Tag Archives: Alex Reyes

In the Playoffs, You ride Your Bullpen

Kwang Hyun wasn’t terribly pleased with his outing.

A revelation during the season, Korean legend Kwang Hyun Kim struggled all afternoon to find that inside corner against the right handers that San Diego slotted in against him.  When, with two out in the fourth inning, Kwang Hyun walked Trent Grisham, bringing up San Diego’s wunderkind Fernando Tatis Jr., Kwang Hyun’s afternoon was over – in spite of the fact that St Louis still had a 3-run lead when Kim left.

Whether it was nerves, the mound, the strike zone, an unfamiliar opponent – or just one of those days that befall all pitchers from time to time, Kim’s inaugural major league playoff appearance yielded a disappointing line of 3.2 innings, 3 runs on 5 hits (including a triple that could have been caught) and 2 walks.  Only 44 of his 76 pitches found the strike zone (57.9%).  Until such a time as he gets another opportunity (whether it’s this year or some other time), Kwang Hyun’s playoff ERA will sit a 7.36.

It certainly could have been worse.  Spacious Petco yielded 2 sacrifice flies, but no big flies – not to the Padres at least.

Had this been an April or May game (of course, no one was playing baseball in April and May), Mike Shildt would almost certainly have given him a longer leash to let him find himself – especially a decorated veteran with a three-run lead.  But now, suddenly, it’s the playoffs.  And in the playoffs, you ride your bullpen.

Of course, we remember (those of us who have been around a while) Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson for Arizona in 2001 – and, for that matter Chris Carpenter in 2011, pitching a complete game shutout against Philadelphia and firing six excellent innings against Texas in Game Seven of that year’s World Series.  But that is, by far, the exception.

Even in St Louis’ 2011 championship year, the bullpen was the unsung hero.  Eight times in 18 playoff games, the Cardinal starter failed to last 5 innings.  Toss out Carpenter’s starts, and 7 of the other 12 starters left the bulk of the game to the pen.  For the playoffs that year, Cardinal starters accounted for 92 innings.  The bullpen threw 68.  Chris Carpenter notwithstanding, the bullpen covered 42.5% of the playoff innings.

Like it or not, in the playoffs you live or die with your relief corps.

That being the case, the St Louis bullpen took their first step forward yesterday afternoon as they covered the last 5.1 innings of St Louis’ 7-4 Game One victory (boxscore).  They allowed 1 run (unearned) on just 3 hits.  The hard-hitting Padres only hit .176 against the Cardinal bullpen – although that number comes with a few caveats.

First – as has been their pattern – the Cardinal bullpen came out throwing the ball very, very hard, but with varying degrees of control.  In their 5.1 innings they walked 2 and hit 2 others.  Putting runners on base in front of the Padre’s big bats is a concerning trend – which brings me to the other caveat.

The Padres can hit the fastball.  Alex Reyes picked up the save in his very first playoff game, retiring all 4 batters he faced.  But all four jumped on his high octane fastballs and returned them with more exit velocity than they came in with.  They were all hit at someone, but they were all well hit.

As to the bullpen, yesterday’s victory brought the reliever’s ERA down to 1.58 in 40 innings over their last 13 games.  The Cards have won 9 of the 13.

A Bit of Déjà vu

And with that, St Louis begins its latest playoff journey with a 1-0 record.  I am not even beginning to predict that this team will “go all the way.”  But I will acknowledge that this whole scenario has a very familiar feel.

The sneaking into the playoffs on the very last day evokes warm memories of both the 2006 and 2011 teams – champions both who were listed (as this team is listed) as underdogs in every series.  In 2006 St Louis lost its primary closer (Jason Isringhausen) to a hip problem in September.  Into the breach stepped Adam Wainwright (then just a rookie prospect) to stabilize the closer’s role – beginning in San Diego that year.  The 2011 team sifted through several closers before deciding on Jason Motte – a hard-throwing setup guy, who had all of 3 career saves through his first 3 seasons and 136 appearances.  This year, the closer spot has been a revolving door, again.  But – as of the last day of the regular season – it looks like the ninth-inning will belong to Reyes.  Both Reyes and Wainwright earned their first playoff saves in San Diego.

The unique adversity faced by this year’s team is reminiscent of the hardships thrust upon the 2011 team – not just the injuries, slumps, bad luck and a seemingly insurmountable 10-game deficit of the early part of the season, either.  People often forget that 2011 was the year that manager Tony LaRussa suffered through a nearly disabling bout with shingles.  It was also the year that Jeannie Duncan – pitching coach Dave Duncan’s wife – was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  Few teams have overcome so much.  Truly a season of triumph and tragedy.

If the tragedies are fewer for this team, the struggles and hardships have a familiar ring to them.  This franchise has been in this exact position before, eking its way into the playoffs where they will be facing an array of teams that they aren’t supposed to beat.  Not to make any bold predictions, but team history suggests that anything can happen.

Helsley

Taking over for Kim in the fourth, Ryan Helsley got out of trouble in that inning, and then tossed a 1-2-3 fifth.  Sent out again to start the sixth, Ryan surrendered the double to Tommy Pham that led to the unearned run.  It was the first hit off of Helsley in his last 6 innings.

Two of the 5 batters that Ryan faced found themselves in two-strike counts.  Manny Machado popped out on a 2-2 pitch and Wil Myers struck out on a 2-2.  Over his last 6 games, Ryan has backed 15 batters into two-strike counts.  They are 0-for-13 with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts.

During the season, batters are just 2 for 23 (.087) when Helsley puts them in two-strike counts.

Gallegos

It’s quite a small sample size (20 batters faced) but since Giovanny Gallegos has returned to the team after recovering from his groin strain, he has been plenty sharp.  He walked 1 of the 5 batters he faced yesterday, but otherwise had no issues, striking out 2.  Three of the batters found themselves in two-strike counts.  Tatis and Eric Hosmer both fanned, and Pham grounded out.

Batters are always in two-strike counts against Gio.  The two yesterday make 13 of the 20 he’s faced since he’s been back (65%).  Those batters are 0-12 with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts.  For the season, 68.4% of the batters that face Gallegos (39 of 57) find themselves in two-strike counts.

Reyes

Alex gave up some line drives, but finished another fine outing.  He appeared 8 times in September (11.1 innings), picking up a win and a save while posting a 2.38 ERA and a .209 batting average against.  Alex allowed just 1 extra-base hit (a double) to the 49 batters he faced in September.

Kim

Kwang Hyun continues a recent pattern of struggles from the rotation.  Even while St Louis has won 9 of 13, the starters have only a 4.16 ERA in those games.  Kim has made 3 of the starts, lasting just 14 innings with a 5.14 ERA and a .291 batting average against.

Over those games, Kim has suddenly developed difficulty in putting hitters away.  San Diego was 4-for-7 against Kwang Hyun when they had two strikes on them.  Over those last three games, batters in two-strike counts are hitting .343 (12 for 35) against Kim.

Molina

If its playoff time, that must mean that Yadier Molina is heating up.  Yadi had 3 hits yesterday, and is hitting .381 (8 for 21) over his last 6 games.

Yadi helped put the finishing touches on Padre starter Chris Paddack when he slapped a 2-2 pitch down the left-field line for a double.  When Yadi is hot he is just as dangerous with two-strikes on him as he is with none.  Over his last 11 games, Molina is 6 for 20 (.300) with a home run to go along with that double (.500 slugging percentage) in two-strike counts.

For the season, Yadi is a .221 hitter with two strikes on him – well above the major league average of .167.

Carlson

Rookie outfielder Dylan Carlson has been a vital part of the turn-around.  After his 2-for-3 with a double and 2 walk performance yesterday, Carlson is hitting .308 over the last 13 games.  He is slugging .641 in those games with 8 extra-base hit (5 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs), and has driven in 11 runs.

Dylan saw 24 pitches during his 5 plate appearances yesterday – more than anyone else on the team – and ended the day in two-strike counts in every at bat.  With his two hits, Carlson is 6 for 23 (.261) with two strikes on him over the last 13 games.

DeJong

After a seemingly endless slump, Paul DeJong is turning the corner.  With his 2 hits last night, DeJong has now hit safely in 5 of his last 6, hitting .333 (6 for 18) over that span.  He also walked twice and was hit by a pitch yesterday, bringing his on base percentage to .455 over those games.

Fowler

With his fifth-inning single, Dexter Fowler snapped an 0-for-15 skid.  He went on to add another single that drove in a run in the ninth.

Dexter’s two hits came on a 0-0 pitch from Pierce Johnson and a 2-1 pitch from Trevor Rosenthal.  Fowler hit .406 (13 for 32) during the regular season when hitting before strike two.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s two-run first inning home run marked the sixth time in the last 9 games that the Cardinals had scored the first run of the game.

Partially as a result, they have not trailed in 5 of their last 8 games.

At 3:53, the first playoff game was the longest game played by the Cardinals since their 12-inning loss to Cleveland on August 29.  It was the longest 9-inning game since August 18 when they lost a 4:09 game in Chicago.

At 91 degrees, this was also the warmest game played by the Cardinals since August 24, when they beat Kansas City 9-3 in 95 degree heat.  The hottest road game played by the Cards this season was against the White Sox on August 15.  The first game of that doubleheader was played in 86 degree heat.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Wild, Indeed

The situation looked grim, indeed.  And Mike Matheny’s desperation move seemed like it would pay off.

Just off the injury list, and not having pitched for almost three weeks, Kansas City brought Jakob Junis back into the rotation for what they knew would eventually be a bullpen game.  Junis gave them 69 pitches that brought KC into the fourth.  It was to be the second consecutive abbreviated start for the Royals, as Matt Harvey hadn’t made it out of the third inning the night before.

So now, one night after his bullpen accounted for 6.1 scoreless innings – albeit at the cost of 105 pitches, Mike’s bullpen was front and center again.  And they were almost good enough again.

Four relievers (three of them working on consecutive days) bought him 3.1 more scoreless innings, and the game went tied 2-2 into the eighth.  That was the inning a pinch home run from Ryan McBroom put the Royals up 3-2 with six desperate outs to get.

St Louis wouldn’t score in their half of the eighth, but they would nonetheless deliver a kidney punch to Kansas City’s tenuous bullpen set-up.  Also pitching on consecutive days was KC’s eighth-inning guy, Josh Staumont – a flame-throwing right-hander who entered the game with an 0.73 ERA.  He had pitched his scoreless inning the night before, but not without effort – he walked 2 and struck out 2 while tossing 23 pitches.

Josh was still throwing in the upper 90’s, but his command was lacking.  Paul DeJong led off the inning dumping a single into right, and Matt Carpenter ground out a 7-pitch walk.  A ground ball and a 5-pitch walk issued to Tyler O’Neil loaded the bases and brought closer Trevor Rosenthal into the action for what looked to be a 5-out save.  Trevor had saved the Tuesday game at the cost of 16 pitches.  Whether he would have enough in the tank for five more outs would be the question.

As far as the first two outs went, the answer was an emphatic “yes.”  It took Trevor only six blazing fastballs to strike out the two Cardinal batters he faced, ending the inning and leaving the bases loaded.

The complexion of the bottom of the ninth changed measurably in the top of the ninth when a two-run double off the bat of Whit Merrifield pushed the KC lead to 5-2.  It was enough cushion to give Matheny pause about sending Trevor back out for the ninth.  With a 3-run lead, perhaps someone else could close the game out?

But after Trevor there was only a mostly un-tested rookie (Kyle Zimmer) and a journeyman (Randy Rosario).  So Mike crossed his fingers and sent Rosenthal out for what he hoped would be three very quick outs.  Things unraveled almost immediately.

Trevor began the inning with his third consecutive strikeout, but Tommy Edman drained him of 7 more pitches before going down. Then it was Paul Goldschmidt who would grind out a 7-pitch walk.  A ground-rule double off the bat of Brad Miller and a 6-pitch walk to DeJong loaded up the bases with only one out and brought Rosenthal nearly to his limit.

Trevor would get one more out – one more strikeout, this time of rookie pinch-hitter Max Schrock.  But Max battled him for 7 more pitches.  Rosenthal was now at 34 for the night, and 50 over the last two games.  He was done.  The bases were still loaded, but now with two outs.  It was decision time.  Zimmer or Rosario?

Zimmer was the right-hander, and the next two Cardinal hitters were righties (Yadier Molina and Tyler O’Neil) so Zimmer made sense.  But Kyle had thrown 30 pitches in the first game of the series and needed more than the one day off.  So Rosario, the lefty, was the answer.

Randy came right after the Cardinal legend, throwing four straight strikes – with Yadi fouling off the last three.  Kansas City was one strike away from taking two-of-three from their cross-state rivals.  And then the weirdness took over.  After his 0-2 slider dropped into the dirt, his 1-2 slider ran into Molina.  It bounced off Yadi’s foot – the third Cardinal batter hit in the game and the seventh Cardinal hit in the three-game series.

And that opened the floodgates.

After throwing strikes with his first four pitches, Rosario would only manage 5 more strikes from his last 15 pitches.  O’Neil tied the game with a smash that bounced off third-baseman Maikel Franco.  And the rest were walks – 7 pitches to Dylan Carlson and 5 to Kolten Wong giving the Cardinals a four-run ninth and an improbable 6-5 walk off (literally this time) win (boxscore).

The Free-Runner Cardinals

Through the first seven innings of the game, the Cardinals – on a crazy run of getting free baserunners – had drawn only two walks (albeit Carpenter had already been hit twice).  Over the last two innings, Kansas City’s bullpen walked six Cardinals and hit another, bringing the total for the game to 11 free runners.  Add in their 9 hits, and St Louis finished the game with a .435 on base percentage.

With the win, St Louis has now won 6 of their last 9 games.  During this run, the Cards have now scored 46 runs (5.11 runs per).  They hold an unremarkable .259 team batting average over those games with 21 extra-base hits during that span – just 5 of them home runs.  But they have now drawn 50 walks in those games and had 11 other batters hit.  Their on base percentage over the last nine games (.389) is fifteen points higher than their aggregate slugging percentage (.374) over those same games.  They loaded the bases 7 times in three games against the Royals.  Most of that with significant help.

Goldschmidt

The walkingest of the walking Cardinals is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.  He walked 4 times in the KC series, and has 14 walks in the last 9 games (giving him a .538 on base percentage during those games).  He has drawn at least one walk in 11 straight games – totaling 16 walks.  Since the Cardinal season re-started, Goldy has 17 walks in 15 games.  He is hitting .341 in those games with a .516 on base percentage.

There is a sense to this that pitchers are pitching around Goldschmidt.  I don’t know that that is entirely accurate.  But they are certainly unwilling to give into him.  In three of last night’s plate appearances Goldy saw a first pitch strike.  He went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly in those at bats.  His other two appearances started with ball one.  He walked in both of those PAs.

For the season, when Goldschmidt’s plate appearance begins with ball one, he ends up walking 32.5% of the time – almost exactly double the league-wide rate of 16.3%.

What this suggests is that once pitchers fall behind Paul they aren’t all that concerned if they walk him.  It’s better than trying to come to him in those situations.  In his at bats that begin with a ball, Goldy is slashing .370/.575/.630.  If he sees strike one, his numbers are still good (.306/.395/.417) but more manageable.

This will no doubt continue until Miller or Carpenter or DeJong or someone else makes someone suffer for continually walking Goldy.  The Cards were 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position last night after being 3 for 11 the night before.  They had 20 base-runners last night but managed to score 6 only with the help of the hit batsman and the walk both with the bases loaded.  The night before they had 15 base-runners, scoring just 4.  Until someone starts clearing the bases on a dependable basis, pitchers will be largely unbothered by walking Goldschmidt.

Speaking of that First Pitch

Going into today’s games, there have been 33,147 plate appearances in the major leagues.  In about 60% of them (19,985) the first pitch of the at bat has been a strike.  Last night, 84 batters came to the plate combined from both teams.  Only 40 of them (47.6%) saw first pitch strikes.  Both teams fell behind more hitters than they got ahead of.  The 46 Cardinal batters who came to the plate saw 24 first-pitch balls and only 22 first pitch strikes.  Conversely, the 38 batters that Cardinal pitchers faced saw 20 first pitch balls and only 18 first pitch strikes.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen that before.

Anyway, the type of game played would be fairly predictable from that statistic.  The teams combined for 11 runs on 16 hits, 13 walks and 3 hit batters.  The teams’ combined on base percentage was .381 – even though they only combined to hit .239.

Wild, indeed.

Hudson

Long removed from the game before the contest was decided, Dakota Hudson is rounding into form.  Stretched out enough, now, that he can go deeper into games, Hudson recorded his first quality start of the season last night.  Shaky early, Dakota finished going 6 innings allowing just 2 runs on 3 hits.  He walked 3, but 1 was intentional. 

Hudson has now made 3 starts since the team came out of quarantine.  Those starts have only totaled 14.2 innings as his initial pitch-count was low.  But, during those 14.2 innings, Dak gave just 3 runs on only 6 hits.  His post-COVID ERA is just 1.84 with batters hitting just .122 against him.  The home run he gave last night is the only extra-base hit he’s allowed over those starts.

Cabrera

That first pitch has been an ongoing issue for Genesis Cabrera.  Genesis is one of the teams’ top prospects with a high octane arm.  But of the 5 batters he faced last night, only one saw a first-pitch strike.  For the season, he has thrown ball one to 19 of the 31 batters he has faced (61.3%)

Reyes

Those same issues beset Alex Reyes as well.  He threw ball one to six of the ten he faced last night, walking 2 of them.  Sixteen of the 30 batters that Alex has faced (53.3%) this season have started their at bat with ball one.  Seven of those 16 have gone on to walk.

NoteBook

With all three games taking more than three hours – and last night’s finale enduring for 3:37 – the just concluded series against the Royals turns out to be the longest by average length of any series so far this season.  The three games averaged 3:18.  The previous 4-game set against Cincinnati had been the longest at 2:55.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

More Chances Elude Cards

Suddenly trailing 3-2 in the eighth inning, and now facing the electric stuff of Milwaukee left-hander Josh Hader, Jose Martinez fanned the Cardinal hopes with a leadoff walk.  He thus became the fifth Cardinal to reach base in yesterday’s 3-2 loss (box score) with no one out.

Last year, Cardinal runners who reached base with no one out scored 51.5% of the time.  So far this year, that number has been similar – 50.8%.  But during the general offensive brown-out that has characterized this month, even though St Louis hitters are reaching base at a .369 clip with no one out, only 45.8% are scoring.  And true to form, while Martinez made it to second in that inning, he watched from there as Yairo Munoz struck out to end the inning.  Seven of the Cardinals’ nine offensive innings ended with a strikeout.

With one game left in May, the Cards are managing a halting 3.88 runs per game this month with a disappointing .244 team batting average.  They have been one of baseball’s best teams with no one out.  They are hitting .287/.369/.489 this month before the first out.  But after the first out, the succeeding hitters are hitting just .219/.280/.338.  Over the last eight games, as the offense has ground to 3.13 rpg halt while managing just a .298 team on base percentage, this team has still hit .317/.361/.525 with no one out, but only .211/.261/.283 once that first out has been recorded.

While Wednesday’s game was notable for the return of top prospect Alex Reyes (who did well in his four innings), by the end of the day, this game looked like so many others the Cards have lost this season – late inning bullpen collapses and unrealized offensive opportunities.  St Louis went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and left 10 runners on base – 6 of them in scoring position.  Of the last 90 Cardinals to bat with two outs, 31 have struck out.

The team with the shaky bullpen can’t afford to miss too many scoring chances.

Jose Martinez

The game ended with Martinez striking out with runners at first and third.  It was Jose’s only opportunity to hit with runners in scoring position all day.  His has been one of the most important missing bats (along with Tommy Pham’s) as the offensive troubles have lately returned.  Martinez is 0 for 9 over the last three games, and is hitting just .222 (6 for 27) over the last 8 games.  He has one extra-base hit (a double) over his last 30 plate appearances.

Tyler O’Neill

The Cardinal’s other top prospect in the lineup – Tyler O’Neill – was their other 0 for 4. Batting right behind Martinez, it gave the Cards an 0-for-8 day from their three and four hitters.  Tyler provided an offensive jolt upon returning from Memphis – hitting home runs in three consecutive games at one point.  Over his last four games, Tyler is 0-for-11 with 8 strikeouts.  He has 2 singles in his last 19 at bats (.105) with 13 strikeouts.

Yairo Munoz

If there is no shortage of bad Cardinal offensive news, there have also been a few bright spots.  One of these is Yairo Munoz.  The star of spring training, Munoz began the season on the roster but was returned to Memphis as he struggled out of the gate.  Returning about the same time O’Neill did, Yairo has returned to his spring form.  With 2 hits yesterday, Munoz now has a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .412 (7-for-17).  He has also hit safely in all of his last 7 starts, hitting an impressive .480 (12-for-25) in those games.

This production has entrenched him at shortstop for the moment.  When Paul DeJong returns, this could set up another difficult lineup decision.  The athletic Munoz can also play second, so if Kolten Wong’s production doesn’t pick up, Yairo could see some time there.

Alex Reyes

For all of this, the headline yesterday was the removal of starting pitcher Alex Reyes after four innings and 73 pitches.  There was a momentary loss of velocity, which sent a ripple of concern through the Cardinal dugout.  Alex certainly didn’t breeze through the Brewers the way he did through the minor leagues, but some of this was to be expected.  After the long absence and the unusual hype connected to his return, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex didn’t quite feel like himself on the mound.

I’m pretty sure he will be OK.

The larger story is that his solid four innings (no runs on 3 hits) continues the excellent month of May this team has received from its starters.  With one game left in the month, St Louis’ rotation holds a 2.72 ERA and has surrendered only 10 home runs in 149 innings (0.6 per 9 innings) while holding opposing batters to just a .220 batting average and a .308 slugging percentage.  Of the now eight pitchers who have started games for the Cards this month, five of them have ERAs below 2.25.  These pitchers (who seem to be the front-runners in the rotation discussion once everyone is back and healthy) are Reyes (0.00), Jack Flaherty (1.40), Miles Mikolas (1.89), Michael Wacha (2.02) and Carlos Martinez (2.19).

All of this gives one a sense of why the Cardinals are so excited about the prospects of their rotation – now and for a long time to come.

The Bullpen

The worst part of Alex’ early exit was it left five full innings to be covered by the Cardinal bullpen.  This is not usually a formula for success.  After Reyes left, the bullpen combined to allow 3 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks in what only proved to be four total innings (since Milwaukee wasn’t required to bat in the ninth).  Cardinal relievers have now pitched 90 innings this month with a 5.10 ERA.  They have now served up 12 home runs in those innings – a 1.20 per nine-inning pace that is exactly double the rate of the starters this month.

Fifty-three games into the season, and the bullpen mess is no closer to being solved.

Tyler Lyons

Last year, Tyler Lyons gained increasingly more important roles in the Cardinal bullpen as he finally seemed to have moved past his early career tendency of serving up home runs.  After getting dinged for 12 in just 60 innings in 2015, and 9 more in 48 innings the next year, Tyler worked through 54 innings last year, serving up just 3 home runs.

When Christian Yelich unloaded on the only pitch that Lyons threw yesterday – the long home run to center that tied the game at 2 – it marked the third home run that Tyler has allowed already this year (in just 12 innings).

In the tribute to Murphy’s Law that has been the Cardinal bullpen this year, Tyler Lyons has been as snake-bit as any of them.  Management clings to the fact that all of these pitchers have much better track records than they’ve shown so far.  They believe that there is a top-notch bullpen in there somewhere.

But as the division starts to tilt away from them, the urgency to find answers increases.