Tag Archives: Alex Reyes

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.

Wild, Indeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that opened the floodgates.

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

The Free-Runner Cardinals

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

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

Goldschmidt

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of that First Pitch

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

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

Wild, indeed.

Hudson

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

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

Cabrera

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

Reyes

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

NoteBook

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

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

More Chances Elude Cards

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

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

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

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

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

Jose Martinez

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

Tyler O’Neill

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

Yairo Munoz

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

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

Alex Reyes

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

I’m pretty sure he will be OK.

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

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

The Bullpen

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

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

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

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