable place for a hitter to be.  So far this year, the Cardinals are hitting .211 when behind in the count.  This is more-or-less consistent with the rest of the league.  Being able to hit behind in the count is generally a mark of a disciplined and (usually) veteran hitter.  It also suggests someone comfortable hitting breaking pitches (which you are more likely to see when behind in the count).

Yadi Molina, of to a great start this year, has the team’s second highest batting average when behind in the count, hitting .409 (9/22) in those at bats.  The top average on the team in this category, though, belongs to Aledmys Diaz.  In his only plate appearance last night in which he fell behind in the count, he jumped an 0-1 curve ball and drilled it way over the left field wall.  Diaz is now 5-for-10 (.500) when backed up in the count.  Aledmys, who worked the count into his favor the rest of his three-hit night, combines a very quick, aggressive swing with surprisingly good control.  He is also seeing the breaking pitch very well right now.

In the third inning last night, Randal Grichuck chased a Colin Rea fastball in off the plate, fouling it off to put him behind in the count 1-2.  Grichuck then fouled out to the catcher on the next pitch (a curveball).  Randal is now 0-for-17 (with 10 strikeouts) when batting behind in the count.  If he can stay even in the count – as he did when he doubled on an 0-0 pitch in the eighth, he becomes a .280 hitter with a .480 slugging percentage.  Ahead in the count (as he was the rest of the night, going 2-for-3), Randal hits .462 (6/13) with 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a 1.000 slugging percentage.  To this point of the season, Randal hasn’t been able to recover when he misses that pitch early in the at bat.

Unlike Gyorko and Diaz, Stephen Piscotty has had difficulty seeing and laying off the breaking ball early in the count.  When he ended the second by rolling a 1-0 pitch to first, it was the only one of his five at bats that he actually worked the count into his favor.  So far this season, Piscotty is a .400 hitter when ahead in the count, but has managed to put himself in that position just ten times in his first 76 plate appearances.

Among the bullpen appearances, Seung-hwan Oh’s deserves recognition.  Previous to last night, Oh had faced 38 batters, pitching behind 16 of them (42%).  Even thought these batters had worked the count into their favor, they have only 2 hits in 9 at bats to show for their efforts, as Oh has been tough to square up on, even behind in the count.  But he has also walked 6 of the 16, setting up more drama than necessary.  But not last night.  In his spotless sixth inning, he got a flyout on a 1-2 pitch, a strikeout on a 2-2 pitch and another flyout on a 1-2 pitch.  When even in the count, opposing batters are only 1-for-12 against Oh (.083), and when they bat from behind against him, they are 0-for-13.

With three home runs on Saturday and two more yesterday, the St Louis Cardinals have produced 28 home runs in 635 at bats over 18 games.  In 2015, their 28th home run flew off the bat of Matt Carpenter as he turned on a 2-2 pitch from David Price that tied the Cardinals’ May 16th game against Detroit at 1-run each in the bottom of the first inning of team game number 36 (exactly twice as many games as it has taken this year).  Carpenter’s swing would conclude the team’s 1216th at bat.

After a Loss in San Diego, Cards at .500

After last night’s disappointing loss in San Diego, the St Louis Cardinals now stand 8-8 on the season.  This evening they will be presented with their eighth opportunity to respond to a loss the game before.  They have won only four of the first seven, but have overall played better than that, losing one-run games in extra-innings in Pittsburgh and at home against the Cubs.

They will give the ball to talented right-hander Michael Wacha.  It will be Wacha’s fourth start of the season and his third following a Cardinal loss, and the results, so far, have been mixed.  He was shaky in Pittsburgh, surrendering five runs on ten hits through just 4 1/3 innings.  He was decidedly better against Cincinnati, allowing just one earned run over six innings.  Michael didn’t really embrace the role of stopper when he had those opportunities last year.  Fourteen of his starts followed Cardinal losses, and, although his record was a solid 7-3 in those starts, his ERA of 3.98 was the highest of any of the Cardinal starters when pitching after a loss.

Last season’s top starter after a loss was Jaime Garcia, who was 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance when given the opportunity to end a losing streak.  So far this year all three of his starts have followed Cardinal defeats.  He is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA and the team is 2-1 in those games.

Among the hitters, the two rookies – Aldemys Diaz and Jeremy Hazelbaker – have been the most productive.  Diaz has played in six of the seven, although he’s started only three.  He has only had 12 at bats in games after a loss, but has 4 hits (.333) including a double and a pinch-hit home run in Atanta.

Hazelbaker’s star has fallen a bit in recent days, but he has had his best moments so far while trying to keep St Louis out of losing streaks.  He has played in all seven of these games – although he also has only started three – hitting .313 in these opportunities (5/16) with a double and all three of his home runs so far.  Albeit in limited opportunities, his slugging percentage in games after a loss is .938.

Among the regulars, Yadi Molina has lead the way after his team has suffered a loss.  He has 7 hits in his first 24 such at bats (.304).

On the downside, the Cards have three regulars and one semi-regular batting below .200 after a loss.  Matt Carpenter is hitting just .185 (5/27), Matt Holliday just .167 (4/24), Randal Grichuk is at .125 (3/24), and Brandon Moss has saved his worst games while trying to rebound from a loss.  He is just 1-for-16 (.063) with 8 strikeouts in those games.  Interestingly enough, Carpenter was our best hitter last year in games after a loss.  He slashed .306/.407/.550 with 10 home runs and 32 runs-batted-in in 56 such games in 2015.

Martinez Pitches Cardinals Past Cubs, 5-3

Carlos Martinez quieted the Cubs with this third consecutive quality start to end the season’s first home stand on a high note.  The 5-3 victory allowed the Cards to escape with a mostly uninspiring 5-4 stand.  But, inside that 5-4 record were the first hints of the pitching staff we are hoping to see.  And Martinez has been a substantial contributor to the turnaround.

Carlos Martinez

Martinez became the third Cardinal starter to make two starts on the home-stand while recording an ERA less than three runs a game.  In his starts, Carlos allowed 4 runs over 14 innings (2.57 ERA) to join Michael Wacha (0.75) and Jaime Garcia (1.29) in that category.  Martinez (.176) and Garcia (.106) both held opposing batters under .200 during their starts, and for the entire home-stand opposing batters hit just .217 against the home team.  The overall ERA over the last nine games (even with allowing 6 runs once to Milwaukee and 9 runs once to Cincinnati) was an excellent 3.22.

The Cubs didn’t send a whole lot of right handed batters to the plate against Carlos, but he retired all nine that did come to the plate against him.  In his last two starts (against the Cubs and Reds), right handers are hitting just .136 against Martinez (3 singles in 22 at bats).  The totals include no walks, no RBIs, and 7 strikeouts.  Chicago’s right handers combined were 0-for-12 yesterday against Martinez, Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal.

Martinez never faced a batter yesterday with 2 runners on base, but ten of the 27 he faced yesterday came to the plate with one runner on base.  They went 0-for-10 against Carlos.  Over his last two games, opposing batsmen are just 1-for-16 against Carlos (.063) with one runner on base.  Through his last 14 innings, Martinez has faced only one batter with two runners on base – Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, who took full advantage of that opportunity.  Rizzo’s eighth-inning, RBI single against Oh was the only hit the Cubs had in 14 at bats with a runner on base.

One common thread that Martinez shares with Garcia is they are both trouble to face when they get two strikes on you.  During the home-stand, opposing hitters went 1-for-28 (.036) against Garcia when he got 2-strikes on them.  The Cubs yesterday were 0-for-12 against Martinez in 2-strike opportunities and the Cubs and Reds combined managed just 2 hits in 24 at bats against Martinez with two strikes on them.

Overall

St Louis played four games on the home stand after having lost the previous game.  Including yesterday’s win, they went 3-1 in those games with a 1.50 ERA.

Rizzo’s RBI single in the eighth came on a 3-2 count.  In 18 such at bats, it was the Cubs’ only 2-strike hit during the game.  Over the entire home stand, opposing hitters managed a feeble .110 batting average (17/154) once the Cardinal pitching staff got two strikes on them.

Playing Winning Teams

While losing the first two games of the Cub series, the media was quick to point out that the Cards had lost their first five games against the teams (Pittsburgh and Chicago) who are expected to contend with them for the division title.  The intent of this was to essentially dismiss the success the Cardinals had against the “lesser” teams.

Setting aside, for the moment, the statistical insignificance of five games among the 38 the Cardinals will play against these rivals, it’s also unfair to dismiss the Brewers and Reds so blithely.  Yes, neither team is expected to hang in the race for very long, but both have been playing pretty good baseball in the early going.  In fact, as of this morning, the Reds, courtesy of a 6-5 win over Colorado, are 8-7 while Pittsburgh has fallen below .500 at 7-8.  The Reds, in fact, are 7-2 so far when playing someone other than the Cardinals or Cubs.

Again, this is not to suggest that either Cincinnati or Milwaukee is a juggernaut.  But however they will end the season, both of these teams are currently playing very competitive baseball.  The Cardinals stand – at the moment – at 3-3 against winning teams this season.  Dismissing their successes against the Reds and Brewers is disingenuous.

Cubs Douse Cardinals Opening Home Stand

However this afternoon’s match-up turns out, the Cubs have effectively dampened the season-opening home stand.  If the Cardinals can manage to salvage the last game, the home stand that began so promisingly (think 6 home runs in a game and Garcia’s 13-strikeout, 1-hit shutout) would end at just 5-4.  Moreover, the team that entered the home stand just 2 games behind Chicago will be fortunate to hit the road again trailing by just three.

If the home stand has been largely disappointing, it has, at least, given Matt Adams an opportunity to get his name back in the mix at first base.  Adams hit .329 at Busch last year (albeit in just 73 at bats), and after a 2-for-3 night last night is 5-for-11 (.455) during the home stand, including a double and a home run.  He’s played in all eight games – although he’s started only two – but carries an .818 slugging percentage into the home stand’s final game.

Yadier Molina has been one of the few Cardinals to sustain his hot streak through the entire home stand.  He had 2 hits last night, driving in the only run for the Cardinals, and is now hitting .444 (12-for-27) with one game to play.  His RBI was his fifth of the home stand.

Kolten Wong managed six hits in the season-opening, six-game road trip.  He arrived home carrying a decent .261 average (albeit with no runs batted in).  But his has been one of the principle missing bats over the last eight games.  After his 0-for-2 last night, Kolten is just 2-for-17 (.118) on the home stand.  His season batting average has fallen to an even .200.

Jaime Garcia’s second start of the home stand wasn’t as dominant as his first, but he did add seven more strikeouts in his five innings, giving him 20 over 14 innings in those two starts.

Although there have been a few pitching hiccups over the home stand, overall the pitching is beginning to look a little more like the staff we were hoping to see.  After scuffling through the season-opening road trip with a 4.39 team ERA (featuring a 6.25 ERA from the starters), the home stand has produced a 3.25 team ERA, including 3.51 from the starters.  Opposing teams hit .304 against our starters on the road, but just .236 against them at home.

St Louis was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position last night.  Since Brandon Moss’ 2-run homer that pulled the Cards to within one run of Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, St Louis is 0 for its last 19 RISP opportunities.

Lackey Quiets Cardinal Offense 5-0

As the offense submitted quietly to John Lackey last night, among the many missing aspects of the heretofore dynamic offense was their proficiency at hitting with runners on base.  Before last night, the Cards carried a team .258 (57/221) batting average with the bases empty, while hitting .296 (61/206) with at least one runner on base.  Twenty-eight of the 61 hits had gone for extra-bases, including 11 of the 21 home runs they have hit so far this season.

Last night, in spite of Lackey’s dominance, St Louis still had 13 plate appearances with at least one runner on base.  Aledmys Diaz’ double that set up the only real scoring opportunity of the night was the only hint of success the Cardinals enjoyed in those at bats.

St Louis had been almost other-worldly, so far, when they have put two runners on base.  They already have hit 6 3-run homers (they had only 15 of those all last year) and were 20 for 60 (.333) with a .683 team slugging percentage with two runners on before last night.  Lackey was very effective at diffusing the offense before things got to that point.  He faced only two Cardinal batters all night with two on, striking out both Leake and Carpenter to strand the runners.

St Louis, at the 13 game mark, has played 9 games against presumptive also rans in Atlanta, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, battering them for 78 runs in the 9 games.  They have now played 4 games against presumed contenders in Pittsburgh and Chicago and have scored 7 runs in those games.  These are far too few games to make any sweeping observations over, but it does underline the scrutiny that the Cardinal offense is under this year.  After two unremarkable offensive seasons during which they have averaged 3.91 runs per game – and following a less-than-spectacular offseason – the offensive concerns of Cardinal Nation can’t quite be assuaged by pushing around second division teams.  As the season wears on, this team will have to show at some point that they can score a few runs against the contending teams as well.

Mike Leake and Tyler Lyons invited plenty of trouble throughout the game.  With the bases empty, the Cubs hit .316 (6/19) against the pair, including both their doubles and their home run.  Leake and Lyons, however, responded solidly to these threats.  With a runner on base, Chicago was held to just 3 of 15 (.200), grounding into two double plays.  Subtract Diaz’ error on a potential third double play ball, and the last two innings of this game would have a much different energy.