Tag Archives: Alex Reyes

How Else Would It End?

The end, when it came, was almost merciful.

Four hours and 15 minutes after it had started, Alex Reyes threw his final pitch of the season – a slider that caught too much of the plate – and Los Angeles’ Chris Taylor drove it into the sprawling mass of humanity beyond the left field wall.

And that was it.  After the franchise-record 17-game September winning streak had brought them a miraculous berth in the playoffs.  After all the 2011 vibes.  After a performance for the ages from Adam Wainwright.  After all of that, St Louis’ relevance in the playoffs lasted exactly 255 minutes.

The Dodgers are now up to their necks in their next series (against the Giants).  Next for the Cardinals will be spring training 2022.

I say merciful, because I honestly don’t think I could have taken another inning of watching the Cardinal hitters being bullied by the Dodger pitchers.  A first-inning single (struck at all of 75.7 mph) off the bat of Tommy Edman, a stolen base, a fly ball, and a wild pitch was all that stood between the Cardinals and being shut out in the final game of their season.

As they were thoroughly dominated over the last 8 innings of the game, it became apparent that – since the Cardinals weren’t going to score again – at some point, some Cardinal reliever would allow the run that would finish the season.

That the offense finished 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position was just the tip of the iceberg.  For the game, they were 0-for-19 with any runner on any base.  Nine of the 17 Cardinals who came to the plate with the bases empty reached base (5 singles, 2 walks and 2 hit batsmen) – a .529 on base percentage.  The 22 batters at the plate with some runner on managed 2 walks and a sacrifice hit.

They were just simply over-matched.

It was fitting, then, that that final blow came in the ninth inning, and came against Reyes.  It’s how all of our signature losses occurred this season.

From the All-Star Break to the end of the season, the Cardinals suffered through a 5.04 team ERA in the ninth inning.  In spite of their 23 September wins, the team’s ninth-inning September ERA was a concerning 6.04.

In the season’s second half, Reyes pitched 15.2 innings in the ninth inning – allowing 4 home runs with a 5.74 ERA.  The last three ninth-inning batters that Alex faced all hit home runs off of him – almost homering for the cycle.  Pittsburgh’s Yoshi Tsutsugo hit a three-run home run to beat the Cardinals 4-3 on August 29; Milwaukee’s Daniel Vogelbach touched off a grand-slam to send the Brewers to a 6-5 win on September 5; and then, the two-run drive from Taylor on Wednesday night.

In some sense, it was an almost predictable ending to a wildly unpredictable season.  What we are left with (in the aftermath) is a team that was mostly average for most of the season, enjoyed an unbelievable hot streak for about 20 games, and then became average again until the opportunities ran out on them.

After 163 games, I still don’t believe I truly know who this team was.

Looking ahead is actually much easier than looking back.  Going forward, we can say – with some surety – that the foundation is in place.  The young outfielders (question marks entering the season) all took great steps forward.  Paul Goldschmidt – after an uninspiring start – became one of the best hitters in baseball in the second half.  Nolan Arenado did some good things with the bat, and will probably be much better next year.

Against the wave of injuries that dogged the pitching staff, a myriad of pitchers got opportunities.  Thirteen different pitchers made starts for the Cards.  Eight of them made at least 11 starts.  Of the 13, only 6 are certain to be back next year, but from those 6 the team is confident it can craft a solid rotation: Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Jake Woodford and Johan Oviedo.  The plan is also to move Reyes (after pitching 72.1 innings in the pen) into the rotation.  The Cards also have a top prospect in Matthew Liberatore who could be in the mix as well.

The three lefties acquired around the trade deadline (Jon Lester, J.A. Happ and Wade LeBlanc) all pitched fairly well in stretches.  Some or all of them may be asked back.

Among the candidate’s for the rotation, then, there is quite a bit of depth, and a good blend of youth and experience.

After surviving a two-year deluge of injuries, the bullpen has a good many productive arms to choose from – beginning with fireballers Jordan Hicks and Genesis CabreraGiovanny Gallegos – who ended the season as the closer – will return with his devastating slider.  Two more very hard throwers in Junior Fernandez and Ryan Helsley should be healthy again by next year, and late additions T.J. McFarland and Luis Garcia (another hard thrower) should also have earned the attention of the team. 

St Louis had five different pitchers who crossed over the 100 mph mark this season.  Hicks (who threw as high as 103.2), Helsley (101.3), Fernandez (100.6), Garcia (100.5) and Cabrera (100.4).  Reyes came close (his fastest was 99.5) and Oviedo (who topped out at 98.7) threw the fastest pitch among the starters.  It’s a lot of high octane arms.

Add in Kodi Whitley – who was very impressive down the stretch, and the Cards have an abundance of options to go along with all the promising young hitters and the best defense in baseball.  This is a team that could easily see itself taking that next step.  That’s what made their long flirtation with the .500 mark so confounding.  They woke up on September with a 69-68 record, waiting until they were 14.5 games behind in the division with just 25 games left before flipping the switch.

A year of reasonably good health would help a lot.  The Cardinals lost a total of 1155 games to the injured list (an average of 7.1 injured players per every game played).  Four of the five who missed the most time were important pitchers who could have made a significant difference in the season.  Hudson missed 153 games, Hicks was gone for 133, Mikolas was down for 119 games, and Flaherty missed 88.  LeBlanc joined the club with 94 games left in the season, and spent the last 48 of those on the injured list.

All told, 891 of their injury days (77.1%) were to pitchers – a test to any team’s depth.

Assuming a normal injury year, there isn’t much left to be done to transform this group into a legitimate contender.  There is a personnel decision to make this offseason.  Do they believe that Edmundo Sosa – who was quite the sparkplug once he took over at short – is the starter there?  Or will they pursue one of several premium shortstops on the market.

The final step forward for this team will simply be to play better in the playoffs, themselves.  Of course, there is no dishonor in losing a tight game to an elite Dodger team.  But watching that game I don’t feel that they played well at all.

If you think about it, the pressure should have been squarely on the Dodgers.  They were the 106-win team – not to mention the defending champions – forced into a win-or-go home playoff with a team that finished sixteen victories behind them.  A loss in this game turns Los Angeles’ season into debacle.  And yet, it was the Dodgers who played their game in the one-game playoff, and the “playing-with-house-money” Cardinals who were visibly affected by the magnitude of the game.

Few of the hitters took good at bats.  Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Arenado and Yadier Molina went 0-for-12 with nary a good at bat among them.  Dylan Carlson did get a hit on a dribbler to the left side that beat the shift, but the rest of his at bats were nervous as well.

The nerves were even more pronounced on the pitching side – especially from Garcia and McFarland.  These were two arms whose consistency in throwing strikes had settled the bullpen remarkably in the season’s second half.  But Luis threw fewer than 60% strikes (just 16 of his 27 pitches), surviving his 1.2 innings giving a hit and a walk but no damage.  McFarland only found the strike zone with 8 of his 18 pitches.  While Alex served up the game-winning home run, the winning run was actually charged to T.J. – who had walked left-hander Cody Bellinger ahead of Taylor’s blast.  In 38.2 innings during the season, McFarland walked just 9 batters (one intentional).

Cody was only the second left-handed batter that TJ walked all season.

Last year in the series against San Diego I noticed much the same thing.  Far too many of them let the moment get to them.  They will not be a serious factor in the playoffs until they can learn to manage the emotions that go along with high-pressure ballgames.

We’re close.  It should all make for an intriguing off-season and a compelling 2022.

NoteBook

The Wildcard game lasted 4:15 – in spite of the fact that the teams combined for just 4 runs and 12 hits.  It was the longest Cardinal game since it took 4:34 to subdue the Mets in New York on September 14.  That game went 11 innings.  The Wildcard game was St Louis’ longest 9-inning game of the season.  The previous longest 9-inning game occurred on September 5 – when Vogelbach’s grand slam gave the Brewers a 6-5 walk-off win and ending a 4:08 marathon.

The official attendance of 53,193 was the biggest crowd to see a Cardinal game this season.  The season’s previous largest crowd was the 48,182 that showed up in Coors Field on July 3.

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.

The Early Birds Get the Wins

Usually, there is a hit involved, but last night they didn’t need one.  A walk, a stolen base, a ground ball to advance the runner to third and a fly ball – and it was 1-0 Cardinals.

When you’re stringing victories together – especially when doing so with a patch-work rotation – early runs are a godsend.  And, after five months of inconsistent first-inning offense, early runs are starting to become commonplace.

Through 90 games of the first half of the season, the Cards scored 52 first inning runs (0.58 per game).  Through the 40 games between the All-Star Break and the beginning of September, the output jumped to 0.65 runs per game, as the Cards scored 26 first-inning runs.  In the first 7 September games through the first two games of the Dodger series, St Louis scored 5 first-inning runs – an improvement to 0.71 runs per game.

They began the third game of the Dodger series – the game that was to mark their turnaround – with 3 first inning runs, and have been first inning titans ever since.

The first inning run last night marks the seventh time in the last 13 games (12 of them Cardinal wins) in which the team has scored in the first inning – but it was the only time in the seven games that the Cards managed just one run in that inning.  All the other times, they’ve put up at least 2 runs in the inning – the streak including two five-run first innings (September 15 in New York – paving the way to an 11-4 victory; and September 19 against San Diego – where they held on to claim an 8-7 win).

Altogether, over the last 13 games, St Louis has put 21 first-inning runs on the scoreboard (1.61 per game).  They have done so while hitting .379/.433/.690 in that inning.

While the first is the team’s highest scoring inning during their impressive run, it is interesting to note that their second-most productive inning during this streak is the eighth inning – an inning where they would usually confront one of their opponent’s late bullpen arms.  They have scored 17 eighth-inning runs in these last 13 games, while hitting .327/.397/.745 in that inning.

The only other run they scored in last night’s 2-1 victory over Milwaukee (box score) came in that eighth inning.  Scoring early is important.  Frequently, it is just as necessary to be a late-bird if you want to secure the victory.

NOTE: As I was writing this, Tyler O’Neill launched a two-run first inning home run in this evening’s game.  That makes four games in a row, and 8 of the last 14 games that St Louis has scored in the first inning – a total, now, of 23 runs in those games.

Pitching Rises Too

While the run scoring has been important (and the Cards are averaging 5.23 runs per game during their 12-1 run), the pitching staff – piecemeal though it may be – has more than held up their end.  After holding the Brewers to one run last night, St Louis has generated a 2.57 ERA in these games – 2.74 in 72.1 innings from the rotation, and 2.31 in 46.2 innings from the re-ordered bullpen.

Woodford

In the matchup between Cardinal rookie Jake Woodford and Brewer All-Star Brandon Woodruff, the smart money I’m sure would have been on Brandon – and not without reason.  The Milwaukee starter struck out 10 over 6 innings allowing just 1 run – the kind of start that almost always results in victory.

But not last night.

Grasping his shot at being a part of this rotation, Jake muffled the Brewers with five scoreless innings of his own (striking out 5 along the way) and earned the victory.

In his earlier audition with the big club, Jake cast an unimpressive shadow as a reliever.  Since his return, Woodford has made three starts and one relief appearance – totaling 18.1 innings – with a 1.47 ERA and a .177 batting average against.  The last 67 batters to face him have only two extra-base hits, both doubles.

Reyes

September is already turning out to be a better month for former-closer Alex Reyes.  He pitched last night’s sixth inning, walking a batter but striking out the next three.  He has pitched in 11 of the 20 September contests, totaling 11.2 innings, with a 2.31 ERA and a batting average against of .128.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera has also been on a roll this month.  He had the seventh in 1-2-3 fashion, striking out two.  That’s 8 consecutive scoreless appearances this month, covering 9 innings.  The 34 batters that have faced him this month have 3 singles, 3 doubles and 2 walks – a batting line of .188/.235/.281.

Gallegos

Nine of the last 12 Cardinal wins have needed the services of a closer in the ninth.  Recently promoted to the job, Giovanny Gallegos – who invited trouble in last night’s ninth inning – has been largely up to the task.  Gio has pitched in 8 of the last 13 games, saving 7 of them while allowing just 1 run in 7.2 innings.

Edman

Tommy Edman was the principle offensive force last night.  He scored the first run and drove in the second as part of a two-hit night.  Tommy has hits in 6 of his last 7 games, with last night’s being the fourth time he’s had multiple hits in that stretch.  Edman is hitting .345 (10 for 29) in those games.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 7 of the last 9 games.

With the roof closed in Milwaukee, the game time temperature of 71 degrees was the most moderate the Cards have played in since the last time they were in Milwaukee.  The game played there on September 3 (also with the roof closed) checked in at 70 degrees.

Tyler O’Neill’s first-inning sacrifice fly held up as the game-winning run – O’Neill’s eighth this season.  Tyler is still fourth on the team behind Yadier Molina (15), Nolan Arenado (14) and Paul Goldschmidt (13).  He is now 3 ahead of Harrison Bader and Tommy Edman – who have 5 apiece.

In holding the Brewers to just the one run, the team ERA slipped below the 4.00 mark to 3.99 for the season.

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.

You Don’t Want to Fall Behind These Guys

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Mets would have their last real chance.  A walk and a single put runners on the corners with no one out and their two 30-home-run men coming up in Pete Alonso and Javier Baez.  They would be batting against quondam closer Alex Reyes.

There have been many times during this trying season that the bullpen was the glaring problem.  Many games were lost when the late-inning arms couldn’t find home plate with a GPS – it’s happened often enough that you could make the argument that the bullpen has been the Cardinals’ greatest liability this season.

But never make the mistake of thinking this group is without ability.  They may not always know where the pitch is headed, but their stuff is pure filth.  And if you find yourself in a two-strike count against them, well, all you can hope for then is an intervention.

Both batters found themselves in that predicament – Alonso was backed up at 1-2, and Javier saw his count go to 2-2.  Alonso’s at bat ended on a tight little slider from Reyes that dipped below Pete’s bat at the last second.  Baez got Alex’ “sit-down” slider.  That’s the one that bites ferociously just before it reaches the plate and dives for the dirt.  Javy suspected that this was the pitch that was coming.  You could see him trying to hold up.  But in the end, he couldn’t.

Alex finished up the inning striking out Jeff McNeil on a tailing changeup.

New York was spared the stuff of Luis Garcia – who was warming up to pitch the ninth – when the Cards broke the game open with four comfort runs in the top of the inning.  Ahead 7-0, St Louis sat Garcia and gave the ball to rookie Kodi Whitley.  Kodi came one 0-2 missed changeup to James McCann from throwing an “immaculate inning.” He ended up striking out the side on ten pitches – getting two of them on a change of his own that is difficult to pick up from his slightly unorthodox delivery.

Nine of the 11 New York batters that faced the St Louis bullpen found themselves backed up in two strike counts (81.8%).  They went 1 for 8 with a walk and the six strikeouts.

Many heroes have led the St Louis Cardinals back into the thick of the Wildcard chase.  None have had a greater impact that the reborn bullpen.  With their strike zone yips seemingly behind them, this group has suddenly blossomed into the great weapon that the team and its fans always knew they could be.

With last night’s 7-0 conquest of New York (box score), St Louis has won 5 of its last 6, pulling to within a half game of the final playoff spot.  During those six games, the starting rotation has been more than adequate.  They have tossed 35.2 innings of 2.78 ERA baseball.  But that efficiency pales in comparison to the 18.1 innings provided by the pen.

Sixty-five batters have faced the Cardinal bullpen over the last 6 games.  They have 6 singles, 3 doubles, 3 walks and 21 strikeouts – a .148/.185/.197 batting line to go with a 0.98 ERA.

Forty of the 65 (61.5%) have found themselves in two-strike counts.  Their numbers are even worse at .077/.100/.128 – with the 21 strikeouts.  That just isn’t where you want to be against this group that features two guys with 100 mph stuff (they actually have three more who are out for the season with injuries).  That list doesn’t include Reyes (who has topped out at only 99.5 mph).  Alex has found that his stuff plays better when he throws it “only” in the 98 mph range.  The group also features a nasty array of sliders.

In baseball as it is played today, you win or lose in the playoffs with your bullpen.  If this team sneaks in, it looks right now that they will have the bullpen to silence opposing offenses.

Oh, and by the way, it looks like this talented group will be augmented with both Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson before the playoffs arrive.  The two injured starters (the Jack and Dak show of two years ago) are on track to be ready by the end of the month – although probably re-purposed as relievers for the remainder of this year.  In case you’ve forgotten about them, these are both elite talents.

Could be real interesting.

McFarland

First out of the pen last night was T.J. McFarland.  Ironically, the only stumble from the pen over these last six games came on TJ’s watch.  It interrupted a scoreless streak of 18.2 innings – and resulted in the Cards’ only loss since the second game of the Dodger series.

McFarland has started another streak – granted it’s only 1.2 innings over two appearances since then – but it included last night’s seventh inning.

TJ holds a 0.86 ERA over his last 21 innings.  During these innings, he has issued all of 4 walks, and is getting ground balls from 62% of the batters who put the ball in play against him.

Reyes

For the month of September, Alex has faced 27 batters so far.  Nineteen of them (70.4%) have found themselves in two-strike counts against Reyes.  Those unfortunate’s are 1 for 18 (.056) with 1 walk and 12 strikeouts.

Whitley

In his previous opportunities with the major league team, Kodi – like many of this bullpen brethren – had issues with throwing strikes.  He isn’t high on the bullpen pecking order yet, but since his most recent recall, Whitley has been a pure strike thrower – nine of ten pitches last night.  Three of the strikes were called.  Of the 6 strikes the Mets swung at, they missed 5.

Since his recall, Kodi has thrown 7 scoreless innings, giving 3 hits (all singles) and 2 walks.  He has thrown 64 of his 90 pitches (71%) for strikes, and batters have missed on 15 of their 40 swings against him (30%).

Wainwright

In our focus on the bullpen, let’s not overlook the continued contributions of Adam Wainwright.  Last night’s winner worked around frequent trouble to throw 6 shutout innings on his way to his sixteenth win.  Wainwright has now authored 10 quality starts over his last 11 games, going 9-1 in those starts with a 1.72 ERA.  August’s NL pitcher of the month, Adam is off to a 3-0 start in September with a 2.18 ERA, a .205 batting average against, and a .274 slugging percentage allowed.

The first strike thrown is the most dangerous.  Across the National League, batters who hit that first strike are hitting .335/.405/.581.  But no one is comfortable with the first strike from Wainwright – who is maybe the least likely pitcher in baseball to throw you that first-pitch, four-seam fastball.

The Mets were 1 for 6 last night against Adam’s first strike.  In the season’s second half, batters are hitting .216/.216/.311 when hitting Wainwright’s first strike.

Molina

Overall, it hasn’t been one of Yadier Molina’s best hitting years – until, maybe, now.  With September arriving and the playoff’s right around the corner, Yadi’s bat seems to have found its second wind.  Molina had 3 hits last night, and has multiple hits in 3 of his last 4 games.  Yadi is hitting .438 (7 for 16) over those four games.  He has scored 5 runs and driven in 5 others, while slapping a double to go with 2 home runs – an .875 slugging percentage.

For the month of September, Molina holds a .303 batting average (10 for 33) and a .636 slugging percentage (2 doubles and 3 home runs).  Yadi has 9 runs batted in in 9 September games.

Bader

After making 57 consecutive starts in center field, Harrison Bader got a day off during the Dodger series.  The rest seems to have rejuvenated his bat.  In the four games since his rest day, Bader is hitting .462 (6 for 13) with hits in 3 of the games – getting multiple hits in 2 of those.  He had 3 hits last night.

For the month of September, now, Harrison is off to a .333 start (14 for 42) with a .548 slugging percentage (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continued his exceptional second half with 2 hits (including a home run) and 2 runs batted in last night.  Since the break, Goldschmidt is hitting .318 (64 for 201) and slugging .572 (13 doubles, a triple, and 12 home runs).

Goldschmidt had both of his hits in 3 at bats before getting a second strike on him.  For the season, Paul is hitting .402/.466/.729 when he gets that pitch to hit before seeing strike two.

O’Neill

With 2 hits last night, Tyler O’Neill pushes his September average up to .319 (15 for 47).  His 15 hits include 3 doubles and 4 home runs – a .638 slugging percentage.

One of Tyler’s hits was an infield hit on an 0-2 count.  O’Neill has been very tough this month in two-strike counts.  He is 7-for-27 (.259) with two strikes on him, with a .630 slugging percentage.  He has hit 3 of his 4 September home runs in two-strike counts.

The league average with two-strikes is .162/.239/.264.

Eliminations

Still very much in the hunt for the Wildcard, San Diego was eliminated from their division title chase with their loss last night to San Francisco.  At 74-69, the Padres become the first team with a winning record to be eliminated from anything.

NoteBook

The crowd of 19,057 was the smallest crowd to see a Cardinal game since the September 1 double-header in Cincinnati.  The crowds for those games were 10,365 and 10,892.

With the win, Adam Wainwright needs just 17 more for 200.  He is also 3 away from 2,000 strikeouts.

At .214, Adam also holds the lowest opponent’s batting average of his career.  Last year – abbreviated though it was – he held opposing batters to a .221 batting average, which is currently the lowest of his career.

In his eleventh season, Goldschmidt has never walked in less than 10.2% of his plate appearances.  With the season winding down, Paul’s walk rate is down to what would be a career low 9.8%

Molina’s RBI was number 992 of his career.  He has a reasonable chance to reach that 1000 mark this year.

At the same time, now in his eighteenth season, some of Yadi’s numbers are as low as he’s seen in some time.  His current .257 batting average and .301 on base percentage would be his lowest since he hit .216 with a .274 on base percentage back in 2006.  His 16.5% strikeout rate would be a career worst.

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.

Jake Woodford, Dedicated Strike Thrower

You might be surprised to know that Jake Woodford has fired that sinker of his as fast as 95.3 miles per hour.  Even though 9 others pitchers on the staff have thrown that pitch at higher velocities (4 of them over 100 miles per hour), 95.3 is still a more than respectable heat.

Usually, though, Jake sits much lower than that.  His season-long average on the sinker is 91.5, and he was throwing it even softer than that yesterday afternoon.  He averaged 90.6 mph on his number one pitch – with a high of 91.7.  Given that these speeds are ordinary (at best), it’s maybe understandable that Jake came to the big leagues not entirely sure if his stuff would play.  He is certainly not the first young pitcher who had trouble trusting his stuff.

The rotation churn that has been a constant this season has provided Jake several opportunities to contribute.  Jake hasn’t really seized these opportunities.  A member of the opening day roster, Woodford has been up and down three different times this season, spending nearly as many days on the minor league roster (60) as he has on the major league roster (79).

His first 39 big league innings this year were pretty uninspiring.  Jake carried a 5.08 ERA, while allowing 43 hits (7 of them home runs), 17 walks and 7 hit batsmen in those innings.  Underneath the disappointing performances was a pitcher who didn’t trust his stuff – he was a kid trying to place every pitch perfectly.

After his last trip down, he had an epiphany.  Perhaps he saw the many other soft tossers on the Cardinal staff enjoying success with placement and movement?  Maybe it occurred to him that he was giving big league hitters too much credit?  Perhaps he was just tired of being behind in the count almost every time he faced a batter?

Whatever the reason, as Jake went back to the minors to stretch himself back out to be a starting option down the stretch, he determined to come back a dedicated strike thrower.  After an impressive outing out of the bullpen (5.1 innings, no runs, no walks, 2 hits), he earned his fourth start of the season yesterday.

No big deal, it was just against the defending champions with a chance to earn his team a badly needed split as they are fighting for their playoff lives.

However apprehensive the fans might have been about Jake in this situation, what they got was a revelation.  Jake, the strike thrower, gave the Cards 4 solid innings, allowing just one run.  And he did it going right after the Dodger hitters.

Seventeen batters faced Jake that afternoon.  Thirteen of them got first pitch strikes.  Only one of them would have been considered a bad strike.  His first pitch to Steven Souza Jr. in the second inning was a hanging slider – but fortunately, Souza took it for strike one.  Everyone else got something on the edges of the strike zone.  Nine of the 17 got that sinker as the first pitch – with 7 of the 9 ending up as some form of strike one.

No, none of them rocketed in at 100 mph.  But what they lacked in pure velocity, they more than made up for in location and movement.  Since his most recent recall – in one start and one relief appearance – Woodford has given the Cards 9.1 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits.  He has walked just 2 – and one of those was strategic.

And, once ahead, Jake has been very adept at putting batters away.  Since his return, Woodford has thrown strike one to 21 of the 33 batters he’s faced.  Those batters are just 2 for 19 (.105) with a single and a double (.158 slugging percentage).

This new Jake is someone we could get used to – and someone who could fill a much needed role in the rotation.

Reyes

With Woodford getting through just four innings, Mike Shildt turned the game over to his troubled ex-closer, Alex Reyes.  I have questioned Mike’s usage of Alex once or twice, but this was the perfect spot for him.  Reyes had the opportunity to pitch two very important innings – neither one of them the ninth.  It was a great call by Shildt, and an even better response by Reyes – who tossed two nearly perfect scoreless innings.  It was a terrific first step forward – and Alex looked more comfortable and confident that I’ve seen him in a long time.

McFarland

The seventh and eighth innings in the new bullpen pecking order belong to the two arms that no one is scoring against.  T.J. McFarland came on to pitch the seventh and get the first batter in the eighth.  TJ now has 18.1 scoreless innings stretching back over 18 appearances.  The last 66 batters to face him are hitting .177 and slugging just .226.

McFarland wasn’t quite the strike machine that Woodford was.  He, in fact, only threw 11 of his 22 pitches for strikes – and threw first pitch balls to 3 of the 5 he faced.  One of those, of course, was right-handed pinch-hitter Albert Pujols – who he had no intention of doing anything but walking.  He retired the other two easily enough – getting both Chris Taylor and Max Muncy to fly out.

Pitching from behind isn’t really an issue for McFarland.  He has thrown ball one to 40 of the 93 batters he’s faced, but held those batters to a .171 batting average and a .200 slugging percentage.

Garcia

Riding an even longer scoreless streak is Luis Garcia.  Luis finished up the eighth to push his streak to 22 straight scoreless innings over 19 games.  The last 80 batters he’s faced have 7 singles, 4 doubles and 3 walks – a batting line of .143/.175/.195.  He threw only five pitches – all for strikes – and has thrown 69% of his pitches for strikes during his streak.

In a tense, 2-1 victory (box score), the newly remodeled bullpen was asked for five innings with no margin for slippage.  There wasn’t any.  With Giovanny Gallegos putting the finishing touches on the game for the second game in a row, the Cardinal bullpen blew through their 5 innings against the defending champs allowing 1 hit, 1 walk and no runs.

Offense Fading Again

The news is less cheery on the hitting front, where the bats managed just enough to pull out the win.  Over their last 11 games, now, the run scoring has slid back to 3.91 runs a game – and this includes the 15 runs scored a week ago against Milwaukee.  Other than Max Scherzer – who pitched the first game – the Dodgers withheld their front-line starters from the series, saving them for their more important matchup with San Diego.  The Cards saw mostly the Dodger bullpen and were almost entirely held in check.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado’s frustrating season continues, as he can’t seem to sustain any momentum.  After the last hit of his recent seven-game hitting streak, Nolan is 0 for 10.

Nootbaar

It’s been a tough spell for Lars Nootbaar as well.  He is hitless over his last 11 at bats.  He is also hitless over his last 13 at bats after he’s gotten ahead in the count 1-0.

NoteBook

Scoring first yesterday broke a five-game streak in which the Cards had surrendered the game’s first run.

When Dylan Carlson started in center, it broke Harrison Bader’s streak of 57 consecutive starts in center field.  It was the longest consecutive starting streak for a Cardinal at the same position.  That mantle now falls to Tommy Edman, who made his fourteenth consecutive start at second base.  Tommy has actually started the last 31 consecutive games at some position or another.

The four games averaged 36,203.5, making it the highest attended Cardinal series since they took three of four from the Cubs just after the All-Star Break July 19-22.  That series averaged 38,005.3 patrons per game.

Speaking of attendance, St Louis’ total attendance (home and away) pushed past the three million mark yesterday.  That total now stands at 3,023,592.

The Dodger series was St Louis’ twenty-second at home and the twenty-second time they’ve played a team coming off a losing series.  They are 9-8-5 in series at home (leading to their 37-32 home record) and 8-9-5 against teams that had lost their previous series (although they have a 36-30 record in the games of those series’).

Tyler O’Neill’s home run stood up for his fifth game-winning RBI of the season.  There is a pretty large gap between the top of the list and the group that is tied for fourth.  Yadier Molina leads the team with 14, with Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt second at 12.  From there it drops to O’Neill, Harrison and Bader with 5 each.

With his sixth win of the season, Alex Reyes has tied this year his win total from his four previous seasons.

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

Jon and Waino and Three Days of Raino?

Statistically speaking, it was actually one of the better starts of the month.  J.A. Happ actually finished five innings, in spite of everything – marking just the fourth time in seven September games that a Cardinal starter lasted at least five.  And – with 4 runs allowed – Happ’s start last night was only the third time so far this month that a Cardinal starter had allowed fewer runs than innings pitched.

A once feared rotation is now reduced to this.  On September 3, Adam Wainwright tossed a 6.1 inning gem against the Brewers (2 runs, 1 earned on 4 hits).  Two days later, Jon Lester pitched well enough to win – also against the Brewers – as he walked off the mound with a 3-1 lead after yielding a run on 6 scattered hits over 5.1 innings.

The other five starts this month? They’ve averaged slightly more than 3 innings each, totaling to 15.2 very busy innings as 24 runs (23 of them earned) have crossed the plate – the result of 32 hits (6 of them home runs) and 6 walks.  The other five are a combined 0-4 this month with a 13.21 ERA, allowing a .421 batting average and a .763 slugging percentage.  Wainwright gets the ball tonight hoping to stop a four-game losing streak.  Or at least to give the team a chance to break the losing streak.

The losing streak hasn’t helped the playoff chances, as the Cards are beginning to fade in the glare of September.  They are now 2-5 this month, 8-12 since their 6-0 road trip in mid-August, and 44-50 since May 19.  A team that plays below .500 for 58% of their season can’t truly be surprised if it misses the playoffs.

While they’ve bled the most, the rotation is hardly the only area of the team that has started September on the wrong foot.  The bullpen checks in with a 4.66 ERA to this point, which includes one very damaging blown save.  They, of course, have been taxed again by the limited innings from the starters.  Through the first 7 games this month, the Cards have asked for more innings from the pen (29) than they’ve received from the starters (27.1).

Offensively, St Louis has scored 30 runs so far this month (4.29 per game).  But half of those came in one vigorous blow-out of the Brewers last Friday – the last time the team won.  Subtract that game, and the team is averaging 2.63 runs over its previous 8 games.  This is, perhaps, more frustrating than the pitching issues, as the lineup has returned to full health while management lies awake at night wondering where they can find enough healthy arms to round out a rotation.

The difference in September, of course, is now this team is matched against other teams (Cincinnati, Milwaukee and the Dodgers) who are fighting for playoff positioning, and the gulf between those teams and the St Louis franchise grows more apparent with every series that they surrender.

And the constant game of rotation roulette doesn’t help.

Reyes

Entering the sixth inning of a two-run game, one-time closer Alex Reyes served up another home run as the Dodgers began to pull away.  But a nice thing happened.  No longer pitching in the closer’s role, Alex didn’t have to walk off the field after the homer.  He stayed and finished his inning, getting a strikeout and an easy grounder.  Being able to walk off the mound on a positive note is a baby step, but it’s a step.

Alex has still allowed a run in 11 of his last 24 games, with a 7.17 ERA over those 21.1 innings.  His second half ERA has dropped to 6.41.

The home run he allowed was the first off his four-seam fastball this season.  The hanging slider has been his most victimized pitch – accounting for 4 of the 7 home runs allowed.

Whitley

Rising amidst the chaos of the late-season bullpen is Kodi Whitley – newly minted as a strike thrower.  With two-thirds of an inning last night, Kodi has made 5 appearances since his recall, allowing no runs over 6 innings while giving just 3 hits and 2 walks.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill finished with three hits for the second time in three games.  His September is off to an excellent start.  Seven games into the month, and O’Neill is holding a .360 batting average (9 for 25) and a .720 slugging percentage (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Two of Tyler’s hits came off the fastball – a pitch that he has always hit well.  His most impressive at bat, though was a nine-pitch, third inning contest against Evan Phillips that ended with Tyler flipping an 84-mph slider into left-center and hustling it into a double.

O’Neill’s growth against the slider – a pitch that troubles almost all hitters – has been notable, but it’s been most apparent on sliders in a “Goldilocks” range – neither too fast nor too slow.  The hard sliders that zip in at 86 mph or higher still bedevil Tyler.  He is 9 for 43 (.116) against those pitches, with 21 strikeouts in those 43 at bats.

When the slider floats over too slow, it’s something of a problem – but less so.  A slider under 80 mph has only defined 7 at bats for O’Neill so far this season.  He has only one hit – but that was a home run.

But in between has become his sweet spot.  O’Neill is now 17 for 55 (.309) with 4 doubles, a triple, and 5 home runs – a .691 slugging percentage off that “just right” slider.  Of the 36 times he’s put one of those pitches in play, Tyler has achieved an exit velocity of over 100 mph 12 times.

Edman

After surviving both Milwaukee’s Adrian Houser and LA’s Max Scherzer, Tommy Edman’s six-game hitting streak came to a halt last night.  Tommy hit .320 (8 for 25) and slugged .520 (2 doubles and a home run) during his streak.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter made his second consecutive start, spelling Paul Goldschmidt at first one night after doing the same for Nolan Arenado at third.  It didn’t help.  Hitless in 4 at bats, Matt is now 0 for his last 26.  He is down to .102 (5 for 49) in the second half.

Retired twice on fastballs, Matt is 1 for 21 since the break against the four-seamer.

Eliminations

When Cincinnati clipped Chicago last night, it officially and mathematically eliminated Pittsburgh from all playoff considerations.  They are the first NL Central team to be thus eliminated.  This also means that the Pirates can no longer finish second in the division.  The highest they could mathematically climb would be third.

NoteBook

Last night’s loss was number 100 in the career of J.A. Happ.  He is 131-100 lifetime.

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.

Oh, Mike, I Thought We Had This Understood

The last time (before yesterday afternoon) that Alex Reyes occupied the closer’s role for the St Louis Cardinals was last Sunday (August 29) in Pittsburgh.  And the Pirates made short work of him.

The Cards scored twice in the fifth to forge a 3-1 lead, and the relief effort in front of Reyes (by Luis Garcia, T.J. McFarland, and Giovanny Gallegos) was about as flawless as could be hoped.  They combined for 3 innings, allowing just one base-runner on a walk.  Now it was Reyes.

It took the Pirates 18 pitches.  A walk, a strikeout, a walk, a three-run homer and the Pirates – with nothing to play for – forged a split of a four-game series that was critical for the Cards.

That home run was finally the catalyst that re-scripted the late inning bullpen assignments, but the truth is that it has been a long, long time since Alex Reyes has been an effective reliever.

Alex began the season as untouchable as any closer in the game.  Thirty-six games into his season, he had put up 39.2 innings with an 0.91 ERA and a .134 batting average against.  He was 20-for-20 in save opportunities.

His season turned sharply in Colorado on the Fourth of July.  He entered the bottom of the ninth inning of a 2-2 game and quickly and easily retired the first two batters.  He then lost the game on two singles sandwiched around a wild pitch.

By itself, not that big a deal.  These things happen.  But the next night it happened again.

This time it didn’t cost the Cards a game – they took a 5-1 lead against San Francisco into the ninth inning before turning the contest over to Reyes – who closed out the win, but only after giving up two runs on two hits, two walks, and another wild pitch.

Two outings later – on July 20 – Alex suffered the first blown save of his career with a ninth-inning meltdown against the Cubs.  It was a 6-1 Cardinal lead when he came in, but the bases were loaded with no one out.  Over the course of 30 agonizing pitches, Reyes was bled for two walks, a single and a game-winning double.  He took the loss after allowing all three of his inherited runners to score, and three more of his own in a third of an inning before he was replaced.

From that point on, he was damaged goods as a closer.  The ninth inning had gotten to him.  Characteristically, it took manager Mike Shildt a longer time than necessary to figure this out.  By the time he blew the save against the Pirates, Alex had blown 3 of 5 save opportunities – and at the most critical time of the season.

For the last week, the closer’s mantle has fallen to Gallegos.  In the interim, Reyes has appeared twice for one inning each time in low-leverage moments.  Until yesterday.

A stumble by eighth-inning man, Genesis Cabrera, set yesterday’s disaster in motion.  Entrusted with a hard-earned 5-1 lead against division leading Milwaukee, and with a chance to take two of three from the Brewers, Cabrera struck out Jace Peterson, the first batter he faced.  There followed a double off the bat of Eduardo Escobar and walks to Avisail Garcia and Lorenzo Cain.  The bases were now loaded and Rowdy Tellez represented the tying run.

Closer Gallegos was rushed into action, being asked to deliver a five-out save.  He would get only three.

After wiggling out of the eighth with no damage allowed, the Brewers immediately fell upon Gio in the ninth.  A double from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a single by Luke Maile turned it into a 5-2 game.  Gallegos set down Luis Urias on strikes, but a double by Peterson and a walk to Escobar re-loaded the bases, and ended the night for Gallegos.

Who to turn to now?

As Shildt tells it, it was a no-brainer.  Reyes – possessor of elite “stuff” – was, in his mind, the obvious choice.  Over his previous 23 games – mostly in high-leverage situations – Alex had served up 20 runs (15 earned) in 20.1 innings.  That, apparently, was not a part of the equation.

Two pitches later, and pinch-hitter Daniel Vogelbach was circling the bases to the rapture of both the crowd and the Brewer bench.  From his post-game comments, Mike made it pretty clear that he would make that same choice again.

Repeatedly during this disappointing season, Shildt has reminded us that the players are not automatons.  This observation is accurate – they are human like the rest of us.  But for some reason, Shildt continues to manage them like they were automatons.  In an earlier discussion, I likened his handling of the team to managing a Strat-O-Matic team (for those of you who are familiar with this baseball simulation).  In the game, the card represents the player, and it is what it is.  Whatever his card says he can do, that’s what he can do – and “he” performs with no memory of anything that went on in previous games.  For a card, there can be no emotion or jitters to overcome.  The card only lives in the present dice roll.

Human beings, like Alex Reyes, are very different from Start-O-Matic cards.  Their confidence can be damaged.  The weight of the moment can grow too large for them.  They can begin to think too much – or too little.  They start to try too hard.  The ninth inning can get into anyone’s head – and it has clearly gotten into Alex’ head.

Mike has to see this and understand what’s happening.  You can stick with a struggling player at any other position.  But you can’t struggle in the ninth.

I had thought that Mike had figured that out.

Lester

Picked up at the deadline, Jon Lester’s first few appearances in a Cardinal uniform were nothing to get excited about.  His last three starts have been surprisingly effective.  Jon – who would have been the winning pitcher on Sunday (box score) – has now given us 16.2 innings of 1.62 ERA baseball over those recent starts.  He is 1-0 in those games, but could have been 3-0, as Jon has been victimized twice by an increasingly leaky bullpen.

Kim

At one point this season, Kwang-Hyun Kim made four consecutive quality starts for this team.  But on July 28, his start was abbreviated as he started to suffer more elbow issues.  There has followed another short start – a brief stay on the injured list – a briefer stay in the bullpen upon his return – and then two more brief starts.  The last of these came in the 4-0 Saturday loss in Milwaukee (box score).  Kwang-Hyun didn’t make it out of the second inning.

Kim’s season is starting to quickly unravel.  Over his last 5 games – four of them starts – he has lasted just 15 innings, giving 12 runs on 19 hits and 7 walks.  He is 0-2 in those games with a 7.20 ERA, a .322 batting average against, and a .593 slugging percentage allowed.

Bader

In spite of the fact that they were completely stymied by Adrian Houser in the Saturday game, the Cards still finished the series with 20 runs scored and a .255/.339/.481 batting line.

In the middle of much of the offense was Harrison Bader, who seems to be emerging from a fairly protracted slump.  Five for 13 on the series, Harrison has now hit safely in 3 of his last 5 games, with all three of them being multi-hit games.  Bader is hitting .421 (8 for 19) and slugging .789 (1 double and 2 home runs) while driving in 6 runs over the 5 games.

One of Bader’s hits was an infield hit.  It was his tenth infield hit of the season’s second half – 22.7% of his hits.

Harrison is the hardest of the Cardinal regulars to double-up.  Five times over those last 5 games, Bader came up with an opportunity to ground into a double play, but he’s avoided that DP every time.  For the season, Harrison has bounced into 3 double-plays in 66 opportunities – just 4.5%.  Since the break, he’s hit into 1 in 42 opportunities – 2.4%.

It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but Bader – with runners at second and third and one out in the fourth inning – gave his team the lead on Sunday with a grounder that just crept up the third base line for a two-run double.  Bader has been better in that situation than you might guess.  He has driven home that runner from third 11 times in 16 chances this season (69%).

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill looked for all the world like he had iced the Cardinal victory with the two-run homer that pushed the lead to 5-1.  Tyler went 4 for 11 (with 2 home runs) during the Brewer series.  He has hits in 5 of his last 7 (3 of them multi-hit affairs).  He is hitting .360 (9 for 25) and slugging .720 (1 double, 1 triple and the 2 home runs) in those games.  He is hitting .333 and slugging .722 in the early days of the month.

Grounding into 1 double play in 27 chances since the break, Tyler has been nearly as difficult to double-up as Bader.  He is bouncing into the DP just 3.7% of the time in the second half.

Of all the Cardinal regulars, Tyler still has the highest swing and miss rate – he’s at 34.3% for the year.  Against Milwaukee he missed on 14 of his 28 swings.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado left Milwaukee riding a little six-game hitting streak.  He is 8 of 23 during the streak (.348), with 3 of the 8 hits being home runs (a .739 slugging percentage).  During the early days of September, Nolan is hitting .316 with a .789 slugging percentage.

Sosa

Edmundo Sosa hit one of the 7 home runs the Cards hit over the three games, and finished the series 3 for 10.  Edmundo is off to a .308 start for the month, with a .538 slugging percentage.  In the season’s second half, Sosa is hitting .321 (26 for 81) and slugging .531 (2 doubles, 3 triples and 3 home runs).

NoteBook

In the Saturday shutout, the Cards’ streak of scoring first in 9 straight games came to an end.

At 4:08, the Sunday game was the longest played by the Cards since it took 4:09 to edge the Cubs 3-2 on July 21.  That was a 10-inning game.  It was the longest 9-inning game for the team since a 5-4 loss in San Diego on May 14 also took 4:08.

At 33,845, the crowd was the largest for a Cardinal game since 34,431 came out to watch the August 22 game against Pittsburgh.  It was their largest road crowd since 35,784 showed up in Kansas City on August 14.

With the roof closed for the first two games, the average temperature for the series – at 74.7 degrees – was the most temperate St Louis has played in since they played two games in Wrigley on an unusually cool July 9 & 10.  The temperature for both of those games was just 71 degrees.

St Louis has now won just one of its last 6 series.  They are now 1-5 when they play rubber games on the road.

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.

Doing Just Enough

His first hit wasn’t much to write home about – a little swinging bunt that trickled up the third baseline.  But now Paul Goldschmidt was up in the ninth inning with a runner at second, facing the hard-throwing David Bednar in a 6-4 game.  Bednar’s fastball flew in at 98 miles-per-hour over the heart of the plate where it was squarely met by Goldschmidt’s exquisitely short stroke.  Paul drove it right down the right-field line for a double and a run batted in.  At the time, it was an extra run, pushing the St Louis lead to 7-4.  By the time the game’s final out was recorded, that final run stood all important in a 7-6 Cardinal victory (box score) that gave them a much-needed sweep of the fading Pirates.

In the end, it was just enough.

The season is 114 games old, and the Cardinals have never actually looked like contenders.  They did hit the 43-game-mark in first place with a 25-18 record, but to that point they were largely untested as their early schedule was quite soft.  Besides, every year there are pretenders that put on a good show for the first fifty games of the season.  That generally means very little.

After the hot start, the Birds faded pretty quickly.  They lost 23 of their next 35 games, dropping to 37-41 (.474) on June 27.  They were 8 games out at that point.

On that June 28 morning, as they prepared to host a struggling Arizona team, the talk was how they were going to go on this hot streak and put together a lot of wins any time now.  It never happened.  Going into tonight’s game, the post-June 27 Cards hadn’t managed to win more than three consecutive games – a feat they’ve managed only three times in the last 36 games.  The most wins they’ve managed in any ten-game stretch since then is seven – which they’ve done once (July 17-27).  In that same time frame, they’ve had four ten-game stretches in which they’ve lost six of the ten.

No, there just hasn’t been any extended period of the season where you could say that this team had the look of a playoff contender.

At yet, out of the ashes of June and that 37-41 record, with little flash or attention, the Cardinals have quietly started to win games.  Not at a record clip, but in a slow, mostly consistent grind.  They’ve lost a couple of seemingly crucial games since then.  They dropped two of three in Cincinnati in July, and last week they were swept at home by Atlanta.  But each time they’ve stubbed a toe, they’ve kept quietly creeping back.

The sweep over the Pirates gives them wins in 5 of their last 6 games, 6 of 10 this month, 14 of 24 since the break, and 21 of the 36 games played since that low-point – a .583 winning percentage.

And pushing this team forward (as much as anyone else) has been Goldschmidt.

Goldy

Among the top-tier players in the game today, there is no one less flashy that Paul Goldschmidt.  I have yet to see him flip the bat after a home run, or beat his chest, of flex his muscles.  To the best of my knowledge, Goldschmidt has never done any cheerleading from the base-paths, much less engaged in any of the self-worship that a great many of the modern athletes are given to.

Recently, Cardinal reserve infielder Edmundo Sosa tripled high off the center field wall.  When he got to third, he mimed pulling open his shirt, as though to reveal the Superman “S” underneath.  Goldy doesn’t do that kind of shtick either. (Note to Sosa: you’re not Superman.  Superman wouldn’t be hitting .253 with just a .677 OPS.  For that matter, Superman would have hit the ball over the wall, not off the top of it.)

In fact, you rarely see emotion of any kind from Goldschmidt.  He doesn’t slam bats or punch water coolers.  You have to look very carefully to catch the subtle look of disappointment on his face when he pops out.  As much as any player in the game today, Paul Goldschmidt plays under control.  At the end of a victory, when the team is out shaking hands, you will see Paul smile.  Much more than that you won’t get.

Goldschmidt’s game is beautifully unadorned.  There is almost something self-conscious about him as he plays the game – almost as though he doesn’t want you to notice him as he’s beating you.  And beat you he does.

Over the mini-revival this team has enjoyed over its last 36 games, Goldy leads the club in batting average (.317), runs batted in (24), walks (18) and OPS (.903).  He is tied for the team lead in home runs (7) and runs scored (21).

And the thing is that even if you watched all the games, you might not notice him.

Is It Enough

Will all of this “just enough” that the Cards have been playing lately be enough?  Sadly, no.  At some point – and quickly – they will have to find that extra gear.

If they keep winning at the rate that they have over the last 36 games, they will finish the season with a record of 86-76.  In order for them to catch Milwaukee with that record, the Brewers would have to finish the season 16-30.  Highly unlikely.  The final WildCard spot is more likely, but even then the San Diego team would have to finish 20-25 – which is also pretty unlikely.  Add in the fact that there are three other teams in between the Cards and the Padres, and you begin to get a sense of what this team is up against.

For the last 48 games to matter, St Louis is going to have to find a way to do more than just enough.

Carpenter

Inserted into the clean-up spot last night, Matt Carpenter did draw two walks, but also went 0-for-2.  Matt still hasn’t ignited his season.  Since the break he is hitting .192 (5 for 26) with two extra-base hits (both doubles) good for a .269 slugging percentage.  He has 1 second-half run batted in.

McFarland

One of six relievers used last night to cover the game’s final 7 innings, T.J. McFarland was awarded his first Cardinal win when he tossed a scoreless third and was the pitcher of record when St Louis rose up for 4 in the fourth.  McFarland is unscored on over 5 appearances this month (5.1 innings) during which he has allowed just 1 hit and 1 walk.

Garcia

The dramatic turnaround in Luis Garcia’s season should be noted.  His first three appearances in a Cardinal uniform were disastrous.  He cobbled three total outs from the 11 batters he faced in those first three games, but not before giving up 6 runs on 5 hits, a walk, and a hit batter.

Over his last 6 appearances, Luis and his high-90’s fastball has given us 9.1 scoreless innings, allowing 4 hits and no walks.  He threw 60% strikes during those first three games.  He is throwing strikes 73% of the time since.  He tossed a scoreless fifth last night.

Cabrera

I’ll be honest, I was a little concerned about Genesis Cabrera after a meltdown against the Cubs back on July 9.  He faced four batters, walking 2 and hitting 1 – with all three coming around to score.  It was the third straight game that Genesis had allowed runs in (he gave 7 in just 2 innings), and the fourth time in 5 games that he had been scored against.

Since then, it’s hard to imagine that anyone has been better.  Genesis has 12 scoreless innings in his last 12 games, during which he has given just 3 hits.

Reyes

Alex Reyes held on to last night’s save, but not without a little more drama – he allowed a two-run ninth-inning home run that narrowed the gap to one run.  The second half of the season has been more than a little dicey for the Cardinal’s All-Star closer.  In 13 second-half games, Alex has managed just 11.1 busy innings in which he has allowed 9 runs (7 earned) on 6 hits, 2 hit batsmen, and 10 walks.  He has also allowed all 4 of his inherited runners to score.  Alex is 0-2 with saves in 7 of 8 tries, and a 5.56 ERA since appearing in his first All-Star game.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 6 consecutive games.

The 7 runs they allowed to the Pirates during the sweep were the fewest runs scored against the Cards in a series since the last time they swept a series.  The Diamondbacks also scored just 7 runs while losing three straight to the Cards from June 28-30.

The three games drew an average of 9,093.3 – the poorest attended Cardinal series since the last time we were in Pittsburgh.  An average of only 6,875.7 attended that series played from April 30 to May 2.

The Royals will be the second consecutive Cardinal opponent, and sixth of the last seven, to have lost its previous series.

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 They Can Just Get Them to Hit the Ball

With one out in the second inning of a scoreless contest, Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson stroked a double down the right-field line.  Six pitches later, the Cards were dealing with a situation.

Choosing not to deal with right-handed slugger Adam Duvall, Cardinal starter Wade LeBlanc teased him with a few tosses off the plate, and when Adam showed no inclination to chase, St Louis passed him to first intentionally, preferring to deal with the lefty Joc Pederson.  It was a strategy that seemed to have worked when Pederson dribbled a slow roller to third.  But, instead of taking the sure out at first, Nolan Arenado threw to second to force Duvall.  When second-baseman Matt Carpenter didn’t make it to the base in time, St Louis found itself in a bases-loaded, one-out situation.

As they would prove and re-prove later in the game, anything imaginable (and a few things unimaginable) can happen when St Louis pitches with the bases loaded.  But it wasn’t time yet for the Commedia dell’arte.  LeBlanc caused Kevan Smith to chop into the double-play that ended the inning.

It was a moment that would be lost in the aftermath of Atlanta’s series-sweeping 8-4 victory (box score), but a moment that shouldn’t be completely forgotten – if only because it serves as a reminder of how good this pitching staff can be when they actually make the opposing team hit the baseball.

With this double-play as a highlight, of sorts, Atlanta finished the game 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.  Since the All-Star Break, teams are hitting just .203 (29 for 143) against St Louis with runners in scoring position.  For the season, the team’s .225 batting average against in that situation is the National League’s fourth lowest figure.

If only things were that simple.

In the eighth inning, another Swanson double (this one with two outs) chased Giovanny Gallegos from the game and brought closer Alex Reyes into the contest in an attempt to preserve the 4-4 tie.  What happened next nearly defies belief.

Alex faced 5 batters.  None of them got a hit.  But Reyes didn’t retire any of them either.  Alex hit the first batters and then walked four straight – the last three with the bases loaded.  After managing to find the strike zone just 4 times in 21 pitches, Alex left the mess in the lap of Justin Miller – who tossed in one more bases loaded walk, for good measure.

As August began, St Louis carried a 52-52 record and sat 9.5 games behind the division-leading Brewers.  Not an exceedingly favorable situation.  Things have only gotten worse, so far, this month.  The Cards have surrendered two more games in the standings while losing 3 of their first 4 August matches.

In the spotlight is a bullpen that has welcomed August with a 7.62 ERA and 5.54 walks per nine innings over their first 13 innings of the new month.  On May 19, these Cards were 25-18 and 3.5 games ahead in the division.  They are 28-37 since then, surrendering 15 games in the standings – a prolonged skid that has not only left their playoff hopes on life-support, but now threatens this franchise with its first losing season since 2007 – the only losing season St Louis has endured this century.  So far.

Just before the Break – when the Cards managed to take a series from San Francisco – managed Mike Shildt emphatically instructed the collected press that “this team can play with anyone.”

I presume that he means when they actually force them to hit the ball.

LeBlanc

Wade LeBlanc – last night’s starter – has, for the most part, done everything that this team could have asked of him.  After 6 rock-solid innings, Wade left the game with a 3-2 lead and what should have been his first Cardinal win.  In four second-half starts, Wade holds a 3.05 ERA – the best on a staff that has only two qualifying starters.

Atlanta was only 1 for 5 against Wade with runners in scoring position.  Over his brief stay in St Louis, opponents are only hitting .158 against him (6 for 38) in these dangerous moments.

Cabrera

Another day, another superb seventh inning from Genesis Cabrera.  This one wasn’t as clean as the night before.  Genesis allowed a runner when he hit a batter – a runner subsequently thrown out trying to advance on a ball in the dirt.  Over the 8 innings covering his last 9 appearances, Cabrera has walked 5 and hit a batter while only throwing 57% of his pitches for strikes.  But he has given only 2 hits over those 8 innings, allowing no runs.

Gallegos

Trusted all year long with the eighth inning, Giovanny Gallegos has been stung for back-to-back, three-run outings, losing both of the last two games.  In 10 second half innings, Gallegos’ ERA has bumped up to 6.30.

A Miller

After all the silliness, Andrew Miller came in to end the ninth inning for the Cards.  He faced one batter and induced the double-play.  Over his last 17.2 innings, Andrew holds a 1.53 ERA.

During that span, opponents are only 2 for 15 (.133) against him when batting with runners in scoring position.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt drove in what looked to be the icing run with a seventh-inning single.  All of his numbers this year haven’t been quite what Goldy would have hoped for – not yet, anyway.  But he has been a season-long factor with runners in scoring position.  Paul is now hitting .305 (29 for 95) with the ducks on the pond.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill had his second multi-hit game in his last three contests.  Tyler has 7 hits in 13 at bats over his last 4 games (.538).

NoteBook

The 21 runs that Atlanta scored in the series are the most the Cards have allowed in a set since Pittsburgh roughed them up for 21 over four games from June 24-27.  It was the most runs scored against them in a three-game series since the Dodgers scored 25 runs from May 31 – June 2.

Last night was the ninth time this season that St Louis needed a win in the final game of the series to avoid a sweep, and the fifth time that they couldn’t avoid the broom.  Six of the 9 have been in three- or four-game series, with the sweep occurring in 4 of the 6.

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.

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.