Tag Archives: Alex Reyes

Living Up to Their Reputation

Amed Rosario found out first hand.

In the bottom of the second inning, ahead of Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright in the count, 2-1, Amed got an elevated sinker from Adam just on the outside corner.  Rosario scorched the ball (101.3 mph off the bat) over the head of right-fielder Dylan Carlson.  Or so he thought.  Getting an excellent break on the ball, Carlson chased it into the right-centerfield gap.  Just as the ball was about to soar over his head, and while on the dead run, Dylan leapt and pulled the liner down.  Given the exit speed and launch angle, that batted ball is a hit 65% of the time – but not last night.

In the fifth inning, he came to the plate again – this time with runners at first-and-third with two outs and the Indians clinging to a 2-1 lead.  This time Waino hung a first-pitch curveball to Amed who scorched it (98.4 mph) down the third base line – but right at third-baseman Nolan Arenado, who cleanly gloved the shot and tossed to second for the force-out.  That smash had an expected batting average of .453.

Now it’s the eighth inning, and Giovanny Gallegos was on the mound, trying to protect a 3-2 Cardinal lead.  Rosario came to the plate with the tying run at first and one out.  Gallegos’ 1-1 pitch was a 94 mph fastball on the outside edge of the strike zone that Amed drove (100.2 mph) toward the inviting grass of right field.  But before it could get there, Cardinal second-baseman Tommy Edman snared it as it was about to scoot by him.  Tommy made an immediate pirouette and began a lightning-quick double play that took Cleveland out of the inning.

Rosario’s only hit of the evening came on his softest hit ball, a fourth inning flyball exiting the bat at 85 mph that dropped untouched into left.  Ahmed took home a 1-for-4 night on an evening where he hit four baseballs with an average exit velocity of 96.225 mph with an expected batting average of .500.

The Defense Never Rests

From the day the team assembled for their first spring workouts, the Cardinal organization boasted to all who would listen about the quality of their defense. As the season has played out – and even in spite of the multiple injuries the team has sustained – the defense has been the constant.

It has been – in fact – the only aspect of the club that hasn’t disappointed at varying times during the season.

Last night in Cleveland, the Indians put 10 baseballs in play with exit velocities over 90 miles per hour.  Only 2 of them resulted in hits – Jose Ramirez’ 410 foot home run to right (106.1 mph) and a single from Bradley Zimmer that left the bat at 93.6 mph and scooted cleanly into right field.  Every other time, there was a Cardinal close enough by to make a play on it.

There were three other swings of the bat that carried an expected batting average of .400 or better that only resulted in outs for Cleveland.  Jose Ramirez led off the ninth with a hump-backed liner to right field that carried an expected batting average of .857 – but it was hit into the shift, and Edman was waiting for it.

The first batter of the game – Cesar Hernandez – also jumped on a hanging curve from Wainwright, driving it at 100.1 mph into right – right at Carlson.  That ball carried an expected batting average of .443.

In the fifth inning, Daniel Johnson sizzled a curve down the first-base line (99.8 mph off the bat) that carried an expected batting average of .413. But the ball was in Paul Goldschmidt’s glove before anyone could blink.

Cleveland finished the game with 5 hits, 3.009 fewer than their expected harvest of 8.009 hits.  For the season, Cardinal pitchers have allowed 69.248 hits fewer than expected – based on exit velocity and launch angle – and the steady and frequently spectacular defense is one reason why.

In the first game against Cleveland (a 4-2 victory), there were no high-light reel plays.  But there were a handful that were more than routine.  Grounders like the ones to Arenado and Goldschmidt that had to be handled cleanly and the grounder to Edman that would have been a routine out at first that became a double play through the nimbleness of Edman and shortstop Paul DeJong.

In a struggling season, it’s important to be grateful for those aspects that are functioning as hoped.

Bader

Harrison Bader continued his torrid streak last night, with a home run and two doubles.  Bader has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games – with last night being his third three-hit game among 8 multi-hit games in that span.  Harrison is hitting .489 (22 for 45) in those games with an .822 slugging percentage (he has 6 doubles and 3 home runs during the streak).  Harrison is hitting .384 (28 for 73) this month with 7 doubles and 5 home runs.  He has driven home 16 runs in 20 July games while slugging .685 for the month.

Bader’s season-long batting average now sits at .301 – a shocking development considering the struggles of his early career.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill was riding an eight-game hitting streak into the last game against Chicago just after the All-Star Break.  But the hitting streak ended there and initiated another skid for the Cardinal left-fielder.  After an 0-for-4 last night, Tyler is just 3 for his last 19 (.158).

Reyes

The hardest baseball struck off of closer Alex Reyes came off the bat of the last batter of the evening, when Harold Ramirez drove a sinker 95.8 miles per hour into center field – where Bader put it away.

Generally, hitters do well on baseballs hit with exit velocities between 90 and 99.9 miles per hour.  So far, batters achieving this against Cardinal pitchers are hitting .292 with a .405 slugging percentage.  That’s not the case against Reyes.  Ramirez was the ninth batter this month to hit a ball in that range against Alex.  Those batters are 0-for-9.  For the season, batters are hitting .229 (8 for 35) with only 1 extra-base hit (a double) on balls hit between 90-99.9 mph off of the Cardinal closer.

NoteBook

The crowd of 19,480 was the smallest the Cards have played before since they were in San Francisco on July 7.  Only 19,067 attended that one.

Bader’s third-inning home run meant that St Louis has scored first in five straight contests.

Speaking of that home run, it left the bat at 97.5 miles per hour.  It was only the second of St Louis’ 29 home runs hit this month that didn’t attain an exit velocity of at least 100 mph.  Harrison hit the other one, too.  On July 4 in Colorado, Harrison connected with a knuckle-curve from German Marquez that left the bat at 97.1 mph and just eked over the left field wall.  St Louis has hit 13 sub-100 mph home runs on the season, and Bader has 3 of them.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

A Blueprint for Beating the Bullpen?

For a team starved for performance from its rotation, the best news the Cardinals can take away from their disappointing trip to Colorado was the impressive efforts from their starters.  Two of the four managed quality starts (at least six innings with no more than three runs allowed).  A third (Wade LeBlanc) missed the quality start by one out, throwing 5.2 innings of shutout ball at the Rockies.  The only short start from the group was Carlos Martinez’ abbreviated 3.1 inning appearance on Sunday, but that was injury related.  To that point, Carlos had allowed 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk.

As a group, the four starting pitchers handled 23 of the 35.1 innings required in the series, with a 2.35 aggregate ERA and a .210 batting average against.  In a ballpark that provides hitters a distinct advantage, it was as much as management could ask.

But, again, they came up short in three of the four contests.  As usual, support runs from the offense were at a premium (they scored exactly 2 runs in each of the losses, and the one game they won went into extra innings as a 3-3 tie).  Distressingly, though, a new pain point emerged over the holiday weekend.  The back end of the bullpen – the lone strength of this team throughout a disappointing first half – suddenly began hemorrhaging runs.  It’s an impossible number to overlook.  The back-end trio of Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes combined to surrender 8 runs in 6.2 innings, principally by walking 5 batters and serving up 2 home runs in those innings.  Each of those relievers took one of the losses in the series, and Gallegos spit up the only lead entrusted to those pitchers over the four games.  The final numbers showed a 10.80 ERA and a .250/.367/.500 batting line against.

When something like that happens, it makes you wonder.  Just one of those weekends?  Credit to a team playing pretty well at home these days?  Or was there a plan in place?  Was there something that the Rockies had figured out about the back of the St Louis bullpen?  Could they have provided a blueprint that other teams could follow?

For each of these pitchers there was one surprising second-level statistic that mostly explained their individual struggle.

Reyes

Coming into the series, no Cardinal pitcher was tougher to put the ball in play against that Alex Reyes.  Of the first 274 swings taken against him this season, only 78 were put in play – just 28.5% (the team average is 37.7%).

But it took Colorado just 19 swings to put 8 baseballs into play against Alex (at 42.1%, almost double the usual rate).  All of this came against his fastball – either the four-seam or two-seam.  Overall, swinging at one or the other, the Rockies put that fastball into play on 7 of 14 swings – something that just doesn’t happen to Alex.

In 2 appearances in the series, covering 2.2 innings, Alex only gave up 2 hits – both in the ninth-inning on Sunday, both off of fastballs, both leaving the bat at speeds greater than 100 mph.  They were both singles, but a wild-pitch in between them (also a fastball) was all that was necessary to administer a 3-2 defeat in the Sunday game (box score).

The common denominator in all of these investigations is the fastball.  From the starters (LeBlanc, Martinez and Adam Wainwright) they saw almost exclusively soft stuff.

But when the fireballers at the back of the bullpen brought the fastball out of moth balls, a Colorado team that is very proficient against that pitch responded differently, but effectively against the fastball of each of these pitchers.

Reyes came into the series throwing 4.16 pitches per plate appearances – among the highest averages on the staff.  He averaged only 3.18 pitches to the 11 Rockies he faced, as they were able to do what no one else has been able to do this season.  They put his fastball in play.

The Giants scratched Alex for a couple more runs in the ninth inning last night, and they put 4 of 10 swings into play – but they were hitting his slider (which is also quite an achievement).

Sometimes you run into a team that’s swinging the bat exceptionally well.  I think that’s what has happened to Alex the last couple of nights.  Unless more teams show me they can do this to him, I’m not going to worry about Alex Reyes.

Gallegos

In a bullpen plagued by control issues, Gio Gallegos has been a pillar of command.  Coming into the series, Gallegos was throwing strikes 66.2% of the time – the best ratio on the team.  In 43 innings, he had issued just 8 walks (1.67 per 9 innings).

But, in 2 games and 2.1 innings against Colorado, Gio walked 2 (which set up his defeat on Thursday), and threw 19 of his 47 pitches out of the strike zone (meaning just 59.6% of his pitches were strikes).

Again, this was the fastball.  Gallegos has evolved into an elite late-game reliever on the strength of a wipe-out slider.  This year, though, he is extending his repertoire to include more four-seam fastballs.  At this point – and especially against this team – he may have grown too fond of the pitch.

Of the 47 pitches he threw in Colorado, 29 were four-seam fastballs.  Sixteen of the 29 were taken for balls (55.2%).

Gio was eventually beaten in that game on a slider – a terrible hanger that Elias Diaz joyfully launched 424 feet over the wall in left-center. But that came on Gio’s twenty-fifth pitch of the inning and after two full-count walks (aided in no small measure by Colorado’s unwillingness to chase his fastball) extended the inning to the red-hot Diaz.

Against Gallegos, they responded to the fastball by not swinging at it.

Gallegos also pitched in San Fran last night, facing four batters.  He struck out 3 of them (two on fastballs and one on that slider).  But the other batter launched a misplaced fastball off the top of the extremely high right-field wall for a second home run against Gio in two days.

Analysis here suggests that maybe Gallegos should dial back the usage of the fastball just a bit – especially against fastball hitting teams.  I’m not advocating disuse of the pitch.  Just, perhaps, that the use of the slider might be expanded a bit.

Cabrera

This was the most surprising of the statistical anomalies.

Genesis Cabrera threw 39 pitches at the Rockies over two appearances.  Twenty-two of those were fastballs that averaged 97.81 miles-per-hour, topping off at 99.4.  Cabrera got no swinging strikes from any of those pitches.  Instead, they hit foul after foul against him.  For the series, Colorado swung at 16 of Genesis’ pitches, fouling 11 and putting the other 5 into play.  Against the fastball, they swung 10 times, fouling 7 and putting 3 into play.

The fouls, of course, elevated Cabrera’s pitch count.  He entered the series averaging 4.07 pitches per plate appearance.  The Rockies forced him up to 4.33 per.  They also encouraged walks – and Genesis walked 2 in 1.2 innings.  One of those walks preceded Trevor Story’s three-run home run on Saturday night – that one run providing the difference in a 3-2 win (box score).

Helsley

This same trend spilled over to another of the hard-throwers out of the bullpen.  In his two appearances, Ryan Helsley threw 32 pitches.  Fifteen of them were swung at, with 9 of them fouled off, 5 hit into play and just one missed.

Between the two of them, 64.5% of Colorado’s swings against Cabrera and Helsley resulted in foul balls.  Not, I don’t think, the kind of thing you can really plan.  But something that you might see from a good fastball hitting team that doesn’t let very many of them get by them. (PS, Helsley’s one swing-and-miss wasn’t on the fastball.  It came on a cutter that he threw past Garrett Hampson.)

All of these pitchers have playable secondary pitches.  Perhaps, the slight stumble that these guys experienced in Colorado could turn to a positive if it encourages them to reflect on their individual pitch mix.

NoteBook

At 3:50, Friday’s game was the Cardinals’ longest since the June 6 loss to Cincinnati also lasted 3:50.  That was a home game.  St Louis hasn’t played a longer road game since their first game in San Diego this year on May 14.  That game (a 5-4 loss) took 4:08 to complete.

Friday and Saturday’s crowds were both well over 40,000 – something that had happened only once so far this season.  The 48,182 that showed up Saturday was the largest audience for a Cardinal game this season, and the four-game average of 40,676.8 was also the highest of the season.

At 90 degrees, the game-time temperature on Sunday was the hottest the Cards have played in since the June 14 game against Miami was also played in 90 degree temperatures.  That also was a home game.  The last time they played in this kind of heat on the road was in Arizona on May 29 – the temperature that day was 96 degrees.

The Saturday game broke a streak of 5 straight games, and 7 of 8 in which the Cards had scored the first run.

The game-winning hit in the only game the Cards won in Colorado came off the bat of Yadier Molina, and was his team-leading tenth of the season.

It was also his fifth late, game-changing hit (lgch), which also leads the team.

St Louis is now 4-10 in road series, and 3-5-1 in series against teams that had won their previous series.

Recent Scoring Changes – for those scoring at home

As reported in the Post-Dispatch, in the sixth inning of the Saturday game, Story advanced to second base on a play that was originally scored as a throwing error on Helsley.  After further review, it was decided that Trevor would have been safe regardless of the throw from Ryan, so the error has been removed and Story is credited with a stolen base.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Dodgers Drop Another One-Run Contest

It wasn’t – by any stretch of the imagination – a thing of beauty.  In a frequently laborious effort, Cardinal starter John Gant employed guile and 95 pitches to navigate his way through six innings against the defending world champions in Los Angeles.  The Dodgers put at least one man on base in five of the six innings, and caught a bad break when Will Smith’s sixth-inning double into the left field corner bounced into the stands, forcing Mookie Betts to stop at third.

Nonetheless, when Dylan Carlson made a full-speed, sliding catch in short center of Gavin Lux’s flare to end that sixth, Johnny Gant walked off the mound with six innings of zeroes on the board, and a 2-0 lead.

As it turns out, the lead wouldn’t hold – and Gant wouldn’t get his well-earned victory – but the Cardinals would manage to prevail, nonetheless, evening the series with a 3-2 win (box score).

For opponents of the defending champs, games like the Cardinals suffered through on Monday (a 9-4 loss to open the series) are all too common.  Fifty-five games into the season, and the Dodgers are already 12-4 in games decided by five or more runs.

But for the Dodgers – currently trailing both the Giants and Padres in their division – games like last night are far too common as well.  With the loss, this supposed juggernaut is just 7-13 in one-run games.

An indicator of some kind of post-championship hangover?  Perhaps.  It’s certainly an unexpected result from a team that is supposed to have everything.

For the Cardinals, the one-run trend is more encouraging.  That they are 7-5 on the season is less than spectacular, but after a 1-3 start in one-run games, the Cards have now won 6 of their last 8.

Over the course of the early year, I have sometimes questioned the character of this team.  In these last one-run games, though, the Cards have done whatever they’ve needed to. 

They’ve done some scoring – putting up at least 4 runs in five of those games – and averaging 4.25 runs for the eight games.  Although they only managed three runs last night.

The bullpen has also mostly answered the bell, holding a 3.06 ERA in the last eight one-run games – although the bullpen slipped last night.

Although I don’t have a number for it, this team can certainly make defensive plays that can determine the outcome of games like this.  Last night, there were about a half-dozen excellent defensive plays that certainly changed the narrative of this contest.

If there has been one area of the club that has been a little disappointing in these recent one-run games, it has been the starting pitching, which has managed a pedestrian 3.89 ERA in the kind of games that are usually quite low scoring.

But last night John Gant reversed that trend, and it set the tone for the rest of the club.  When they needed to be gutsy, they were gutsy.  It’s a welcomed sign.

Gant

Although just the second time in ten starts that Johnny has lasted six innings, last night was the second consecutive game – and the fourth time already this season – that Gant (whose season ERA sits at 1.60) has pitched at least 5 innings without allowing an earned run.  With St Louis going frequently to a six-man rotation in May, John made only 4 starts for the month, going 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA.

Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos continued the recent skid that the bullpen has been fighting through when he served up the two-run homer to Matt Beaty that tied the game in the seventh.  These one-run games – to this point – have brought out the worst in Gallegos.  Appearing in 7 of the last 8, Gio has surrendered 11 hits over 9 innings, giving 5 runs and blowing 3 saves.  For the season, Gallegos has pitched in 9 of the team’s 12 one-run games, blowing four leads and registering a 6.10 ERA over 10.1 innings.

Reyes

Alex Reyes brought a little unwanted excitement to the end of the game, but (with a giant assist to the glove of Tyler O’Neill) he kept his closing ledger perfect at 16 for 16.  Alex is coming off a 9-for-9 May with a 1.15 ERA across 15.2 innings.

Edman

Tommy Edman continues to ignite from the leadoff role.  After singling and doubling last night, Edman has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts.  He would be riding a seven-game hitting streak if not for a failed pinch-hitting appearance at the end of the Arizona series.

Even so, Tommy is hitting .327 (18 for 55) over his last 13 starts, and slugging .545 during those contests – his hits including 6 doubles and 2 home runs.

Carlson

After hitting into more than a little tough luck toward the end of May, Dylan Carlson has turned it on a bit over the last three games.  He had two hits last night, and has had two, two-hit games over his last three contests.  Carlson is 5 for his last 12, including 2 home runs – a .417 batting average with a .917 slugging percentage.  He has driven in 4 runs over the last 3 games.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill added two more hits last night, set up the winning rally in the ninth with a single and a stolen base, and then preserved the victory with a highlight reel, running, leaping catch into the left-field corner.  Tyler thus extends his hitting streak to nine games, with 4 of the 9 being multi-hit efforts.  He is hitting .400 during the streak (14 for 35) and slugging .943 (his hits including 4 doubles and 5 home runs).  He has 10 runs batted in over the length of that hitting streak.

Arenado

After ending May in a tailspin, Nolan Arenado began June with another 0-for-4.  Since his third-inning home run off of Madison Bumgarner in the second Arizona game, Nolan is now 0 for his last 14 (with a sacrifice fly and a hit-by-pitch).

NoteBook

At 66 degrees, last night’s game was the lowest game time temperature for a Cardinal game since they played in San Diego in 64 degree weather on May 16.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Nothing to See Here

By the second inning of yesterday’s game – with the Cards already up 6-0 – it was fairly clear that St Louis would complete its second sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the young season.  The Pirates made things tighter with a three-run seventh, but in the end St Louis held them off 8-5 (box score).

St Louis is now 5-0 this year against the Bucs, and 78-51 (.605) since taking the 2013 Division Series matchup between these two teams.  Series between division opponents rarely stay lopsided all season.  Over the last 8 years, only the 2019 season series between these clubs (when the Cards won 14 of the 19 games) has gotten out of hand.  In 2015 and 2016, the Cards won the series by the narrowest of margins (10-9).  In 2014, 2017 & 2018 the margin was only slightly greater (11-8).

After an encouraging start that saw them win 12 of their first 23 games, Pittsburgh has now lost 14 of their last 19.  Watching the two teams, I don’t believe that the gulf between them is that great, and by season’s end I wouldn’t be surprised to see the series standings much closer than they are now.

But for the moment, last night’s game – and the two-game series in total – had the feeling of business as usual.  Nothing to see here.

The Cards, by the way, won for the seventeenth time in 25 games, moving from a season-low three games out of first to a season high 3.5 game lead in this division as they prepare to welcome the Cubs into Busch for the first time since 2019.

If nothing else, playing the Pirates right now is very good for your confidence.

Goldschmidt

After seeing his eight-game hitting streak snapped in the first game of the series, Paul Goldschmidt started another one last night.  He had three hits – including the first inning double that started the scoring.  None of his hits were pulled, two going to right and the other, a ringing single to center.

Paul has now hit safely in 9 of his last 10 games, hitting .317 (13 for 41) over that stretch.  His hits have included 3 doubles and 2 home runs.  Goldy has driven in 7 runs while slugging .537 over those last ten games.

His batting line for the month, now, is very similar.  In 16 games in May, Paul is hitting .317 (20-for-63) with 4 doubles, 3 home runs, and a .524 slugging percentage.

Edman

Tommy Edman was riding an 0-for-13 streak before Pittsburgh came to town.  He broke out with three very soft hits in the opener, none of them hit harder than 88.6 mph.  Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Tommy hit four balls yesterday, the softest leaving his bat at 98.3 mph and the other three over 100 mph – collecting two more hits in the process, and driving in a third run with a sacrifice fly.

Flaherty

Although he couldn’t keep his scoreless streak going, Jack Flaherty won his eighth consecutive start, throwing his fifth consecutive quality start.  Jack pitched six allowing two runs.  During his winning streak, Flaherty holds a 1.65 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .175 average.  The last 191 batters to face him have only 9 extra base hits (7 doubles and 2 home runs) leaving them with a .251 slugging percentage.  Flaherty is now 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA for the month of May.

Of the 26 batters he faced, Jack finished the at bat ahead in the count against 12 of them.  Behind in the count against Flaherty is not where you want to be.  Those 12 managed one single among them (.083 avg).  Over his last 5 starts, he has gotten ahead in the count on 36 batters.  They have two singles (one of them an infield hit) and 1 double – an .083/.083/.111 batting line with 17 strikeouts.

Cabrera

Pitching on consecutive days for the sixth time this season, Genesis Cabrera completed a relief shutout last night.  With his scoreless inning against the Pirates, he has now allowed no runs and just 5 hits over his last 9.1 innings.  He has walked 5 in those innings.  Genesis has pitched in 13 of the last 25 games, with a 1.35 ERA over 13.1 innings.

The only batter that Cabrera pitched behind in the count to was Ben Gamel – who grounded out on a 3-2 pitch.  Genesis is nasty to face when he gets ahead of you (batters are only 5-for-33, .152 when batting behind in the count).  But getting ahead of Cabrera is no picnic either.  This season batters who are ahead in the count against Cabrera are hitting .182 (4 for 22).

Reyes

Alex Reyes’ dominant season as a closer continues on unabated.  He pitched a scoreless ninth, dropping his ERA for the month of May to just 0.84.  In 10.2 innings this month, Alex has given just 3 singles while striking out 17 (14.34 per nine innings).  Alex has pitched 13 times over the last 25 games, striking out 25 in just 15.1 innings (14.67 per nine innings) with an 0.59 ERA.  And both of those ERA’s are higher than his season ERA of 0.39.

Alex also pitched behind in the count just once – falling behind Gregory Polanco 3-2 before striking him out.  Alex has walked some batters this season when he’s fallen behind them in the count (19 to be exact).  But he has yet to give up a hit to anyone that he’s been behind.  Those batters are 0 for 22.

NoteBook

The Cardinals managed two six-run leads (6-0 and 8-2).  Those six runs were the farthest they’ve been ahead in a game since, well, the first time they faced Trevor Cahill – in a 12-5 win on May 1.

On May 3, when St Louis hosted the Mets, it looked like summer was going to skip right over spring.  The game-time temperature that day was 82 degrees.  Spring quickly made a comeback, and the temperature cracked 70 just once over the next 12 games.  Last night’s game temperature of 77 was the second consecutive game over 70, and the highest game temperature since that game against the Mets.

That 77 degree game pushed the average for the two games to 73.5 – the highest average temperature of any series so far.  The second series of the season in Miami averaged 72.7 – which was the previous high.

The Cards are now 5-for-5 in sweep opportunities.

Goldschmidt, with the game-winning hit, is now up to 6 on the season – one behind Nolan Arenado’s 7.

Edmundo Sosa was hit with a pitch again last night.  That’s five times now this season in just 27 plate appearances.

Edman’s two hits bring him to an even 200 for his career (in 190 games).

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Pitching Duels on Tap in Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s starting pitching was all but untouchable as they hosted their division rivals from St Louis for a three-game mid-week series that ended yesterday.  Freddy Peralta joined co-aces Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes to make life generally miserable for a Cardinal offense that was feeling pretty good about themselves as they got off the plane.

Fresh off a convincing sweep of the Colorado Rockies, the Cards ran into a buzz-saw in Milwaukee.  For 19.2 innings, that trio dominated the St Louis hitters, allowing just 2 runs on 9 hits (8 singles and a home run).  While they walked 3 (and hit another), those guys struck out 27 St Louis batters, backing their 0.92 aggregate ERA with a .134/.183/.179 batting line against.

That being said, none of the Brewer starters earned a victory in the series, and Burnes – who allowed 1 run in 5 innings – was tagged with a loss.  As St Louis heads to San Diego to open a three-game series there, they do so having taken two of the three in Milwaukee (6-1 in 11 innings, 1-4 and 2-0) because their starting pitching was just a shade better.

While not as flashy (they only managed 16 strikeouts), the Cardinal trio of Kwang Hyun Kim, John Gant and Jack Flaherty threw 16.1 innings against the Brewers giving just 1 earned run – an 0.55 ERA.

Two playoff teams from last year who are currently sitting first and second in their division, these are two teams who believe that their pitching staffs are equal to any occasion.  If pitching duels are not your thing, perhaps you should skip the rest of the games between these teams this year.  The first game went 1-1 into the eleventh.  The second game went 1-1 into the bottom of the eighth.  The finale was a 1-0 game going into the ninth.  The series, perhaps, should have come with a warning: for purists only.

These two teams have now split their first six games, with each winning a series in enemy territory.  St Louis’ current three-game lead aside, this is shaping up to be a very tight (and probably low-scoring) race to the end.

Cards Press On

Of greatest encouragement to Cardinal fans is the pitching staff’s ability to sustain these high-level performances.  They hold a 2.83 team ERA during the month of May.  They have allowed only 4 home runs all month, and the .197 batting average against them is augmented by a .282 slugging percentage.

Over the last 22 games, Cardinal starters hold a 2.19 ERA.  Batters are hitting just .202 against them.

Best With the Bases Loaded

The lone real drag on the pitching staff is its propensity to walk (and hit) batters.  What opposing offenses can’t manage by hitting the ball against them, St Louis pitchers are inclined to do to themselves with free passes.  In 105 innings this month, Cardinal pitchers have walked 54 and hit 6 others.

One of the outcomes of all of this is a league-leading number of bases-loaded situations.  In 38 games, Cardinal pitchers have dealt with 61 bases-loaded situations – nearly two a game.  That figure stands as the most in the National League.  In the eleventh inning of the first game, Alex Reyes faced Jackie Bradley Jr. and Billy McKinney with the bases loaded.  Both struck out

For all of the struggles that put them into these situations, the St Louis pitching staff has responded in enviable fashion.  Opposing batters are hitting just .111 (5-for-45) in those at bats (the lowest average in the league).  Not only are they one of just 4 teams not to allow a grand slam so far this year, they have surrendered just 2 extra-base hits (both doubles) with the bases loaded – a .156 slugging percentage, which, along with their .418 OPS with the sacks jammed, is also the best figure in the league.

The total picture, of course, isn’t complete perfection.  While hits in these moments have been few and far between, St Louis pitchers have also issued 8 bases-loaded walks (also most in the league), hit 3 others, allowed 5 sacrifice flies, uncorked 3 wild pitches – and even committed a balk.

In a way, it’s kind of been a microcosm of the Cardinal season.

Gant

Johnny Gant has kind of been the poster boy for the Cardinal pitching staff.  In matters of contact and runs allowed, Gant has had an exemplary season – especially recently.  Over his last 4 starts, Gant has an 0.89 ERA with a .197 batting average against.  Yet – even though he has been in the rotation the entire season and hasn’t missed a start, John hasn’t pitched enough innings to be a qualifying pitcher (and his season-long 1.83 ERA would have him in the top 5 in the league right now).

His nemesis has been walks.  He walked 3 more in 5 innings on Wednesday, and has walked 16 in his last 20.1 innings.  Gant has authored 26 unintentional walks in 34.1 innings – 6.82 per game.  Consequently Gant has completed six innings just once this year, leaving a lot of innings for the bullpen.

For the season, Gant has pitched with the bases empty only 49.0% of the time – and those batters have a .395 on base percentage against him.

Flaherty

While I’ve seen him sharper, Jack Flaherty completed his second consecutive scoreless outing (he had thrown seven scoreless against Colorado in his previous effort).  Jack now has 4 consecutive quality starts as part of a seven-game winning streak.  In 43 innings over his last 7 games, Jack has been touched for just one home run while compiling a 1.47 ERA and a .174 batting average against.

Cabrera

His struggles against Philadelphia now well behind him, Genesis Cabrera is starting to settle in again.  His last five appearances (covering 6 innings) have been scoreless, and he’s allowed 1 single to the last 22 batters to face him.  Even so, he also continues to invite trouble, as he has walked 4 of those batters and only 52 of his last 90 pitches (58%) have been strikes.

Reyes

Alex Reyes faced 14 batters in 3 busy innings against Milwaukee.  When Manny Pina led off against him in the bottom of the ninth Thursday afternoon, he became the only one of the 14 to bat against Alex with the bases empty.  He drew a lead-off walk.  Even taking into account the 7 runners he’s inherited across his various appearances, and the fact that both extra innings he started began with a runner on base, Alex has pitched to only 32 of his 84 batters faced with the bases empty – just 38.1%.

Home Run Dependency

The 9 runs that St Louis scored in the series were the fewest they have scored in any series so far this year.  (The 5 they allowed were the second fewest.  In an early season sweep in Miami they allowed just 3 runs).  Six of the nine runs scored on home runs.

For the season, 86 of St Louis’ 170 runs have come via the home run – 50.6%.  The National League average is 41.7%.  This over-reliance on the home run is a contributing factor to St Louis’ inconsistencies on offense.

Arenado

When Nolan Arenado’s eight-game hitting streak ended on Wednesday, he responded with 3 hits – including the game’s only run batted in – to start another yesterday.  Nolan is 16 for 46 in May (.348) with a .609 slugging percentage (4 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs.

DeJong

Paul DeJong went 0-for-6 in Milwaukee before his rib injury sidelined him.  He has hit in only one of his last 6 games, going 2-for-20 (.100) in those games.  His average for the month of May has dipped to .205 (8-for-39).

Bullpen Home Run Watch Ends

Coming within a few days of a full month without issuing a home run, the Cardinal bullpen (in the person of Ryan Helsley) was finally taken deep (by Milwaukee’s Avisail Garcia) in Wednesday’s eighth inning.

The bullpen homer-less streak reached its twenty-fourth team game (23 with a bullpen appearance) and ended after 72.2 innings, 253 at bats, 305 plate appearances and 1252 pitches.

Up until that point, Helsley – who has been much praised in this space – had not allowed an extra-base hit all season before serving up a double and the home run on back-to-back pitches.

A Sidenote: Four innings earlier, Garcia demonstrably disagreed with a third strike call – throwing both arms in the air and engaging in an extended debate with home plate umpire John Libka.  I have seen players tossed for less.  It would be interesting to know how close Avisail came to getting ejected four inning before he would become one of the game’s heroes.

NoteBook

St Louis is now 1-and-5 in rubber games.

The series averaged 3:31 even per game – exactly what the last game took.  Considering the low scoring nature of the games, it’s a little surprising that this series was the longest by average time of any series so far this season.

The Cards are now 5-3-1 in series when they win the first game.

San Diego – who took two-of-three from Colorado – will be the fourth consecutive Cardinal opponent to have won its previous series.

Arenado’s single re-gained him the team lead in game-winning-hits.  He pulls back in front of Paul Goldschmidt, 6-5.

Thursday’s shutout was the fourth authored by the Cards in their last 11 games.

St Louis had just one at bat with the bases loaded in Milwaukee, and now have just 3 in the month of May.  They had 20 bases loaded at bats in April.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

RISP Woes Stymie the Brewers

The game had a promising beginning for the Milwaukee Brewers.  When Kolten Wong led off the game with a double, the Brewers had a golden opportunity to take an early lead.  Instead, it was the beginning of another frustrating evening for the Milwaukee offense.  Wong didn’t move as Cardinal starter Kwang Hyun Kim retired the next three hitters (Lorenzo Cain, Tyrone Taylor and Travis Shaw) on two strikeouts and a pop fly.

More than three hours later – the game well decided at this point – Milwaukee’s Billy McKinney (batting with the bases loaded) waved helplessly at Alex Reyes’ 0-2 slider to bring an end to the proceedings.  The final score of 6-1 was more than a bit deceiving (box score).  Milwaukee held a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning, and the game went into extra-innings tied at one run each.  Milwaukee had myriad opportunities to bury St Louis, but McKinney’s strikeout concluded a 1-for-15 effort on Milwaukee’s part with runners in scoring position (RISP).

This has been much the norm for the Brew-Crew this year.  Their .209 team RISP batting average is the National League’s worst.  The Brewers and Cardinals have now split their first four contests of the new season, with both St Louis wins looking eerily similar.

St Louis hosted Milwaukee to open their home season on April 8.  On that evening, Brewer ace Corbin Burnes simply dominated for 6 innings, shutting out the Cards on just 1 hit, walking none, and striking out 9.  But he left with just a 1-0 lead.  St Louis would come back to tie the game in the seventh, and win it on a two-run home run off the bat of Nolan Arenado in the eighth.

Milwaukee was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on that evening.

Now fast-forward to last night.  This time it is Freddy Peralta dominating the Cards.  He throws seven innings of one-hit shutout ball against them – but also leaves with just a 1-0 lead.  This time the Cards scratched out the tying run in the eighth, and the game-winning, two-run homer came off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt in the eleventh.

No one expects Milwaukee to remain at the bottom of the league stats in this category all season.  Not helping them, though, is their present matchup against a pitching staff that has been very hot – especially in RISP situations.

With the win, St Louis is now 8-2 in May, and 14-4 over their last 18 games.  Over their last 20 games, the St Louis pitching staff holds a 2.75 ERA and a collective .191 batting average against them.  The last 722 batters to face them over the last 177 innings have just 38 extra-base hits (28 doubles, 1 triple, and just 9 home runs) for an aggregate slugging percentage of just .281.

Opposing hitters are just 27-for-148 (.182) against this staff over their last 20 games with runners in scoring position.  If Milwaukee is going to shed this monkey on their back during this series, they will have to do so against a tough opponent.

Kim

Kwang Hyun still doesn’t have a quality start on the season, in spite of the fact that that he has a 1.80 ERA over his last 4 starts, never allowing more than one run in any of them.  But completing that sixth inning has proven elusive for Kim – his longest outing of the year so far lasting just 5.2 innings.

St Louis has, nonetheless, won all five of his starts.

Milwaukee was 4-for-14 against Kwang Hyun, with 3 doubles, when they hit against him without a runner in scoring position.  One of the reasons Kim has had trouble getting deep into games is that clean innings are a rarity for him.  The league is 22-for-68 (.324) against him this season when there are no runners in scoring position.  Once he finds himself in trouble, Kwang Hyun has been much more effective.

The double from Travis Shaw that drove home Lorenzo Cain from second with Milwaukee’s lone run broke an 0-for-21 that the league had against Kim with runners in scoring position.  For the season, they are 2-for-23 (.087) in their RISP at bats against Kwang Hyun.

During his stay in St Louis, batters are 8 for 57 (.140) against Kim with runners in scoring position.  Shaw’s double was the first extra-base hit Kwang Hyun has surrendered as a Cardinal in RISP situations.

More Good Work from Helsley

Ryan Helsley relieved Kim in the sixth, extinguishing the threat.  Ryan has now authored 9 consecutive scoreless outings (7.1 innings with just one hit allowed) and over his last 13.2 innings has yielded just 1 run on 5 hits – an 0.66 ERA with a .116 batting average against.  Ryan still hasn’t allowed an extra base hit this year.

Ryan has allowed only 1 of 10 inherited runners to score.

Reyes

All 9 of the batters Alex Reyes faced last night came to the plate with at least one runner in scoring position (remembering that all extra-innings this year begin with a man at second).  Those batters were 0-for-6 with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts.  This year, batters are 1-for-29 against Reyes with the ducks on the pond.  They are just 13 for 106 (.123) against him in those situations during Alex’ career.

Carlson

One of the casualties of the evening was Dylan Carlson’s hitting streak.  Although he drove in a critical run with a sacrifice fly, Dylan finished the evening 0-for-3, ending his hitting streak at seven games.  Carlson batted .476 (10-for-21) during the streak.

DeJong

Paul DeJong just can’t turn the corner.  After a scuffling start, Paul has looked on several occasions like he was about to find his stride.  But it hasn’t taken just yet.  Recently, he put together a five-game hitting streak.  In the five games since the last of those games, Paul is 2 for 18 (.111).  In spite of the hitting streak, DeJong is hitting .216 (8 for 37) for the month.

Production with runners in scoring position has been a special focus for DeJong this year.  He was 0-for-1 in RISP opportunities last night, and he is 7 for 39 (.179) in those situations for the year.

Bullpen Home Run Watch

Although it certainly seemed like they trying their best to serve up a home run last night, the Cardinal bullpen made it through another evening without allowing the long-ball.  Going back to the seventh inning on April 16, when J.T. Realmuto took Kodi Whitley deep, the bullpen has gone 23 total games (22 in which the bullpen made an appearance), 70 innings, 244 at bats, 295 plate appearances and 1214 pitches without allowing a home run.

NoteBook

At 3:55 (understandably enough, since the game took 11 innings to decide), last night’s game was the Cards longest of the season so far.

St Louis has now won the opening game of four straight series, and 6 of the last 7.

Goldschmidt’s game-winning, two-run homer ties him with Nolan Arenado for the team lead in game-winning hits.  They both have 5.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Winning Pitcher: Carlos Martinez

Due, of course, to the COVID cautions that dominate our current society, the 12,895 assembled at the ball-park were many fewer than Carlos is used to seeing at Busch Stadium.  Still, it had to give him chills as they all rose as one to stand and applaud for him as he left the mound.  Approaching the three-year mark since his last victory as a starter, Carlos Martinez had pitched into the eighth-inning, leaving with a 5-2 lead.  Sensing the weight of the moment and the significance of the event for the Cardinal’s veteran starter, what crowd there was rose to shower the embattled right-hander with love.

Drama-free support from Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes confirmed shortly after what the crowd had anticipated when Carlos left – a Cardinal victory (box score), their fourth in the last five games.

More importantly, Martinez’ effort became the latest in a continuing streak of dominance from the Cardinal starting rotation.  Had Kwang Hyun Kim managed one more out in his last start, St Louis would be riding a streak of 7 consecutive quality starts.  But “quality” doesn’t begin to describe the starters over the last 7 games.

The rotation has contributed 48 innings over those last seven games (almost 7 per) with a sparkling 1.31 ERA.  They have surrendered just 28 hits over those innings (holding those opponents to a .169 batting average) while walking just 6 (and hitting 2 others) for a .206 on base percentage.

The Cardinal plan for 2021 relies heavily on excellence from that rotation.  Over the last week or so, those arms are starting to reward that confidence.

More Martinez

Bitten a bit by the home run ball over the last few season’s Carlos has allowed just 2 this year, and has thrown 19 innings since surrendering his most recent (to Milwaukee’s Avisail Garcia in the fifth inning of the April tenth game).

Also important for Martinez – run support.  In his first four starts, the sometimes squeamish Cardinal offense had scored a total of one support run for Carlos.

Carlos has made two of these last seven starts, giving just 2 earned runs over 13.1 innings.  Martinez is no longer one of the high octane arms on the staff.  His fastball usually sits in the 94 mph range, bumping up to a high of about 96.  But Carlos couples that fastball with a really good slider that has nasty late bite.  With two strikes on you, it’s nearly impossible to lay off of that pitch.

If Carlos can consistently be the pitcher that he’s been over his last two starts, it will be hard to move him out of the rotation.

No One Wants Alex’ First Pitch

Closer Alex Reyes finished off the ninth, facing four batters.  All of them took his first pitch.  It’s an understandable strategy against a hard throwing pitcher who is frequently out of the strike zone.  Reyes has faced 47 batters so far this season.  Only 7 have offered at his first pitch.

Edman

Tommy Edman delivered the game winning runs with a double in the second inning.  He jumped on a first-pitch, hanging changeup from Zach Eflin.  The Cardinal leadoff man isn’t interested in the first pitch very often – he has swung at just 20 of the 102 thrown to him this year – but in the at bats in which he does decide to swing, he has been very proficient.  He has 7 hits in 19 at bats (with a walk) in those plate appearances – a .368 batting average.

While Edman remains very choosy of his first pitches, there is a teeny, tiny body of evidence (I’m talking all of six pitches) that suggest that maybe this year he won’t let pitchers get away with get-me-ahead breaking balls over the middle of the plate – as he has in the first two years of his career.

Carlson

With two more hits last night, Dylan Carlson pushed his season average back over .300 (.303).  Carlson has hit safely in 14 of his last 18 starts, going 22 for 65 (.338) over that span.  Eight of those hits have been for extra-bases, giving him a .554 slugging percentage in those games.

Dylan is also selective about swinging at that first pitch.  He took all four first pitches last night, and is taking 82% (73 of 89) so far for the year.  That is the highest percentage of any regular.

DeJong

After looking like he was about to turn the corner, Paul DeJong has started to fade again.  He hit two home runs on April 19 against Washington, and followed that up with 2 more hits two days later.  But in the five games since then, Paul is 2 for 18 (both singles) with 1 walk – a .111/.158/.111 slash line.

NoteBook

Speaking of Edman, the run he scored last night was the one hundredth of his career.  Tommy also currently ranks as the second hardest National League played to strike out.  Edman has one strikeout for every 9.4 at bats.  Only Pittsburgh’s Kevin Newman – who goes 15.0 at bats per strikeout – is tougher.

One evening after the game day temperature of 75 degrees set the season high, that mark was reset when last night’s game was played in 78 degree weather.  This number will still get much higher before the season is quite over.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Molina Among the Sluggers

There’s a spot that you throw to with significant caution when the big thumpers are at the plate. It’s that high fastball about two inches inside of the plate, about level with the hitter’s biceps. With the ordinary hitters, they’ll jam themselves on the pitch – if they can get around on it at all. But the big guys will turn on that pitch and soar it over the wall.

If you can jam it in there at very high velocity – say 98 mph or higher – you’ve got a chance. But Cincinnati’s Sonny Gray doesn’t have that kind of gas. Last night against St Louis, Sonny threw 86 pitches – none faster than 93.5 mph. This one – the dangerous inside pitch – rode in at 93.1 mph. Not enough.

St Louis’ powerful slugger launched the pitch 400 feet down the left-field line for the home run that set the Cardinals on the path to their 5-4 victory (box score).

And who was this slugger that Gray was so careless with? It was probably Nolan Arenado – a multiple 40 homer man. No? Well, both Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong have 30 homer seasons on their resumes. Surely it would be – no? Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill both hit a lot of home runs in the minors. It guess it could be either of them.

No. It was St Louis’ most dangerous power hitter – thirty-eight-year-old catcher Yadier Molina. Molina, whose fifth home run of the season tied DeJong for the team lead. Yadi – whose .661 slugging percentage leads the team by nearly .150 points. Yadier Molina – who has never hit more than 22 home runs or slugged higher than .501 in any major league season.

Gray can perhaps be forgiven for this one. Maybe he didn’t get the memo that Molina has joined the mashers of the league.

With early season numbers – and, yes, it’s still just April – you always wonder if it’s real or a mirage that will dissipate as spring devolves into summer. Time will tell, but everything about Yadi’s swing and approach at the plate so far this season suggest that Molina – now in his eighteenth major league season – has worked to re-invent himself. On his page at baseball reference (which I will link again here), below the “Standard Batting” and “Player Value – Batting” sections, they have a section called “Advanced Batting.”

I can’t vouch for the collection of these numbers (I think there is a fair amount of subjectivity in determining – for example – what is a line drive and what is a fly ball), but I do consider them useful and probably more accurate than not.

The big takeaway from this section is that Yadi is pulling the ball more frequently than any time in his career. His groundballs and line drives are also way down, and his fly-balls are way up. He is also striking out a lot more than he has previously in his career.

This is a slugger’s profile. Yadi even looks thicker – somehow more barrel chested than I remember him. My feeling is that this is not accidental or a little hot streak. It looks to me like Molina has prepared for the 2021 season with the intent of being a legit middle-of-the order power source for this team.

Whether he can sustain this remains to be seen. Can he adjust as the pitchers adjust? Will he hold up during the heat of the end of the season? All great questions.

Molina, by the way, is not in the lineup today after turning his foot on a swing last night. Durability at baseball’s toughest position is also a concern for his 38-year-old body.

There are a lot of good questions, but for however long it lasts I could get used to seeing this new Yadi at the plate.

More Molina

If Yadi has, in fact, made the leap from slap hitter to slugger, he has done so keeping all his former aggressiveness. Yadi has never been a great taker of pitches. He swung at 7 of the 11 thrown him last night – including both first pitch curveballs he saw from Gray. Nobody swings at first pitch curves – but Yadi did twice, fouling off the first one before hitting his home run. His second time up he slapped that curve into the gap in right-center for an RBI double.

In the National League so far this year, only 28.9% of plate appearances are over before the pitcher can throw ball one, and only 57.4% don’t make it to ball two. Fully 35.3% of Yadi’s PA’s are over before he has seen ball one, and 67.6% don’t make it to ball two. When Yadi is hot, this works very well for him. Thus far he is 11 for 23 when hit hits before seeing ball one (.478) with 3 doubles and 3 home runs (a 1.000 slugging percentage). His home run and double last night came on an 0-1 pitch and an 0-0 pitch, respectively.

There are a lot of sluggers around the league who like to work the count and get the pitcher in trouble. However much Yadi has re-invented himself, I don’t well ever see him morph into that kind of hitter.

Edman

Torrid early in the season, leadoff hitter Tommy Edman has cooled of late. In the 5 games since the last game of his 12-game hitting streak, Tommy is 3 for 19 (.158).

Helsley

He allowed a seeing-eye single, but otherwise Ryan Helsley – one of the fire-ballers I wrote about yesterday – turned in another fine inning. Before his 2021 season was 3 innings old, Ryan had already served up 5 runs. Since then, though, he’s been as advertised.

In his last 7 appearances, Helsley has given just one additional run over 8.1 innings, during which he’s walked 2 and struck out 10. The 31 batters he’s faced in those games are hitting .172 against him – all singles, as Ryan has yet to allow an extra-base hit this year.

Cabrera

Similarly, Genesis Cabrera has strung together a series of excellent outings after he was knocked around a little in the opening series against the Reds. Genesis has pitched 7 innings over his last 7 outings, giving just 1 earned run on 4 hits, walking just 1 and striking out 10. 69 of his last 98 pitches have been strikes (70%). The last 28 batters to face Cabrera are hitting .148 with a .179 on base percentage. 18 of the last 59 swings taken against him come up empty (31%).

Hicks

In a kind of follow up to yesterday’s post, Jordan Hicks got himself in trouble again with control. Half of the 4 batters he faced worked him into three-ball counts, and both walked. And both scored.

Jordan has faced 32 batters this season. 13 have worked him into three-ball counts (40.6%) and 8 of the 13 have ended up walking. It’s a concern.

Reyes

Likewise, command issues from closer Alex Reyes turned a comfortable win into a nail biter. Alex, in a 23-pitch two-thirds of an inning, went three balls to 3 of the 4 batters he faced – and is going deep in the count to almost every batter he faces. Of the 37 he’s faced so far, Alex has gone to three-ball counts 16 times (43.2%). Almost 60% of the batters he faces (22 of 37) have gone to at least two-ball counts.

Alex has also tossed 4 wild pitches in his last 5 innings.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter. Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH. While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it. So, I have re-written it here. The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks. I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

If We Can Just Get a Little More Chase

One hundred mile-per-hour stuff is a nice asset for a pitcher to have.  It doesn’t guarantee success, of course.  But it’s a great place to start.

The back of the bullpen for this year’s St Louis Cardinals features three high-octane right-handers.  To date, only Jordan Hicks has exceeded the 100 mph mark this season (32 of the 127 pitches he’s thrown have exceeded 100 on the gun), Alex Reyes and Ryan Helsley have both been in that neighborhood, though.  Helsley has been over 99 on three pitches this season – topping at 99.4.  Reyes has hit 98.5.

Of the three, only Helsley’s ERA has taken notable damage.  Allowing 6 runs over his first 10 innings of 2021, Ryan is currently saddled with a 5.40 ERA.  Hicks (1.29 in 7 innings) and Reyes (0.00 in 7.2 innings) have done superficially better.  But underneath, all three are experiencing a common problem.  They are constantly behind hitters.  It has led to a concerning number of walks (each pitcher has already walked 6 batters in their few innings so far) and elevated pitch counts.  Helsley’s 10 innings have cost him 190 pitches.  In 7.2 innings, Reyes has thrown 135 (17.6 pitches per), and Hicks (as mentioned) has already thrown 127 in 7 innings (18.1 per).  For guys who aren’t giving up hits (just 17 in their combined 24.2 innings) it’s a lot of pitches thrown.

There are two dynamics behind this.  First, of course, is the pure control issue.  A lot of times an elite fastball can be hard to command.  The average major league pitcher hits the strike zone with about 49.9% of his pitches.  The second dynamic – and the one that’s causing real problems for Helsley and Reyes – is something called chase rate.

Just outside of the strike zone proper is an area called the “shadow” of the strike zone.  Not technically strikes, pitches in this area (which extends roughly three inches all around the perimeter of the zone) are generally close enough to be called strikes, and – with two strikes on a batter – could be considered “too close to take.”  Just beyond is the “chase zone.”  Pitches in this region – which extends about another three inches – are far enough out of the zone that batters shouldn’t swing at them, but do with some frequency – the major league average is about 20%.

The impact of chase should be obvious.  The pitcher that can get the hitter to chase his 2-1 slider out of the zone has evened the count at 2-2 instead of falling behind 3-1 – dramatically altering the rest of the at bat.

The three Cardinal righties all rank in the bottom fourth in the league in chase rate, and this remains the next significant advancement for all of them.

Helsley

Ryan is actually in the strike zone slightly more than average, with 50.5% of his pitches hitting their mark.  But 41 of his 190 pitches have slipped into that chase zone.  Of those pitches, batters have chased just 3.  All three of the chases have come against Ryan’s cutter, but then his cutter accounts for 21 of his 41 pitches into the chase zone.  He has also thrown 1 changeup, 5 curveballs and 14 four-seam fastballs – all of them taken for balls.

Ryan has faced 45 batters this season and has finished the at bat behind 20 of them (44.4%).  Those batters are 5 for 14 (.357) with all 6 walks (.550 on base percentage).  These batters have accounted for 5 of the 6 runs Ryan has allowed.  The 12 batters that Ryan has managed to stay ahead of are 1 for 11 (.091) with a sacrifice fly.  (On opening night, Cincinnati’s Jonathan India opened the sixth by jumping all over Ryan’s 0-1 fastball and lining it into left-center for a single.)

Reyes

Alex is significantly less accurate from the outset, only hitting the strike zone with 43.9% of his pitches.  In his situation, the chase – or lack thereof – becomes more critical.

Alex has been in the chase zone with 32 of his pitches so far this season.  Only four have been offered at (although Alex did get a surprise called strike on a curveball well outside the zone).

Thus, Reyes has finished behind in the count on 16 of the 33 batters he has faced this season (48.5%).  These batters are 0-for-10, but also have the six walks (a .375 on base percentage).  Alex has only finished ahead of 6 batters this season.  They are 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts.

Hicks

Fully 70 of Jordan Hicks’ 127 pitches have missed the strike zone (55.1%).  The problem isn’t the hard stuff.  Seventeen of Jordan’s 32 100-mph pitches have been in the zone.  His problem is the secondary pitches that he can’t quite command.  He has thrown 29 cutters, finding the strike zone with only 6 of them.  He’s also missed on 2 of his 3 changeups and half of his 4 sliders.

Of all of these pitches, Jordan has found the chase zone with 34 of them.  He’s gotten swings on 9 of them – which works out to 26%, which seems like it would be above the 21% average, but the savant site that provides a gateway to the Statcast data still ranks him in the 26th percentile for chase (here).  The sinker and the cutter have each been chased 4 times.

I think it’s fair to say that Jordan’s issues are less with the chase than simply finding the strike zone with those secondary pitches.

Nonetheless, Jordan has finished behind in an at bat at a much higher rate than the other two.  Seventeen of the 28 batters Hicks has faced finished ahead in the count – (60.7%).  Only one of them managed a hit (Miami’s Jesus Aguilar bounced a 99.9 MPH sinker into right for a single), but with the 6 walks, that works out to a .412 on base percentage.  Jordan has only stayed ahead of 5 batters so far this year.  They are 0-for-5 with 2 strikeouts.

Combined, the three power right-handers have faced 106 batters this year, and have stayed behind exactly half of them.  Those 53 hold a slash line of .171/.453/.171.  The 23 that they’ve stayed ahead of are .045/.043/.045 – an amusing .089 OPS.

Clearly, you don’t want to get behind in the count against the explosive fire-ballers.  It’s incumbent, now, on Helsley, Reyes and Hicks to figure out how to get them in that position with more consistency.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

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.