Tag Archives: Arenado

Please Leave the Fences Where They Are

As the Cardinals lost the last two games of their regular season, they finished the regular season portion of the 2021 campaign with an identical home/road won lost record.  They finished at 45-36 in both.

If the overall records were identical, though, the offensive character of their road contests were vastly different.  In 81 home games, St Louis scuffled to 307 runs (3.79 per game), managed 77 home runs (one every 33.74 at bats) and slugged a modest .385.  For 81 road games, this was one of the most productive and dangerous offenses in baseball.  They scored 399 runs away from home (4.93 per game), slapped 121 home runs (one every 22.75 at bats) and slugged .436.

As the season rolled along, the gulfs separating home and road production deepened substantially.  Since the All-Star Break, the club scored 6.25 runs per game on the road, hit a home run every 18.3 at bats, and slugged .517 when they were away from the semi-cavernous confines of Busch.  Their corresponding home numbers were 3.70 rpg, 29.8 ab/hr, and .393 slugging percentage.  Over the last 32 games of the season, when they made their surge into the playoffs, St Louis scored 6.81 runs per game on the road, while scoring 3.75 at home; homered every 15.4 at bats away from home, as opposed to every 24.4 at Busch; and slugged much more proficiently on the road (.545) than they did at home (.406).

Some weeks ago, management acknowledged the issue and declared their intent to study changes that could be made before next season.  That statement caused two reactions.

First reaction: really?  It’s just now coming to your attention?  I, for one, have been writing intermittently about the team’s home/road differences for the five years that this site has been active, and I haven’t treated it as any kind of secret.  I would bet that every single ballplayer that has come through here has noticed that balls don’t fly out of here like they might in many other venues.  Certainly the fans know all about this.

And then, there are the historic numbers.  Over the course of just this century (including playoff games), St Louis is scoring 4.65 runs per game, while hitting 1790 home runs at Busch (a home run every 33.06 at bats).  On the road, they have been scoring 4.77 runs per game, while hitting 2114 baseballs over foreign fences – one every 29.04 at bats.

Whether or not you consider this a problem, it is, nonetheless, a fact that a lot of fly balls that would be home runs in many other parks die at the Busch Stadium warning track.  This has been going on forever.

And now you’re aware of it and looking into it?

Second reaction: The knee-jerk answer to a situation like this is to move in the fences.  A decision like that would almost certainly improve home run yield.  Whether that result would best benefit the home team is a somewhat more complex issue.

Logic, of course, suggests that if moving in the fences will aid the home team’s offense, it will also aid the offense of the visiting team.  If the reconfigured ballpark yields more opposing home runs than it adds Cardinal home runs, have you really done yourself a favor?

The numbers suggest that the current dimensions of their home ballpark are more essential to Cardinal pitchers than they are detrimental to Cardinal batsmen.  This season, the Cardinal staff pitched to a 3.65 ERA at home, with a .227/.305/.357 batting line against.  On the road, that ERA inflates to 4.32 with a line of .241/.336/.392.  Over the course of the century so far, the team ERA is 3.55 at home and 4.20 on the road.  At home, the pitching staff has held batters to a .246/.312/.383 batting line – a .694 OPS.  Away from pitcher-friendly Busch, batters are hitting .262/.331/.420 against Cardinal pitching – a .751 OPS.

Moreover – over the course of 22 seasons – St Louis has posted lower ERA’s at home than on the road in 20 of those seasons.  One of those seasons (2016) missed by the slimmest of margins when the road ERA of 4.07 barely edged that season’s home ERA of 4.08.  Meanwhile, there have been four seasons (2006, 2007, 2010 and 2019) where the home ERA has checked in more than a full run lower than the road ERA.  There have been 7 other seasons where the home ERA was at least three-quarters of a run better than the road performance.

Throughout the century so far, a Cardinal starter has achieved a quality start 54.4% of the time at home (973 of 1790), but only 43.9% of the time on the road (793 of 1806).

Conversely, the Cards have actually averaged more runs per game at home than on the road in 9 of the 22 seasons of this century.  In fact, this year has been the only time this century that their road production has outpaced their home scoring by more than a run per game.  As mentioned earlier, the run differential over the course of the century so far is just 0.12 runs per game (4.65-4.77), a much narrower gap than the difference in the pitching numbers.

Whose Ox Gets Gored?

Any offseason change – or lack of change – will negatively impact one half of the team.  So, management will have to choose.  Do we cheapen the home run by pulling in the fences (to the detriment of the pitching staff)?  Or do we leave things as they are (leaving things more difficult for the offense)?  Let me present a few points for consideration.

First – Who Gets Impacted Most?

The statistics already presented suggest the damage done to the pitching end will very likely outweigh any uptick in offensive production.  While the Cardinal lineup – as currently put together – does have more punch than many past versions of the team, there are many other lineups out there that are much more power packed (think of teams like Cincinnati, San Diego, Atlanta, the Dodgers – as well as American League teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, etc.).  Without reservation, I will predict that a moving in of fences will do more to assist the opposition – especially in key series.

Two – Who Are We (speaking organizationally)?

While the current lineup does have several young sluggers who could profit from a more permissive home park, the real strength – both with the current team and with our soon-to-graduate prospects – is the pitching.  Before us are the entire careers of arms like Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Matthew Liberatore, Johan Oviedo, Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks – and more.  Organizationally, St Louis has always been – and will continue to be – a pitching first organization.  Therefore, any move to compromise the pitching side of the team will almost certainly prove to be counter-productive in the long run.

Finally – Consider the Rest of the Division

Considering the rest of the division, clearly this ballpark is the most distinctive.  All of the other teams in the NL Central play in parks that invite the home run (Wrigley, of course, when the wind blows in can be difficult, but historically plays more in favor of the home run than against it).

Therefore – if Busch is kept the way it is – this will always be an uncomfortable road game for the other teams in our division who are uniformly built to hit easy home runs and are unremarkable defensively.  If our offense can continue to be productive in their parks – and there is no reason to think that they won’t – then we can develop the division’s greatest home field advantage if we keep the fences deep.  At that point, the step  to be taken would be a coaching step.

The on field leadership needs to understand the adjustments they need to make to be productive at home.

A Matter of Adjustments

Everything in life is a trade-off.  This is especially true in baseball.  If a large park (like Busch) inhibits the hitting of home runs, it opens the door to other types of offenses.  Deep outfields with spacious gaps are an invitation to doubles and triples.  To a team that can run and play defense, roomy outfields are a decided advantage.  Offensively, it calls for more opposite field hitting (which is an excellent approach anyway in an era where everyone employs exaggerated shifts almost all the time).  The ability to steal bases is also a much more valuable commodity here than in a band-box like the Great American Small Park.

WhiteyBall Deaux?

Everytime a Cardinal fan begins to extoll the virtues of hitting the ball the other way and stealing bases, he is accused of living in the past – of trying to re-create the Whiteyball era.  I’m asking you here to look past that prejudice and understand that a big ballpark rewards a different style of offense.  Yes, Whitey Herzog’s teams of the 1980’s maximized that concept in a way that I don’t believe can be fully re-created today.  But the core principles that made his offense successful are still true today.

Any team that approaches Busch like it were any other ballpark is inviting the frustration of a good many long fly balls dying on the track.  This team doesn’t have to fall into that trap.  Unlike Herzog’s teams, this club can play long ball in visiting parks, while adapting to the unique conditions of its home stadium.

Looking at our current lineup, you can see that most of them are excellent fits for this style of ball.  Players like Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Arenado and Dylan Carlson wouldn’t be completely out of place in Whitey’s lineups.  The alterations necessary here would be milder than you might expect.

In some cases, the adjustment might be a platoon concept.  Like some teams employ different starters depending on whether the pitcher they face is throwing with his right or left hand, the Cardinal lineup could flip depending on whether or not they are playing at home.

This year – for instance – the Cards might have played Paul DeJong most of the time on the road – especially in small ballparks.  In just 170 road at bats, Paul hit 14 home runs.  He only hit .206 away from home, but slugged .488 and held a .775 OPS on the road.  At Busch, his numbers tumbled to .188/.281/.303 (a .582 OPS).  He hit 5 home runs in 186 at bats in his home park.

The home starts – in this scenario – would then predominately go to Edmundo Sosa.  Not a great power source on the road, Edmundo hit .256/.328/.381 on the road, but .289/.368/.398 at home.

As an approach, it’s a bit out of the box, but could be effective.

Mostly though, it would involve a difference in the batter’s approach.  For many in the lineup, the home/road differences aren’t enormous.  O’Neill hit 15 home runs at home, with a .303/.375/.560 batting line.  He hit .270/.330/.560 with 19 home runs on the road.  Goldschmidt was a .286/.348/.500 hitter at home with 14 home runs.  He hit 17 on the road with a .301/.381/.528 batting line.  Carlson hit .306/.364/.483 at home, and .227/.324/.394 on the road.  His 18 home runs were evenly divided.

With the expectation that Dylan’s continued maturity will improve his road performances, I don’t think these players would need to make major adjustments.  I think their production in both locales is more than adequate as is.  Really, there are only two regulars who would profit notably from understanding and adjusting to their home ballpark.

Arenado

If you were to only look at Nolan Arenado’s road numbers, you would see exactly the hitter the Cards hoped they were dealing for.  In 80 road games (308 road at bats), Nolan hit 20 home runs, drove in 56 runs, and hit .279/.336/.549 – an .885 OPS.  But, statistically speaking, the shock of switching Coors Field for Busch Stadium did take its toll.  In 285 home at bats, Nolan managed 14 home runs, with a .228/.287/.435 batting line (a .722 OPS).

In a late-season interview, Arenado expressed regret over the decline in batting average.  In the interview, it sounded like he understood that he had become overly pull-conscious at it sounds like he understands the changes that will bring his 2022 season more in line with his expectations.

Moving from Coors to Busch is about as severe a transition as I think you can experience.  I fully expect Nolan to make the necessary adjustments.

Bader

Of all the current Cardinals – at least among those who seem to have a future with the team – no one presents the opportunity for growth that Harrison Bader does.  On the road, Harrison Bader was not only an All-Star, but a potential MVP.  With injuries limiting him to just 51 road games (and 192 road at bats), Bader clocked 13 home runs, drove in 36 (although he always hit at the bottom of the order) and slashed .328/.380/.604 – a .984 OPS.  Normalizing his at bats to a 550 at bat season, if Bader had been healthy and played in a normal ballpark, he would have finished with 37 home runs, 103 runs batted in – and 17 stolen bases, for that matter – to go with his .984 OPS.

But the player whose skill set seems tailor-made for Busch struggled mightily in his home park.  In 175 Busch at bats, Harrison hit 3 home runs, drove in 14, and batted .200/.264/.303 – a .567 OPS.

Along with O’Neill, Harrison made impressive strides as a hitter in 2021.  But his power doesn’t really play in his home park.  During the season at home, he hit 13 fly balls that travelled at least 340 feet in the air.  Only 3 cleared the fence, while the other 10 were caught on the track.  His 13 road home runs came on just 22 fly balls hit at least 340 feet in the air.  He also collected 3 doubles on those hits.  Only two of his 16 home runs went to right field – both, of course, on the road (July 27 in Cleveland, and September 25 in Wrigley).

Toward the end of the season – as the team as a whole began to migrate from a philosophy of pulling for power to a more balanced offensive approach, Harrison began to make some of the adjustments that will ultimately bring him success in his home park.  Many of his most important hits during the winning streak came on at bats where he slapped an outside pitch to right.

Harrison would be the trickiest.  In theory, he could approach hitting on the road just as he did this year.  But he would accommodate his swing and mind-set when playing at home.  Tricky, but not impossible.

Will the Fences Come In?

I’m afraid that my expectations are that the fences will come in.  It’s an easily defensible move.  The best move, though, is to give this young and talented pitching staff the full benefit of an elite defense playing in a large ballpark, and making necessary adjustments to the way they play offense in spacious Busch.  This is the choice that will provide the maximum home-field advantage.

O’Neill

How deep the Cardinal playoff run will be is anybody’s guess.  If you have to get past the Dodgers’ then I guess a one game, win-or-go-home setting is easier than needing to beat them 4 of 7.  But one thing St Louis can hang its hat on is that young tiger Tyler O’Neill is riding into the playoffs on a torrid hot streak.

After a 6 for 10 series against Chicago – in which 4 of the hits were for extra-bases (including 2 home runs), Tyler ended his season hitting safely in 7 of his last 8 starts – getting multiple hits in 5 of those games.  O’Neill hits LA hitting .406 (13 for 32) and slugging .906 (2 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs) in those starts.

The hot streak cemented Tyler’s recognition as Player of the Month in the NL.  In 32 September/October games, O’Neill hit .328 (39 for 119) and slugged .731 (7 doubles and a triple to go with his 13 home runs).  He scored 31 runs, drove in 30 (including 5 game-winning hits) and even stole 5 bases during the month.

Max Scherzer is, of course, a tough opponent.  But if he makes a mistake to Tyler, it could be a season-defining moment for the young man.

Carlson

One of the most intriguing hitters in the lineup as the playoffs arrive is the rookie Carlson.  Dylan hits the playoffs riding a seven-game hitting streak.  In his last 24 plate appearances, Carlson has 4 singles, 1 double, 3 home runs and 4 walks – a .400/.500/.900 batting line.  With every game, Dylan seems to be more and more comfortable in the big games and the big moments.

Nootbaar

Among the bench players, Lars Nootbaar is another rookie getting better with every at bat.  He finished on an 8 for 18 streak (.444) that included 2 home runs (both in the same game) – a .778 slugging percentage.

Lester and Woodford

The final two starters of the regular season – Jon Lester and Jake Woodford – both scuffled a bit in their playoff tune-ups.  Unlikely to pitch again unless St Louis advances into the Divisional Round, both left something to be desired in their final outings – and neither has really taken advantage of the benefits of pitching at home.

Lester lasted 5 innings in his start, allowing 4 runs on 6 hits – including a grand-slam.  Woodford gave 3 runs in his 5 inning outing.  In six starts at Busch this season, Jon went 0-1 with a 6.25 ERA.  He gave 5 home runs in 31.2 innings.  In his last 4 home starts, Jake posted a 5.09 ERA while allowing a batting average of .301.  His record was 1-2 in those games – including the last loss of the regular season.

NoteBook

St Louis won the first game of its last six series (a good trend to continue on Wednesday night).  Their final game loss broke their streak of six straight series victories.

Paul Goldschmidt authored the walk-off win on Friday, and Carlson put the Cards ahead with a late single in the Saturday game – although that hit did not hold up as the game winner.  Goldschmidt finished the season with 15 game-winning hits and 5 late, game-changing hits.  Carlson also finished with 5 late game-changing hits.

In the final analysis, Yadier Molina finished first on the team in game-winning hits with 16.  Goldy finished second, and Arenado – with 14 – finished third.

Molina also had the most late, game-changing hits with 6.  Right behind him were Goldschmidt, O’Neill and Carlson with 5 each.

At 2:11, the Sunday game (which was called after 7 innings) was the quickest game St Louis played since the second game of a June 20 double-header in Atlanta (also a 7 inning game) took just 1:58 to complete.  The 46,525 who showed up on Sunday was the largest crowd to see a Cardinal game since July 3, when a crowd of 48,182 flocked into Coors.  It was the largest home crowd of the season – edging out the 45,239 who had come to see the Saturday game the night before.

The series average of 44,460.7 was also the largest of the season, eclipsing that Colorado series that averaged 40,676.8 for four games in early July.

As noted above, St Louis finished 45-36 at home – winning 12 series, losing 9 and splitting 5 – in spite of the fact that they were outscored in their home games 314-307.  The home games averaged 3:06.3 and were played before a total attendance of 2,102,530 – an average of 26,281.6 per home date.  Home games were played in an average temperature of 78.0 degrees.  The Cards completed 6 of 7 possible sweeps at home.  Only Kansas City avoided the broom in St Louis, when they claimed a 6-5 win on August 8 (their only victory against their cross-state rivals in six games this season).  St Louis was swept twice at home in 6 chances, and were 4-4 in rubber games played in Busch.

With Sunday’s loss, St Louis fell to 21-5-2 in series when they won the first game.  They were just 2-16-6 when they lost the first game.  They went 3-5 when pushed to a rubber game after winning the first game of a series.  They were 2-4 when they forced a rubber game after losing the first game of a series.

St Louis finished 37-30 in games against teams that had won its previous series (they were 10-8-3 in 21 such series).  They swept 4 of those series (in 6 opportunities) but were swept twice in 4 chances by those teams.  They were 3-4 in rubber games against teams coming off a winning series.

In total, their 90-72 season consisted of 23 winning series, 21 losing series, and 8 splits.  They successfully swept 13 series in 18 attempts, suffered only 5 sweeps in 12 chances, and finished 5-9 in all rubber games.  All Cardinal games averaged 3:10.2 in length, and the total attendance of 3,764,509 averaged out to 23,382.0 per date.  The average temperature of all Cardinal games was 76.2 degrees.

When Edmundo Sosa started the final game at shortstop, it broke DeJong’s streak of 8 consecutive starts at the position.  Modest as it was, it was the longest current streak of consecutive starts at the same position by any Cardinal player.  As Mike Shildt took the final five meaningless games to rest some regulars, the season ended with no one having made more than 4 consecutive starts at the same position.  Arenado (at third base) and O’Neill (in left field) finished with those honors.

With a hit in two at bats in the final game, Harrison Bader finished his 2021 season with career highs in batting average (.267), slugging percentage (.460), OPS (.785) and home run percentage (4.0).  His strikeout rate (21.2 percent of his plate appearances) was the lowest of his young career.

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.

Mix In Just a Dash of WhiteyBall

Personally, I think he was bunting for a hit.  But the scorer credited Dylan Carlson with a sacrifice hit – which is fine with me, as it fits in nicely with the topic of the day.

Last night in Milwaukee the booming bats spoke early.  Nolan Arenado got the Cardinals on the board first with a two-run homer.  In the bottom of the second, the Brewers employed two solo shots of their own to even things up.

After that, the pitchers took over.  There would be no more long balls – and, for that matter, no stringing together of hits.  One team would turn to the manufacture of offense, and that team – your Cardinals – would go on to claim their ninth consecutive victory (and eleventh of twelve), 5-2 (box score).

We pick up the action in the top of the sixth, when Tyler O’Neill worked a lead-off walk.  Freddy Peralta’s first pitch to Arenado was a slider a little bit up and over the outside corner of the plate.  Making no real effort to reproduce his home run of the first inning, Arenado simply dumped Peralta’s pitch into right field for the single that moved O’Neill to second.  Two batters later, Yadier Molina squeezed a grounder into left.  With left fielder Christian Yelich charging the play – and with only one out – most baserunners would probably hold at third.  Tyler O’Neill isn’t most baserunners.

Among the more overlooked aspects of the Cardinal offense is its speed.  It shows up some in the stolen base totals – where the Cards rank third in the league, but only 13 above the league average.  More than just stolen bases, though, this is a team that doesn’t fear taking that extra base.  Here, as soon as the ball trickled into left, Tyler knew he was going to score.  The throw wasn’t close.

One inning later – now with Hunter Strickland on the mound – Matt Carpenter lined a lead-off hit to left (What a concept! Hitting the ball the other way!).  Yelich, supposing the hit was nothing more than a single was surprised to find Carpenter rounding the bag and heading for second – which he made easily.  What followed next could have come straight out of Whitey Herzog’s playbook.  A grounder from Tommy Edman sent Carpenter to third, and a fly ball from Paul Goldschmidt added an important insurance run.  Now it’s 4-2.

One more inning – one more example.  The leadoff hitter reaches for the third straight inning when Arenado draws a walk from Brent Suter.  Carlson then drags his bunt up the first base line.  He is barely out at first, while Nolan advances to second.  He would score from there on a floating single to center from Molina – and we had our 5-2 final.

For the game, 5 Cardinal batters reached base with no one out.  Three of them scored.  It’s a piece of the offense that has been missing for a good chunk of the season.  Coming into September, St Louis was bringing home 52.8% of batsmen who reached base with no one out – a fairly pedestrian total.

This month, however, the offense has upticked to 5.05 runs scored per game, even though the team batting line (.257/.309/.458) isn’t dramatically improved.  Much of the difference is that the Cards have found a way to chase home 49 of the 80 batters who have reached with no one out (61.3%).

It hasn’t been drastic enough to draw comparisons to the famous Cardinal teams of the Eighties, but it has been a poor-man’s version of it.  There has been some base thievery – the Cards are 10-1 in stolen bases through 19 games this month.  Mostly, though, it’s been the execution of situational baseball – stuff that they frankly weren’t all that good at through most of the season.

Of course, the power has been nice.  St Louis batters have launched 30 home runs in the first 19 games of the month, and their team slugging percentage sits more than .200 points higher than their team batting average.  But if all of your offense is home-run dependent, there will be a lot of games you will lose if you can’t, once in a while, do a few little things to create a run here and there.

Trust me, I’m not the only St Louis fan that smiles warmly when this team occasionally plays small ball.

Arenado

A recent five-game hitting streak made it look like Nolan was about to catch fire.  But his sputtering season turned cold again as he went hitless in the first two games against the Padres.  Nolan now has two hits in back-to-back games, so maybe he is trending back up.

Nolan’s home run came with two-out in the first.  This month, Arenado has been a particularly tough out when hitting with two outs.  He is now 7 for 22 (.318) with 5 of the hits going for extra-bases (1 triple and 4 of his 7 home runs for the month).  His 11 two-out runs batted in this month are nearly twice the 6 that Yadier Molina (who is next on the team) has.  Arenado is slugging .955 in those at bats.

Speaking of Yadi

Both of Molina’s hits and RBIs came with one out in the inning.  For some reason, that seems to be his comfort zone.  Since the All-Star Break, Yadi is hitting .157 (8 for 51) with no one out in an inning, and he is hitting .228 (13 for 57) with two outs.  But when batting with just one out, Yadi is 22 for 62 – a .355 average.

Edman

The victory saw the end of Tommy Edman’s nine-game hitting streak.  Tommy hit .308 (12 for 39) during the streak.

Lester

After a shaky first four games wearing the Birds on the Bat, Jon Lester – who won his 200th game last night – continues to provide St Louis with a much-needed second dependable rotation arm.  Over his last 6 starts (4 of them quality starts) he is 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA and a .203 batting average allowed.  Of the 9 earned runs he’s allowed in those starts, 8 have come off solo home runs.

In 4 September starts, Lester is 2-0 with a 2.59 ERA.

Whitley

Kodi Whitley uncharacteristically walked a batter, but otherwise delivered a scoreless seventh.  That is now 12.1 consecutive scoreless innings spread over his last 11 appearances.  The last 44 batters he’s faced are hitting .158 with no extra-base hits.

McFarland

In the season’s second half, the Cardinal pitching staff has been remarkable once they manage that second out of the inning.  At that point, opposing hitters manage a .197 batting average against the Cards.  T.J. McFarland has been a big part of that.  After getting the double-play ball off the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr. to relieve the pressure in the eighth, TJ proceeded to retire pinch-hitter Pablo Reyes of a soft fly ball.  Since he’s been with the team, batters with two out are just 6 for 34 (.176) against McFarland with 1 home run (a .265 slugging percentage).

Garcia

Even though his scoreless streak was snapped on Sunday, Luis Garcia continues to have a tremendous impact out of the Cardinal bullpen.  In 27 innings of the season’s second half (after his scoreless ninth last night), Luis has faced 106 batters.  They have managed 14 singles, 5 doubles, 1 sacrifice fly, 5 walks (1 intentional) and 26 strikeouts.  Seven of them have scored, so Garcia’s second-half ERA is 2.33 with a .190/.226/.240 batting line against.

Thoughts on the 2011 Team

Last weekend, the team hosted a reunion of the 2011 World Championship team.  Like most other St Louisans, the sight of these heroes stirred memories that are almost sacred to me.

Of course, I remember where I was for Game Six.  Game Five of the Divisional Series against Philadelphia was even more nerve-racking.  I swear I shook for about two hours after the game was over.

But my most enduring memories of that team aren’t of their eventual triumph, but of the myriad struggles that led to those moments.

I remember the season starting with the loss of Adam Wainwright for the season on like the second day of Spring Training.

Ryan Franklin began the year as the Cardinal closer.  Franklin had saved 27 games the year before, after saving 38 and being named to the All-Star team in 2009.  But over the winter, age had caught up with the then-38-year-old Ryan.  He blew the save on opening day, and had 4 blown saves by April 17 – at which point (with an 11.57 ERA) he was removed from the closer’s role.  He would linger in various middle-relief roles until he was released after giving 2 runs on 3 hits in a third of an inning against Baltimore on June 28.

This kicked off a season-long search for a closer.  Eight different pitchers recorded saves for the team that year, including Jason Motte – who claimed the role for the playoffs.

Chris Carpenter – whose season would end in glory – started the season 1-7.  Albert Pujols was hitting .262 as late as June 1.  Albert – you’ll remember – hit .328/.420/.617 during his 11-year Cardinal career, so .262 was a true struggle at that stage of his career.

It seemed that every aspect of the team that was supposed to be a strength had dissolved into mediocrity with no warning whatsoever.

When a moth flew into the ear of Matt Holliday in the eighth inning of the August 22 game against the Dodgers, it was almost as though the frustrating season had turned into theatre of the absurd.  What else could possibly go wrong for this team?

Leading 1-0 at the time Matt was removed, the Cards went on to blow that game in the ninth inning as well – setting the stage for a three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers.  One hundred and thirty games into the season, and the team was 67-63 and ten games out.  There was – at this point – ample evidence to suggest that this team was mediocre at best.  Any analysis on any level could have measured all the areas that this team fell short in.

But never at any time did the team itself believe that.  Against all evidence to the contrary, in the seclusion of their locker room they knew that they were more than that.  With all the reason in the world to give up on themselves and that season, this team never did.  Their faith never ever wavered.

That’s one of two great principles that I took from that team.  That it’s what you believe about yourself – what truth about yourself that you determine to hold onto in spite of what seems obvious and, perhaps, contradictory to the rest of the world – that matters.

The other great principle derives from the larger situation.  The deficit – which eventually grew to 10.5 games – was only the tip of the iceberg.  Adding to the frustration and seeming futility of the season, it was also the year that manager Tony LaRussa suffered all summer long from a bout of shingles.  And then, toward the end of the year, Jeannie Duncan – wife of pitching coach Dave Duncan – was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

More than just a battle against the mathematics of elimination, the triumph of that team was wrought in the crucible of considerable pain and in the shadow of tragedy.  It was almost as though some unseen power (God, if you’re a believer) threw as formidable a gauntlet as imaginable at this team – something that would drill down to the very marrow of their beings – not out of malice or in any kind of attempt to overthrow them.  But because this power – call it what you will – knew that this team was strong enough to triumph over all this adversity.

And that is, ultimately, what makes that team the greatest team of all time.  At some point, some other team may well rebound from a 10.5 game deficit at some late stage of some season and go on to postseason glory.  It would seem unlikely that that team – or any future team – would be called on to endure what these guys endured.

I often claim a transcendent aspect to sports – something of far greater meaning than the fortunes or misfortunes of a bouncing ball.  This team was all of that.  And, in the wake of their ultimate triumph, they left the record of their journey behind as a metaphor for our journey.

This was that other great principle.  That our greatest triumphs are the children of our deepest agony.  That which is easily achieved changes nothing.  That journey that demands everything is the journey that transforms.  Really, it’s the only thing that can transform.

Watching the final celebration on the mound, announcer and native St Louisan Joe Buck summed the proceedings with “What a team.  What a ride.”

It was all of that.  And so much more.

Eliminations

Back to the more mundane proceedings of the 2021 season, the Cardinal win last night eliminated the Chicago Cubs from all playoff consideration.  Again, this had been a foregone conclusion for some time.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 6 of their last 8 games.

The 5 runs scored nudges the team’s season-long scoring average to 4.25 runs per game.

With the game-winning hit, Molina re-takes the team lead with his fifteenth of the season.

Lester registers his 200th win in spite of the fact that he never won 20 games in a single season.  He won 19 twice and 18 another year.  The way starters are currently used makes winning twenty games in any season surprisingly difficult.

However it may end, to this point Lester’s sixteenth season hasn’t been one of his best.  His 5.55 strikeouts per nine innings would be a career worst, as would his .478 opponents’ slugging percentage and the .820 OPS against him.  On the plus side, Jon still hasn’t thrown a wild pitch.  He has never made it through an entire season without throwing at least one.

Paul Goldschmidt is up to 560 at bats for the season.  His career high (set in 2013) was 602, leaving Paul in range to surpass that. 

Goldschmidt is still walking in just 10% of his plate appearances.  While that rate is considerably above the league average (around 8.2%), it would still represent a career low for Goldy, who walked 10.2% of the time in 2012.

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.

On a Roll on the Road

When Nolan Arenado flipped a single through the nearly vacant right side of the Met infield to drive in Paul Goldschmidt in last night’s eighth inning, it put a bow on three days of an offensive orgy in Citi Field.  Last night’s 11-4 final (box score) featured 16 hits – 8 of them for extra-bases.  The outpouring brought the offensive totals for the three games (all wins) to 25 runs on 41 hits (including 9 doubles and 6 home runs).  The team-wide batting line for their visit to the Apple was an encouraging .331/.378/.548.

So what do we make of this?

It seems we’ve been fretting over this offense for the entire year.  We look at the lineup and we scratch out heads.  So this is an offensive breakthrough that is long overdue, right?  Well, sure.  But there’s another element at play here that can’t be dismissed.  It’s an aspect of this team and its situation that we actually discuss here several times a year every year since I’ve done this blog.

Let’s just say, it’s not a coincidence that this sudden offensive outpouring happened on the road.

Last night was the eighth time the Cards have scored ten or more runs.  Seven of those games have occurred on the road.  In 73 road games, St Louis has scored 5 or more runs 32 times.  They have been held under 4 runs 32 times also.

In 72 home games, they have hit the five-run mark just 23 times, being held under 4 runs 39 times.

For the season, the team holds a .242/.311/.378 batting line at home (.689 OPS), where they score an average of 3.71 runs per game.  They have 64 home runs in their home park – hitting one every 40.1 plate appearances.

The batting line on the road is .240/.313/.423 (a .736 OPS).  This has resulted in 4.68 runs per game.  With 103 road home runs, their rate away from Busch is one home run per 27.1 plate appearances.

As the team’s hitters have started to come together, the gulf between the home and road splits is becoming cavernous.

Beginning on August 10, when they began a 6-0 road trip through Pittsburgh and Kansas City, the Cards have won 14 of their last 19 road games.  The offense has performed at near video game levels.  St Louis has scored 119 runs over its last 19 road games (6.26 runs per game), and have done so while hitting .287/.353/.512.  In the 19 road games, they have bashed 34 home runs – hitting one every 22.2 plate appearances.

In between the 19 road games, they have played 15 at home.  They are 7-8 in those games – games in which they have scored 45 runs (3.00 per game) while hitting .218/.287/.346.  They have 12 home runs in their last 15 home games – one every 45.2 plate appearances.

The knee-jerk perception is that the home games – since they included a series against the Dodgers – included tougher teams than the road games.  Apart from the Dodgers (who they split four games with), that’s not as true as you might think.  The home games included five games against Detroit and Pittsburgh (games the Cards went 2-3 in while scoring a total of 13 runs).  The road games included three each in Cincinnati and Milwaukee – as well as the three against the Mets, who were a .500 team when the Cards hit town.  St Louis was 6-3 in those games, scoring 55 runs.  They scored 20 runs in the three games in Milwaukee against one of baseball’s most feared pitching staffs.

This will actually be the subject of a significantly more in-depth exploration after the season is over.  It’s timely as the organization has finally recognized that there is a deep divide here.

For now, I want to suggest that the offense that we’ve been kvetching about all summer is probably better than we give it credit for.  We have seen multiple moments where things seemed to be coming together, only to watch the offense suddenly dry up.  Probably, we didn’t connect the offensive surges with their road trips and the sudden bouts of futility with their returns to their pitcher-friendly home park.  As the organization is finally prepared to do something about this (hopefully something other than moving the fences in), this dynamic may change significantly next year.

The immediate future, though, is a little complex because of this dichotomy.  Should this team hold on to the final playoff spot, they will predominately be a road team through the rest of their playoff existence.  This could be a positive, as the team has been playing exceptionally well on the road lately.

In the specific, though, this initially means Los Angeles and San Francisco – two of the most Busch-like parks in the league.  One of those two teams will win the West Division and finish with the league’s best record (barring a surprising finish from Milwaukee).  This will give that team the right to face the winner of the Wildcard game in the first round.  The team that doesn’t win the division will go in as the first Wildcard and host the game that St Louis is fighting to get into.

The door prize for the second Wildcard team is the league’s two best teams lined up and waiting for them.  The upside of that, though, is that these first two levels of the playoffs will be the shortest series.  One will be a one-and-done, and the other will be a three-of-five. 

If you have to get past the Dodgers and Giants, your odds are best in short series.  And maybe if they can figure out how to score a few runs in their last 9 home games, they will find an approach that will work in the big ballparks on the West Coast.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continues his inexorable climb to the .300 mark after a struggling start.  Paul singled, doubled and homered last night, and has now hit in 7 of his last 9 games, with three multi-hit games in the mix.  Goldy’s average in these games is .364 (12 for 33).  He has scored 9 runs in the 9 games, while slugging .636 (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Paul is one of several Cardinals off to scorching hot Septembers.  Goldschmidt has been to the plate 59 times already this month, contributing 8 singles, 3 doubles, 4 home runs, 13 runs scored (in 14 games), 7 runs batted in, 10 walks and 2 stolen bases – a .306/.424/.612 batting line.  The surge has also carried Goldschmidt to a .324 average in the second half (68 for 210) with a .590 slugging percentage (15 doubles, a triple, and 13 home runs).

Edman

Tommy Edman singled and doubled last night, pushing his hitting streak to 6 games.  It was his second straight two-hit game, but still leaves him hitting just .286 (8 for 28) during the six games.

Tommy has been one of the bats at the forefront of the recent road success.  Over the last 19 road games, Edman is hitting .325 (27 for 83) and slugging .566 (8 doubles and 4 home runs).

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill stretched his young hitting streak to 5 games in a row – getting two hits in each of the last three – when he singled and doubled last night.  O’Neill is hitting .381 during the streak (8 for 21).  This is part of an even longer hot streak for the young outfielder.

Tyler has hit safely in 9 of his last 11 – with multiple hits in 5 of the games.  Over his last 11 games, O’Neill is hitting .372 (16 for 43) and slugging .721 (3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He has scored 11 runs in those games.

O’Neill leads the team for the month of September in batting average (.333 on 19 of 57 hitting) and slugging percentage (.667 on the strength of 4 doubles and 5 home runs).

Arenado

Kind of the missing offensive link, cleanup hitter Nolan Arenado seems to be turning the corner and heating up with the rest of the team.  He singled and homered last night, giving him a baby five-game hitting streak, and his second multi-hit game during that streak.  Nolan is now 7 for his last 20 (.350) with a triple and 3 home runs in those at bats (.900 slugging percentage).  He has 8 RBIs in his last 5 games.

Arenado is one of the primary players who has been hurt by his home field.  Since the break, Nolan is a .304 hitter on the road (28 for 92) with a .652 slugging percentage (3 doubles, a triple and 9 home runs).  He has 21 runs batted in over his last 24 road games.

In the 29 home games since the break, Nolan is hitting .191 (22 for 115) with just a .230 on base percentage (he has 6 walks).  For the season, Nolan is slashing .230/.289/.444 with 13 home runs and 47 runs batted in at home, and .280/.332/.557 with 19 home runs and 52 runs batted in on the road.

Sosa

While his series began with his errant throw drilling an umpire, Edmundo Sosa ended up going into New York to do what everyone goes to New York for.  He became a star.  He had hits in all three games – including an opposite field home run on Wednesday, made several exceptional defensive plays, and ran the bases with an alert aggression.

As each day passes, Sosa looks less and less like a flash in the pan, and more and more like the shortstop of the future.  In 76 at bats over his last 26 games (20 starts) – a substantial sample size – Edmundo is hitting .355 (27 for 76).  He is up to .316 for the month of September (12 for 38) and .321 (34 for 106) in 43 games in the season’s second half.

Half of his six home runs have been hit to the opposite field, and another shot out to straight-away center.  Only two have been pulled.

Edmundo is hitting .377 (23 for 61) in his last 16 road games.  He’s scored 14 runs and driven in 13 in those games with a .639 slugging percentage (1 double, 3 triples and 3 home runs).

Bader

Harrison Bader is another Cardinal who comes home on a hot streak.  Bader has hit in 4 of his last 6, getting multiple hits in 3 of those games.  He is 8 for his last 23 (.348) including 2 doubles and last night’s home run – good for a .565 slugging percentage.  Harrison is now hitting .308 (16 for 52) and slugging .538 (3 doubles and 3 home runs) for the month.

Bader seems like a natural fit for a large stadium like Busch, but his hitting approach only rewards him on the road.  In the season’s second half, Harrison is a .313/.353/.573 hitter on the road, and a .210/.282/.257 hitter at home.  All 6 of his second-half home runs have come on the road.

For the season, Bader is a .294/.350/.534 batter away from home, and a .200/.272/.290 performer at home.  Ten of his 12 home runs have been hit on the road.

Lester

Pushed around early, Jon Lester turned in another strong, strong performance last night.  In 3 September starts, Jon is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA.  Over his last 5 starts he has 3 quality starts, a 2-0 record, and a 2.12 ERA.  Lester has allowed 7 earned runs over his last 29.2 innings – 6 of them on solo home runs.

Lester has been something of an anomaly as he has pitched far better on the road (1.93 ERA in 23.1 innings) than he has at home (6.08 ERA in 26.2 innings) since he became a Cardinal.

A Miller

Andrew Miller faced three batters last night, and all got hits.  He didn’t make a lot of bad pitches, and much of the contact against him was soft – but that’s how it’s been going for Miller in a very snake-bit year.  Off and on the injured list with foot blisters, Miller has pitched to a 7.30 ERA and a .340/.393/.560 batting line in 12.1 innings since the break.

Miller has been a kind of microcosm of what most of the pitching staff is experiencing.  Andrew has a 7.07 ERA in 14 innings on the road this year, but a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings at home.

NoteBook

The 7-run lead the Cards took into the ninth inning last night was their largest ninth-inning lead since they carried an 8-run lead into an eventual 15-4 rout of Milwaukee on September 3.

The three games in New York averaged 3:56.3 per game – making it the longest series by average time of the season. An abbreviated, two-game set in Chicago (July 9-10) that ended the season’s first half had been the longest, the two games averaging 3:44.5.

The Met series presented the Cards their fifteenth opportunity to sweep a series, the ninth such opportunity they’ve had on the road, and the fifth time they had a chance to sweep a team that had won its previous series (the Mets, in fact, had won 10 of their previous 15 before falling victim to the Cards).  St Louis has now completed the sweep 10 of 15 times overall, 5 of 9 on the road, and 3 of the five against teams fresh off a winning series.

O’Neill’s two-run, first-inning double gave him his sixth game-winning RBI of the year.  Arenado (14), Yadier Molina (14) and Goldschmidt (12) are far in the lead in this category, but Tyler has moved into fourth, just ahead of Bader and Edman, who have 5 each.

It took them 145 games, but the Cards finally have 50 quality starts for the season.

Lester has yet to throw a wild pitch this year.  In his sixteenth season, Jon has bounced at least one every season so far.

While he’s been an important fresh face in the Cardinal bullpen, T.J. McFarland is no rookie.  He is pitching in his ninth big-league season, and had 400 career innings pitched before joining the Cards.  During those seasons, McFarland has shown flashes of being a pretty good pitcher – he posted a 2.76 ERA in 58.2 innings in 2014, and a 2.00 ERA in 72 innings in 2018, but this year has been out-of-nowhere good for the 32-year-old lefty.  At his current pace, TJ will set career bests for ERA (1.82) walks per nine innings (1.52) average against (.212), on base percentage against (.255), slugging pct against (.308) and OPS against (.562).

Bader’s home run tied his career high (12) and his 3 RBIs set a new career high at 41.  His 3.5 home run percent will also be a career high if he can keep it there, and – importantly – his 19.8 strikeout percentage will be – by far – a career low.  Bader has never finished a season of any length with a strikeout rate of less than 26.1%

After the barrage of last night, the team slugging percentage has crept back up over the .400 mark to .401.

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.

Every Little Mistake

The pitch was far from being a hitter’s pitch.  The first-pitch changeup hugged the lower outside frame of the strike zone.  It was a pitch he would probably have bounced to short, if he had hit it.

But Jose Barrero doesn’t get to play much, and he was in no mood to be too picky.  This was his fourth at bat of the game, and he had yet to be terribly selective.  His first two times up, in fact, he had swung at pitches very much like this one – down in the strike zone – and had, in fact, bounced both to the shortstop.  Once into a double play.

So Jose was unlikely to let this one go by – and he didn’t, swinging over top of it for strike one.  The next pitch – a sinker – was even farther outside.  Almost involuntarily, Jose stuck his bat out and fouled it off.  And now, he was set up at 0-2.

All month long – as the Cardinal September ERA has soared to 5.29 – these kinds of at bats have been burning the Cardinal pitching staff.  Across all of the NL, once the count gets to 0-2 batters go on to hit .154/.188/.246 (a miniscule .434 OPS).  Across all of the NL, once a batters swings and misses the first pitch in an at bat (as Berrero had done), they go on to hit .209/.262/.350 (an also poor .612 OPS).

Here it was the top of the ninth inning of a 2-2 game.  Cincinnati’s Berrero was up with a runner at first and one out.  If Jose had actually hit that first pitch, he could easily have bounced into his second double play of the night, and sent the game tied into the bottom of the ninth.  Lucky for him, though, he didn’t.

The next three pitches weren’t terribly close to the plate – two sinkers well inside and a third that was similar to the one that Jose had fouled on the second pitch.  This time he laid off the pitch, and now the count was full.

On the mound for St Louis was T.J. McFarland, riding an 18.2 inning scoreless streak.  The Reds were toward the bottom of the lineup, and TJ just needed to make a pitch to retire Barrero and bring up Delino DeShields (or to end the inning, if he could coax another double play out of Jose).

But, as has happened all too often this month, McFarland blinked first.  His 3-2 pitch was a slider at 89.3 miles per hour right smack down the middle of the plate.  The aggressive Barrero jumped all over it, lining it on one hop off the center field wall, and, when the relay throw home was well wide, that marked the end of TJ’s scoreless streak.

Jose advanced to third on the throw home, and scored himself on DeShields’ grounder.  It was the decisive moment that pushed Cincinnati past a Cardinal team fresh off two emotional victories over the Dodgers.  The final in this one was 4-2 (box score).

Across all of the National League, batters are hitting .255/.284/.428 in plate appearances where the hitter swings at the first pitch, and, as mentioned .209/.262/.350 after he misses that first pitch. (These numbers, by the way, courtesy of baseball reference).  During the early days of September, Cardinal opponents are hitting .314/.330/.593 when swinging at that first pitch.  Even after they miss that pitch, they still go on to hit .265/.294/.571 in the rest of the at bat.  The Barrero double was the seventh extra base hit already this month against the Cards in 49 such at bats (the third double to go with four home runs).

The teams that the Cardinals have faced this month (Cincinnati, Milwaukee and the Dodgers) haven’t really been aggressive at the plate.  They’ve offered at that first pitch just 25.8% of the time (the league average is 30.5%).  But they haven’t missed many mistakes.  The last sinker to Barrero may have been the worst pitch that McFarland has made this month.  It was, at the very least, the first run he’s surrendered this month.  And it cost the Cardinals a much-needed game.  It doesn’t seem like this team can make the smallest mistake without costing them a game.

The loss leaves the one-step-forward, one-step-back Cardinals back to three games behind the Reds and Padres – currently tied for the last playoff spot.  The fact that Cincinnati is one of those teams directly in front of them in the chase for this Wildcard spot adds extra importance to these games.  Add in the fact that this is our final series against the Reds – and thus the last chance to take matters into our own hands against them – and you get some idea of the urgency of the situation.

Urgency notwithstanding, this was yet another lost opportunity.

On May 19, the Cards took down the Pirates, 8-5.  At that point, this team was 25-18 and 3.5 games ahead in the division.  In 97 games since that high mark of the season, St Louis has gone 46-51.  From 3.5 games ahead, they have toppled to 15 games behind in the division.  It is the farthest the Cardinals have been from first place since they finished the 2016 season 17.5 games behind.

Injuries have certainly been a part of the tumble.  As I’ve mentioned a few times, that May 19 win was the ninth (and so far final) win of the season for Jack Flaherty.  But injuries notwithstanding, there have been many of those 51 losses – like last night’s game – that were there for the taking.  Games that the Cards have found a way to loose.

Just two games over .500 now, the 71-69 Cardinals still sit just 3 games out of a playoff spot, with only the Reds and Padres in front of them.  They have two more against Cincinnati and three with the Padres, so this overly-forgiving season continues to offer them opportunities.  But the sand is pouring quickly now through the glass.

Lester

There was very little whooping and celebrating in Cardinal land when the Birds landed Jon Lester at the trading deadline (and for all of that, I still think they will regret giving up on Lane Thomas).  And Jon’s first four starts wearing the birds-on-the-bat didn’t endear himself to his new fandom.  He lasted just 20.1 innings in those games with a 7.08 ERA.

But Jon has been getting better every time out.  In a playoff-esque game against the Reds last night, Lester delivered 7 innings of 2-run, 3-hit ball.  A good enough effort to have earned him the victory.

Over his last 4 starts, Jon has allowed just 5 runs in 23.2 innings (a 1.90 ERA).  He is 1-0 in those contests, but handed over a lead to his bullpen on two other occasions.  He easily could already have earned his 200th win.  Perhaps the thought of Jon Lester winning his 200th game AS a Cardinal instead of AGAINST the Cardinals is more irony than the baseball gods can take.

At any rate, Jon has vaulted in the pecking order to be our second-most dependable starter (behind the remarkable Adam Wainwright).  Where would we now be without him?

Garcia

Someday, of course, Luis Garcia will give up a run as well.  Nobody puts up zeros forever.  But that day wasn’t yesterday, as Garcia delivered a scoreless eighth inning, sending the game to McFarland and the ninth.  It was the twentieth consecutive time that Luis has come out of the bullpen for the Cards without allowing a run – a span now bridging 23 innings.  During those innings, he has only walked 3 batters – 1 intentionally.

Molina

After a scuffling stretch, Yadier Molina is loudly hinting that he is ready for the playoff push.  He has back-to-back two hit games, hitting a home run in each.

Yadi swing at the first pitch in 2 of his 4 plate appearances, collecting a single in those at bats.  Yadi is actually at his best when he is aggressive.  In 27 plate appearances this month, Yadi has chased after the first pitch he’s seen 17 times – a very aggressive 63% of the time.  He is 6 for 16 (.375) with a double and 2 home runs in those at bats (an .813 slugging percentage).

Arenado

Nolan Arenado may, arguably, be the most frustrated player on the roster.  Three times last night, Nolan drove flyballs to the outfield with exit velocities of 89.4 mph or higher.  But he got way underneath all three of them (launch angles of 48, 52 and 41 degrees).  None of the flyballs travelled more than 319 feet, and Arenado finished the day 0 for 3 – and now 0 for his last 13.

This is the worst time of the season to find yourself in a slump.

Nolan took the first pitch in all four plate appearances last night.  He may be getting a little too selective early in the at bat.  In 35 plate appearances this month, Arenado has taken the first pitch 26 times (74.3%).  He has gone just 4 for 24 (.167) in those at bats (with just 1 walk and a sacrifice fly).

DeJong

Paul DeJong has found himself back in the starting lineup – courtesy of a wrist injury that has limited Edmundo Sosa.  Paul has taken some better at bats, but without the hoped-for results.  DeJong was hitless last night and is 1 for 13 (.077) this month.  Stretching over his last 17 games (11 starts) Paul is hitting just .140 (6 for 43).

Eliminations

Milwaukee’s win and Chicago’s loss eliminated a third team officially from the division race in the Central.  While the Cubs are still mathematically alive for the Wildcard, the math for the division has run out on them.  While no one expects anyone but the Brewers to take the crown, the Reds and Cards still have a mathematical chance.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Dodgers Fall One Run Short – Again

Through most of last night’s first inning, Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright struggled to keep his pitches down in the strike zone – and the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the process of taking advantage.

With runners at first and second, Adam’s 2-1 sinker refused to sink, and Corey Seager drove it over the head of Tyler O’Neill in left for a double.  Max Muncy raced home to score the game’s first run, and Mookie Betts was headed there as well.  But a perfect throw from Harrison Bader, and an even better relay from Edmundo Sosa clipped Betts at the plate.  The inning ended one batter later.  The Dodgers had one, but might have had a few more.

Now the Cardinals were up in the bottom of the inning.  After a leadoff single from Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt fought off an inside fastball and lofted it to medium deep left field.  Dodger left-fielder Chris Taylor came on the dead run and nearly grasped the fading fly.  But the ball was in and then out of his glove, and Goldschmidt joined Edman on base.

Then, Mitch White – the Dodger’s starting pitcher – allowed Edman a running start from second as he and Goldschmidt executed a double-steal.  It was a critical advance, as it turned Nolan Arenado’s ground ball into a game-tying run-batted-in instead of an inning ending double play.

With one out in the bottom of the fourth (and the Cards up 3-1), Yadier Molina ripped a groundball past third.  As the ball bounced directly back to the left fielder, and given Molina’s below average running speed, this was going to be a single.  But Taylor (again) bobbled the ball in the corner, allowing Yadi second.

On the next pitch, White bounced a changeup in the dirt, and Yadi was at third, where he scored on a single up the middle off the bat of Sosa.

Sosa’s hit came with two outs – as did Molina’s two-run homer in the first.

Coming out of the LA bullpen in the eighth, to keep the deficit at two runs, Shane Greene left a cutter up in the zone, and O’Neill dropped it into the Dodger bullpen.

That run – St Louis’ fifth – would stand as the difference in the Cards’ 5-4 win (box score) as LA’s ninth-inning rally would come up short.  But this victory was a combination of all the little moments just described.  Had the Dodgers changed any one of the moments above, they would at least have taken this game into extra-innings (if not won the thing outright).

Now, every team – even a juggernaut like the Dodgers – has games like this.  Games that could easily have landed in the “won” column, but – for one reason or another – managed to get away from them.  For the Dodgers, though, this has seemed to happen much more often than might be expected.

One-Run Difficulties in LA-LA Land

The unchecked financial inequities that currently exist in baseball have given Los Angeles the opportunity to construct what is nearly an All-Star team.  This baseball titan is streaking towards the playoffs with an 88-52 record.  Yet this super-team now sports a 21-23 record in one run games – and an even more surprising 4-13 record in extra-inning games.  This team has had a lot of opportunities this year to make that one play that would make a difference in a tight game.  And more times than not, they have gone home losers in those games.

This, of course, is the kind of thing that can be easily blown out of proportion.  It’s common for teams to struggle in situations like this during the season, and then excel in one-run games in the playoffs.  It’s not the kind of number that should send the Dodger faithful to their ledges.

But it is the kind of small thing that can embolden the rest of the league.  Whether true or not, the perception is that if you can hang close with the Dodgers – if you can force them to make plays or pitches in tight games – you have a strong chance to take them down.

When sharing a league with a monster like the Dodgers, any glimmer of a weakness can give hope.  And the more of these tight games that they lose, the more confident the rest of the league grows.  And, probably, the more the Dodgers begin to question themselves.

Los Angeles’ final 22 regular season games include 6 against San Diego, 3 against Cincinnati and 3 against Milwaukee – although those games will be the final three of the season, and the Brewers may not have anything left to play for by then.

The Dodgers – currently trailing San Francisco by 2 games – may well have to keep the pedal down for the entire rest of the season, if they want to avoid the one-and-done Wildcard game.

A few more tight losses like last night, may assure that they end up in that game.

As to the Cards, they are now 19-17 in one-run games, and their performance there has been pretty much what you would guess from the record.  They have staggered through the season trading-off dramatic victories and heart-breaking losses without sustaining anything in either direction.

But where the Dodgers are hoping not to end up in that Wildcard game, that is pretty much the only hope left for the Cards.  And they have plenty of work to do to get there.

Sosa

Edmundo added an infield hit to his RBI single last night and has continued hot, even as the level of the competition has risen around him.  Edmundo has now hit in 10 of his last 12 games, getting multiple hits in 4 of them.  He is hitting .400 (16 for 40) in those games, and has driven in 11 runs while slugging .675 (1 double, 2 triples and 2 home runs).  At .364, Edmundo is the Cardinal’s leading hitter this month (8 for 22), and his second-half average is up to .333 (30 for 90).

Edmundo has also played in 28 of the team’s 36 one-run games, starting 21 of them.  He is 21 for 68 (.309) in those games.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado saw his seven-game hitting streak go by the board last night.  He hit .346 (9 for 26) and hit three home runs (for a .692 slugging percentage) during the streak.

Nootbaar

With his regular starts diminished, Lars Nootbaar has seen his numbers start to dive recently.  After an 0-for-3, Nootbaar is 0 for his last 8.

Bader

After a brief hot streak which saw him collect 8 hits over a 5 game span, Harrison Bader has cooled at the plate of late.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Bader is 0 for his last 10.  His second-half average has fallen to .249.

NoteBook

After scoring first in 9 straight games, the Cards have now surrendered the first run in 5 straight games.

Molina’s two-run homer stood up as his fourteenth game-winning RBI of the year.  He has increased his team-lead to two over Arenado and Goldschmidt.

The win was #182 for Wainwright, leaving the Cardinal ace 18 wins short of 200 for his career.  With his announcement that he will be coming back for one more season, this is a count-down that can commence in serious.

Waino is also up to 1993 career strikeouts.  He should reach the 2000 plateau in another start or two.

Giovanny Gallegos retired the last 2 batters, although he allowed one of two inherited runners to score.  That was only the third inherited runner (out of 25) to cross the plate against Gio.  The save was Gallegos’ fifth of the year – a career high.

UPDATE: In an afternoon contest, the Cards have fought their way to a 2-1 victory over Los Angeles.  The Dodgers are now 21-24 in one-run games, and 2.5 games behind San Francisco.

St Louis is up to 20-17 in one-run contests.  They finish the year 3-4 against the Dodgers.  All three wins were by one run.  Three of the four losses were by 5 runs or more.

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.

Homering for the Cycle – With a Couple Left Over

For all the complex numbers I dig up here, if you were to habitually refer to just one metric to determine the difference between victory and defeat, that number would be the RISP number – how the teams did with runners in scoring position.

Sometimes you just don’t get RSIP opportunities if you run into a dominant pitcher.  Some days you do terrible in RISP opportunities, but win anyway – through some combination of circumstances.  But the simplest way to understand this game is to see who took advantage of their opportunities once they’ve advanced a runner as far as second base.

Of course, you could also hit six home runs in the game.  That simplifies things as well.  Even then, though, the “when” of the home run can still make a substantial difference.

Last night – as the Birds launched 6 home runs in a game for the sixth time this century – they also went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position.  Those hits included Harrison Bader’s three-run homer and a grand slam off the bat of Yadier Molina (who added an exclamation point to his historic start catching pitcher Adam Wainwright) as the Cards homered for the cycle (with a couple home runs left over) in a 15-4 thrashing of the first place Milwaukee Brewers (box score).

This was the first time in five years that St Louis has collected a six-pack of home runs.  The 2016 team did it twice (on April 15 against Cincinnati and June 26 against Seattle).

Tellingly, five of the Cards’ six six-homer games have come on the road – two of them now in Milwaukee.  They were in Milwaukee the first time they hit six in a game this century on April 9, 2000.

To add to the statistical symmetry of the sixth, six-home run game this century on the night Wainwright would make his first start after his fortieth birthday – which happened to be his 300th with long-time battery-mate Molina, the Cards ended up with 15 or more runs for the fifteenth time this century.  The last of those was a little over a year ago – September 1, 2020 in a 16-2 win in Cincinnati.  This was only the second time in Waino’s 353 career starts that he was backed with 15 or more runs.  He started against Atlanta on August 22, 2008 where he sailed to an easy 18-3 win.

As to that runners-in-scoring-position number, in their 69 victories this year the Cards are now slashing .302/.390/.552 (a .942 OPS) when hitting in RISP situations.  Their opponents in those 69 wins are at just .164/.278/.238 (a .516 OPS) in their chances.  In the Cardinals’ 64 losses, they are just .194/.282/.254 (a .535 OPS) in RISP chances, while their opponents have gone .292/.413/.497 (a .911 OPS) in their chances.

A lot of times it really isn’t any more complicated than this.  Get the big hit and you win.  Getting a lot of home runs helps, too.

Bader

Harrison added a couple of singles to his important home run.  Bader now has 2 three-hit games in his last three contests.  His six hits (including 2 home runs) in his last 11 at bats has pushed his average back up to .251.  Harrison – whose strikeouts are way down this year – has gone four games without a strikeout.

Bader – who was 2-for-2 in RISP chances last night – has been hitting .333 (14 for 42) with runners in scoring position during the season’s second half.

Arenado

Frustrated at the plate for much of the month of August, Nolan Arenado (who hit two of last night’s home runs) is starting to find his rhythm.  Nolan now has hits in four straight games, getting multiple hits in two of them.  He is 6 for his last 15 (.400) with 3 home runs (all hit in his last two games) for a 1.000 slugging percentage.

Sosa

Coming off a very strong August (.364/.453/.618) Edmundo Sosa shows no signs yet of cooling off.  He added a single and a home run last night, and has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7, with 3 of those being multi-hit games.  With a .440 batting average during those games (11 for 25) and an .880 slugging percentage (1 double, 2 triples and 2 home runs), Edmundo has been as hot as anyone in the lineup.  Sosa has scored 9 runs and driven in 9 over those last 7 games. 

His hot streak has pushed him to a .333 average in the season’s second half (25 for 75) with a .560 slugging percentage (2 doubles, 3 triples and 3 home runs).

Wainwright

All of the offense stole some of the spotlight from the inexpressible brilliance of Adam Wainwright, who dominated again.  August’s NL pitcher of the month (when he went 5-1 with a 1.43 ERA), Waino held the Brewers to 1 earned run over 6.1 innings.  But even that doesn’t do his performance justice.  He was chased from the mound in the seventh by a walk, a flair, and a well-struck grounder right to short that Sosa couldn’t quite handle.  With a little better luck, this could have been another eight-inning, no runs allowed start from the ageless Wainwright.

Even so, it was his ninth consecutive quality start – a streak that has seen him throw as few as 6 innings just once and allow as many as three runs but once.  Over his last 64.1 innings, Adam is 7-1 with a 1.54 ERA, while holding opposing hitters to a .189 batting average and a .233 on base percentage.  Adam has walked just 11 batters in his last 9 games, and has gone 6 games since his last home run allowed.

McFarland

T.J. McFarland was tabbed to get the Cards out of the seventh inning mess.  He faced four batters and got four dribbly grounders, which – due to a little uncharacteristic defensive insecurity – still bled across two runs (one earned) before he could secure the final out.  The runs were charged to Wainwright, so TJ’s long scoreless streak – now 16.1 innings over 16 appearances – is still intact.  The last 60 batters to face McFarland have 8 singles, 3 doubles and 3 walks – a .193/.233/.246 batting line.  Of the last 47 batters who have put the ball in play against him, 29 have pounded the ball into the turf – 62%.

Elimination Notes:

Arizona lost last night, finally falling far enough off the page that they have become the National League’s first team to be completely eliminated from playoff consideration.  They won’t be the last.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 9 straight games.

At 70 degrees (remember they play in a dome in Milwaukee) this was the coolest Cardinal game since July 7.  They were in San Francisco during an uncharacteristically chilly July and played in 58 degree temperatures.

The 15 runs scored in the first game against the Brewers were more runs than St Louis scored in the entire series against Cincinnati. They scored 10 in three games against the Reds.

The game-winning hit was Arenado’s twelfth – tying him with Paul Goldschmidt for second on the team.  Both are one behind Molina’s 13.

The 11-run win brought their road record into curious harmony.  They are now 34-34 on the road, where they have scored 312 runs and allowed 312 runs.

The offensive eruption also pushed the team slugging percentage north of .400 for the season to .401.

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.

Waino Deserved Better

It was the second inning of last night’s game, and Adam Wainwright had his old buddy Kolten Wong set up at 0-2.  As he has done hundreds (if not thousands) of times during his career, Adam spun a “chase me” curve.  It started over the heart of plate and then just tumbled, so that by the time Kolten chased it, the pitch had dropped just below the strike zone.  It was about as well executed as any curve Wainwright tossed that evening.

The resulting hit – which left the bat at 71.1 mph was popped down the left field line at a too-high launch angle of 55 degrees.  The expected batting average on the ball was a pretty miniscule .087.  Tonight, that would be good enough as the ball found no-man’s land – just barely fair and just beyond the glove of Nolan Arenado – the closest of three Cardinals who were converging on the play.

Wong’s bloop double drove home Rowdy Tellez – whose own two-strike double fell just beyond the grasp of center-fielder Harrison Bader.  In the next inning, Christian Yelich stayed back on another two-strike curve, getting enough of it to dribble it past first and into the corner for another double.  He would later score the second run of the game.

That would be all of the scoring, as Milwaukee took game one of this mini-showdown against St Louis by a 2-0 score (box score).

The three, two-strike doubles that essentially accounted for the difference in the game had an aggregate expected batting average of .907 – meaning that the three of them together should have been worth one hit.  Baseball can be bizarre like that.

Coming into the game, there were few pitchers out there that you would dread a two-strike count against more than Wainwright.  In his first six starts in the season’s second half, Adam put 69 batters into two strike counts.  Those batters managed 2 singles, 3 doubles, a triple, 1 walk, and 1 hit batsmen – a .090/.116/.164 batting line – while 38 others struck out.

Last night, the Brewers had nearly as many two strike hits in the game (5 in just 13 at bats) as Adam had allowed since the break – and they doubled the number of two-strike doubles against him.  Many were not terribly well hit.

On the other hand, several of the outs that Adam recorded were hit much harder than some of the hits.  His last two outs in the fifth – for example – left the bat 97.3 mph and 104 mph.

All of this is, of course, why you can never read too much into any single baseball game.  On any given night, the pop-ups will fall in and the line drives will be caught.  The problem now, though, is that these remaining games against Milwaukee (and the Cards still have 12 to play against them), have taken on an exaggerated importance.  Entering the series trailing Milwaukee by ten games in the division, this is the worst imaginable time for pop-flies to drop and dribbling grounders to find the right-field line.

The issue, though, is deeper than that.  The last time this team played a team over .500, they were swept by Atlanta.  They came into this series having won 8 of 9 – but all against last-place teams in Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  There has been an attempt to spin that success into something more than it was.  As much as anything, this team wants to be taken seriously – by its own fans at least.  We were promised that these guys “would be ready” for the series against Milwaukee.

Hopefully, this is not what “ready” looks like.

Until they actually win some of these games, it’s hard not to connect this team to the team that recently had no answer for the Braves.  Losing this series to Milwaukee would be damaging.  It would leave them 11 games out with just 42 games left.  Being swept by the Brewers (a very real possibility) would be nearly back-breaking.

Like many of their critical losses this year – including all three against Atlanta – this game was winnable.  But in the at bats that spelled the difference, Milwaukee came through and St Louis – fresh off of scoring 51 runs in 9 games against the Royals and Pirates – failed to capitalize on the few opportunities they had.  They were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Round two is tonight.  Splitting these final 12 with the Brew-Crew won’t be enough.  If this team is serious about contending, it’s not too early for them to start to make their move.

More Waino

Although last night’s losing pitcher, Adam tossed another quality start – working around 9 hits (5 of them doubles) 2 walks and a hit batsman to allow just two runs over six tumultuous innings.  Since the All-Star Break, Adam has 6 quality starts in 7 games with a 2.57 ERA.  He has 4 wins and now 2 losses.  Adam is the only pitcher on the team to have enough innings to “qualify” among the league’s starting pitchers.  He has pitched 154.2 innings for the team this year.  The next highest total is the 91 pitched by Kwang Hyun Kim.

Waino has been the team’s most indispensable player this year – and he deserved a better fate last night.

McFarland

T.J. McFarland led another solid bullpen performance.  He threw a scoreless seventh.  The bullpen as a whole kept Milwaukee off the scoreboard for the final three innings.

TJ is unscored on in 8.1 innings over 8 appearances this month.  He has walked only one of the last 32 batters to face him – a marvelous achievement for this bullpen.

Garcia

After TJ continued his scoreless streak, Luis Garcia pitched the eighth and continued his.  In his most important opportunity so far, Garcia allowed a couple of hits, but held the score where it was.  Luis now has allowed just 6 hits (5 singles, one double) to the last 43 batters he’s faced over 12.2 scoreless innings.  He has given no walks in those innings, so those 43 batters have a line of .140/.140/.163 against him.  He has thrown 72% of his last 138 pitches for strikes.

Goldschmidt

Not many Cardinals carried their hitting proficiencies from the Kansas City series with them, but Paul Goldschmidt did.  Paul had 2 of the 4 St Louis hits, pushing his hitting streak to six games.  Paul now has multiple hits in 4 of the 6, and is hitting a robust .455 (10 for 22) during the streak.

Goldschmidt also has hits in 10 of his last 12 games, with 7 of the games being two-hit efforts.  He is hitting .378 (17 for 45) during that stretch.  The hot stretch raises Goldy’s average to .340 for the month (18 for 53) and .315 for the second half (35 for 111).

In the eighth inning, Goldschmidt got a two-strike hit of his own, flipping a 2-2 fastball from Devin Williams into right-center field.  Goldschmidt is now 9 for 30 this month (.300) with two-strikes on him.  The league average in a two-strike count is .162.

Arenado

Goldschmidt’s hitting streak lives on.  Nolan Arenado’s does not.  Hitless in 3 at bats, Nolan’s baby hit streak ends at 5.  It was a very loud five games though, as Nolan hit .350 (7 for 20) and slugged .900.  Five of the 7 were for extra bases (including 3 home runs) and he drove in 10 runs during the streak.

Bader

Hitless in four at bats last night, Harrison Bader is scuffling through August at the plate.  He is hitting .189 this month on 10 of 53 hitting – all singles.

Recent Scoring Changes

Edmundo Sosa’s four-hit night against KC was downgraded to a three-hit night.  In the fifth inning he hit a dribbly grounder that managed to get under the shortstop’s glove.  Should really have been scored as an error all along.

While Sosa loses a hit, Yadier Molina gains one.  In the sixth inning of the August 10 game in Pittsburgh, St Louis scored two runs to extend their 2-1 lead to a 4-1 lead.  The first of those runs scored when Yadi’s hard-hit ground ball shot past the glove of shortstop Kevin Newman.

This was originally scored an error – and I kind of thought it would stay an error, as I pretty much expected Newman to make that play.  Nonetheless, it was very well struck (106 mph off the bat), and on re-consideration, Molina has been awarded the hit and the RBI.

On August 4, the Cards dropped a 7-4 decision against Atlanta.  It was 4-4 in the eighth, when the Braves broke the tie with a sacrifice fly.  They made it a 7-4 lead with a little Keystone Kops action.  Joc Pederson, the next batter, drilled a shot into medium-short right off of Giovanny Gallegos that Dylan Carlson charged and slid for.  But the ball hit off his glove and rolled away from him.  He scrambled to his feet and chased after it – eventually colliding with Harrison Bader, who was also coming over to retrieve the ball.  Pederson ended up on third with what was originally ruled a double and an error (charged to Bader).  On re-consideration, they decided that neither outfielder was really at fault – it was just one of those things that happens.  Pederson gets a triple – and the error on Bader vanishes.

NoteBook

The Cards had led at some point in 11 straight games before last night.

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.

Working Through Some Credibility Issues

Well, you have to admit that they did make it look convincing.

Eleven days ago, the St Louis Cardinals absorbed the final loss of a three-game sweep at the hands of Atlanta.  They were 53-55 at that point, and trailed Milwaukee in the division by 11.5 games.  They also languished 8 games out of the last Wild Card spot.

The sweep at the hands of the Braves seemed to confirm everything we feared about this team – in particular, concerns about their character.  Atlanta has a long way to go to establish themselves as one of the elite teams in the league, but they had little difficulty brushing away the Cardinals.

Immediately on the heels of that humbling series, St Louis has won 8 of their last 9 games – pulling themselves within 4.5 games in the Wild Card race, while shaving a little bit off of the Brewers division lead.  And they’ve done it in more-or-less dominating fashion, outscoring their last 9 opponents 51-23.

This refreshing run was capped by a nearly immaculate road trip.  Not only did they win all 6 games, they did so in mostly overwhelming fashion, by a combined 37-13 score. 

Before Friday’s game, they hadn’t won a game by as many as six runs since the very last game before the All-Star Break.  Before Saturday, it had been 44 games since they had managed an eight-run lead against anyone.

But over the just concluded road trip, they were world beaters.

They led at some point in every game by at least three runs, and only once during the trip was the final score closer than three.  They led by as many as six runs in three of the games, ending up winning those by 5 or more runs.  They hit .277/.343/.488 (an .831 OPS) during the trip, while their opponents hit .202/.245/.306 (a .551 OPS).  They out-homered the other teams 10-5 over the course of the excursion.

Yes, my friends, they were impressive indeed.

Here, of course, is the rub.  The entirety of this 8-1 run – including the 6-0 road trip – came against Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  If you have not seen the standings recently, Kansas City is 49-67, while Pittsburgh is currently 42-76.

This has been a trend that has haunted this team all year.  Against teams that began this morning at or over .500, St Louis is just 20-32 (.385).  They are 42-24 (.631) against teams that began the morning with losing records.  This is a topic that I will look into more in depth after the upcoming Milwaukee series, but suffice it to say that their consistent struggles against the better teams (like Atlanta) robs this team of a lot of credibility.  A lot of teams have pushed around the Royals and the Pirates this year.  Whether or not they can beat the Brewers starting tomorrow is the question.

Sosa

The flare-up with Paul DeJong’s back opened the door for Edmundo Sosa to start all three games against KC.  He was 5 for 7 over the last two (and if you haven’t heard yet, his 4-for-4 game on Saturday was reduced to a 3-for-4 by the scorer).  Edmundo is hitting .324 (12 for 37) in the second half.

Like most of his teammates, though, Edmundo’s road/home splits are fairly extreme.  Since the break, Sosa is hitting .409 on the road (9 for 22) and .200 at home (3 for 15).

The Cardinal team as a whole has played 16 home games in the second half, during which they have hit 18 home runs and averaged 3.94 runs per game while creating a batting line of .261/.328/.409.  In 11 road games since the break, they have hit 19 home runs and scored 5.55 runs per game with a .269/.343./486 batting line.

For the season, St Louis is scoring 3.89 runs per game at home, with a home run every 35.3 at bats.  They are scoring 4.33 runs per game on the road, with a home run every 25.6 at bats.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado was one of several Cardinals who had a lot of fun in Kansas City.  He was 5-for-12 against the Royals with a double and 3 home runs.  Nolan heads home riding a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .350 (7 for 20) and slugging .900 (2 doubles to go with the 3 home runs).  Nolan has 10 RBIs in his last 5 games – 9 of those in KC.

Arenado has also been a different hitter away from Busch.  Since the break, Nolan has had 51 plate appearances on the road – with All-Star level production.  He has turned those 51 plate appearances into 5 singles, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 8 walks and a hit-by-pitch – a batting line of .317/.431/.732.  At home he has been a .233 hitter (14 for 60) with only 3 walks (a .270 on base percentage) – although he also has 4 home runs.

Goldschmidt

In tandem with Arenado for, perhaps, the first time this season, Paul Goldschmidt also enjoyed great success against the Royals, hitting .385 (5 for 13) during the series.

Like Arenado, Goldschmidt also carries a five-game hitting streak into the Milwaukee series.  He is hitting .421 (8 for 19) during the streak.  Goldy has also hit in 9 of his last 11, with six of the games contributing multiple hits.  Paul is hitting .357 (15 for 42) with 11 runs batted in in those 11 games.

This recent hot streak has Paul hitting .320 for the month (16 for 50), and .306 (33 for 108) in the season’s second half.

Time for a Nootbaar

Rookie outfielder Lars Nootbaar popped out of his shell a bit over the trip.  He went 4 for 10 in Pittsburgh and KC, with a double and 2 home runs.  He is now 5 for his last 11 overall (.455) with a 1.091 slugging percentage.

His opportunity was created by Dylan Carlson’s wrist injury.  This is the way it’s always been in the past with this team.  Someone goes down, and the next man up picks up the slack.

Bader

Harrison Bader had a splashy series in the field, making, perhaps, a half-dozen gold-glove caliber plays.  He was also very steady at the plate, going 4 for 13.  Harrison actually leads the team in batting average in the season’s second half.  Over his last 27 games, Bader is hitting .313 (31 of 99).

Now, like many other Cardinals, Harrison will have to keep it up on his home turf.  For the season, Bader is a .300 hitter on the road (33 for 110) with a .536 slugging percentage (5 doubles, 7 home runs).  He’s just a .240 hitter at home (23 for 96).

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter didn’t enjoy the prosperous road trip that some of his teammates did.  Matt finished the jaunt to Pittsburgh and KC hitless in 8 at bats.  Carpenter is 5 for 31 (.161) since the Break with a .226 slugging percentage.  He has 2 doubles and 1 run batted in in the second half.

Those second half numbers include a 1 for 17 mark (.059) on the road.  Back in 2018, Matt hit 23 home runs on the road and slugged .611 in 342 road plate appearances.  Over the last 3 seasons, Carp has had 471 road plate appearances with a .188 batting average and 11 home runs.

Garcia

With every outing, Luis Garcia is looking more and more like the next great discovery in the Cardinal bullpen.  He pitched in 2 of the 3 games against the Royals, retiring all 7 batters he faced.

Garcia now has 11.2 scoreless innings pitched in his last 8 games.  The last 38 batters to face him have 3 singles, 1 double and no walks – a batting line of .105/.105/.132 to go along with his 0.00 ERA.

McFarland

A very different pitcher from Garcia, T.J. McFarland is also raising eyebrows.  He hasn’t been scored on in 7 straight games (7.1) innings, while allowing 5 hits (4 singles and 1 double) and 1 walk.  The last 27 batters to face him have a line of .192/.222/.231.  He’s gotten ground balls from 15 of the last 23 batters to put the ball in play against him (65%).

NoteBook

The team’s streak of scoring first reached 7 straight games before ending on Saturday.  They have now scored first in 8 of their last 9.

Among his 9 RBIs in the series, Arenado drove in the winning run twice during the KC series.  He now has 11, one behind Yadier Molina’s team-leading 12, and one ahead of Goldschmidt’s 10.  The other game-winning-RBI in the series went to Tommy Edman.  He is now fourth on the team with 5.

The Cards have won the first game of a series 20 times this year.  They are now 15-3-2 in those series.

The 22 runs scored in KC were the most St Louis scored in a series since they also scored 22 in four games against Arizona from May 27-30.  They last scored 22 runs in a three-game series when they swept Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh from April 30-May 1.

Meanwhile, the 6 runs allowed by the pitching staff was the fewest the Cards have surrendered in a series since Miami managed 3 runs in three games against them from June 14-16.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Small Steps on the Road Back

The last time we saw Pittsburgh, it was in the midst of the most dismal stretch of the Cardinal season.  While 2021 has been frustrating throughout, it reached its nadir in June.

For those who may not remember that month, it started with a six-game losing streak (four of those at home against Cincinnati), included a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs in Chicago, and wrapped up with a five-game losing streak (one in Atlanta, two in Detroit, and the final two here at home against these Pirates).  Pittsburgh would go on to win three of the four games of that series.

We began the month with a 30-24 record, sitting just a half-game out of first.  After losing 17 of 27 in June, we finished the month 40-41 and 8 games out.

Winning the game after a loss is one of my character indicators.  During that ragged June, this team was repeatedly unable to turn things around, as one loss usually led to another.  After losing the first two against Pittsburgh, St Louis was 4-12 on the month when they had lost the game before.  At that point, they were 16-23 on the season after a loss.

When the Cards finally managed a victory against the Pirates, it wasn’t apparent that it was something of a turning point in the season.  And, in fact, that win didn’t spark the hot streak that we are still waiting for.  But, counting that win, St Louis has won 20 of its last 36 – and 12 of their last 17 after a loss after last night’s 4-1 win in Pittsburgh (box score).  The three-game sweep in Atlanta is the only time since late June that the Cards have lost more than two in a row.

Admittedly, it’s too small a piece of good news to flush the taste of that Atlanta series out of our mouths.  But the team has turned the page and is starting to show a flash of the resilience that they are going to need if they are going to make the late season push that they believe they have in them.

At the very least, I can say that last night Pittsburgh didn’t look like they were the better team.  It’s a statement I couldn’t have made last June.

Starters Lead the Way

In the finest Cardinal tradition, it has been the rotation that has taken it upon themselves to snuff out the losing streaks as they start.  Counting J.A. Happ’s six dominant innings last night, Cardinal starters have supplied 10 quality starts in their last 17 games after a loss.  They have only 38 all year in 112 games.  Dating back to their lone victory in that Pittsburgh series, Cardinal starters are 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA and a .226 batting average against when attempting a bounce-back from the game before.

The next step, of course, will be finding a way to extend their winning streaks to beyond two or three games – something that will have to happen if they have any hope of making things interesting.  But I look on this development as a very positive sign.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera’s hot streak continues on.  Providing the bridge from the seventh to the ninth inning last night, Genesis retired all four batters he faced (17 pitches, 11 strikes).  Over his last 11 games, Cabrera has thrown 10.1 scoreless innings, allowing just 3 hits while striking out 11.

Cabrera has been one of the team’s very best pitchers all season in games after a loss.  Genesis holds a 2.73 ERA and a .188 batting average against in 29.2 innings, while pitching in 30 of the team’s 56 games after a loss.

Carlson

It’s been a couple of fine games for Dylan Carlson, who backed his two-hit finale against the Royals with three more hits last night.  Dylan is hitting .375 (12 for 32) in the early days of August.

In the five games-after-a-loss the Cards have played this month, Carlson is 8 for 20 (.400).

Sosa

Edmundo Sosa gets into these hot streaks when he looks like he should be an everyday player.  Making a spot start last night, Sosa singled and tripled.  Edmundo has only played in 5 of the 8 games this month – starting just 3 – but he is hitting .417 for the month (5 for 12) and slugging .833 (as he has a home run to go with his triple).

In the season’s second half, Edmundo is 6 for 14 (.429) after a loss.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado is off to a ragged start in August.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Nolan carries a .194 average (6 for 31) through the first 8 games of the new month.

NoteBook

At 10,056 the announced crowd was the smallest the Cards have played before since May 27 in Arizona, when only 8,951 showed up to view the action.

Mother Nature turned the summer heat down, for one evening at least.  At 73 degrees, last night’s game was the coolest game-time temperature for a Cardinal game since July 10.  It was 71 pleasant degrees in Chicago that evening.

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.

Another Lead Slips Away

In April, the blast would probably have been decisive.

In last night’s game, Nolan Arenado threatened to do to Atlanta what they had done to us the night before.  In the first game of the final series between these two teams, the Braves scored five times in the first inning and never looked back.

In game two last night, Nolan launched a three-run, first-inning home run, and, for a moment, it looked like the Cardinals were on their way to answering.

Had this happened earlier in the year, there would have been little doubt.  Believe it or not, at one time this season, a three-run lead was nearly an iron-clad lock.

As the season wears on, it’s beginning to look more and more like the highpoint of the year occurred on May 19.  St Louis took down Pittsburgh that evening by an 8-5 score, with Jack Flaherty earning his eighth victory of the season (against no losses).  At that point, the Cards were 25-18 and 3.5 games ahead in their division.

Moreover, they were 18-0 in games in which they had managed a lead of at least three runs, and they were doing so with a pitching staff that clung ferociously to whatever slender leads the offense would provide them.

To that point of the season, the Cardinal pitching staff had pitched 117.2 innings holding a lead of three runs or less.  They allowed just 2 home runs in those innings, and pitched to a 1.45 ERA, with a batting line against of .151/.261/.198.  In 14 games in which they held a lead at some point – but never more than a three-run lead – this team was an impressive 10-4.

That, of course, was then.  In 64 games since that conquest of the Pirates, things have come apart a bit.  The last 31 times that they have managed to take a lead in a game, but couldn’t press that lead to at least four runs, they are 13-18 – part of an overall 28-36 skid that has dropped them at the start of today’s play 11 games behind the division-leading Brewers.  It is their largest division deficit since the 2016 team ended the season 17.5 games in arrears.

Yes, there have been some injuries – and the offense has been thready at best all season.  But one of the most troubling developments has been that this team has lost the ability to pitch with small leads.

Last night, new Cardinal J.A. Happ held onto the lead for a while, but Atlanta chipped him for single runs in the fourth and fifth to trim the Cardinal lead to one.  They then took the lead with two more in the sixth.

It took the pitching staff just 4.1 innings to go from the point that St Louis opened up their 3-0 lead to the point where they had frittered away all of it – an 8.31 ERA.  In 19 at bats, the Braves peppered Cardinal pitchers for 3 singles, a double and 2 home runs – a batting average of .316 with a .684 slugging percentage.

Sadly, this inability to close the door is consistent with the 63 games that immediately preceded it.  In the last 133 innings that this pitching staff tried to protect a lead of one, two or three runs, they have only a 5.08 ERA to show for it.  Since the All-Star Break, that number is 5.63 over 40 innings.

It’s one of maybe half-a-dozen red flags that concern me regarding the character of this team.  Yes, there have been a lot of injuries – 724 player games worth.  But there have also been a lot of winnable games that got away.  Last night’s winnable game became a damaging 7-4 loss (box score).

Helsley

Entrusted with the sixth inning and a one-run lead, Ryan Helsley couldn’t finish the inning.  Before he could get that third out, he surrendered the two-run home run that put the Braves on top.  Ryan has pitched in 27 of St Louis’ last 64 games, and now has 2 of the 9 blown saves the team has suffered during those games.  His ERA since that day in May is 5.04.  He’s given 5 runs in 7 innings in the second half.

Cabrera

In the midst of some recent bullpen struggles, Genesis Cabrera has rediscovered his dominance.  He pitched a clean seventh, and has thrown 7 innings of 2-hit shutout ball over his last 8 appearances.

Gallegos

Last night wasn’t the first time that Giovanny Gallegos has scuffled in the late innings of a tie game.  Over the last 64 Cardinal games, Gio has pitched 10.1 innings in a tied game – allowing 7 runs and 3 game-winning hits in those innings.

Arenado

The lone real bright spot on offense was Arenado, who followed his home run with a double his next time up.  Over his last 8 games, Nolan is hitting .357 (10 for 28) and slugging .679 (1 double, 1 triple and 2 home runs).

Nolan’s double came with St Louis already ahead by three runs.  Arenado is one of the few Cardinal hitters who has thrived when hitting with small leads.  When batting with the Cards ahead by two or three runs, Nolan is hitting .386 (22 for 57) and slugging .737 (9 doubles, a triple, and 3 home runs).

DeJong

Paul DeJong sent his season batting average back below .200 last night with another 0-for-4.  Since a home run on July 27, Paul is 0 for 14 with 7 strikeouts.

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.