Tag Archives: Bader

This is Why You Always Have to Put the Fish Away

Of course, from the moment Starlin Castro jumped an errant slider for his fifth-inning home run, Jack Flaherty was doomed to be the losing pitcher in the contest.  With Jordan Yamamoto starting for Miami that evening, it was understood that all the Marlins would need would be any kind of run and they would be in great shape.

For Jack, though, his effort in the 6-0 loss (box score) is a kind of microcosm of his season.  Jack ended up pitching 7 innings allowing just 4 hits while striking out 8.  For six innings, he and Yamamoto were matching up in a classic pitchers’ duel.  Through six, Miami had 1 run on 2 hits, and St Louis had no runs on 1 hit – Flaherty had provided a double for his team’s only hit.

With the one-two punch of his fastball and slider keeping the Marlins under wraps, Jack had retired the first 8 batters in the game that he had gotten ahead of in the count – striking out 5 of them.

But the game spun away from him in the seventh, when he had a couple of fish backed up in the count, but couldn’t put them away.

Garrett Cooper opened the inning falling behind 1-2 in the count.  Flaherty’s next fastball wasn’t a terrible pitch, but it didn’t quite jam him, and Cooper laced it into left-center for a double.

Flaherty promptly jumped ahead of the next batter – Brian Anderson – 0-2.  But he hung the 0-2 slider, and suddenly it was a 3-0 Marlin lead.

On other days this kind of performance (3 runs in 7 innings) will usually gain you a victory.  These days in St Louis, though, the offense – such as it is – doesn’t afford much latitude.  In spite of the fact that the team is 9-7 this month, they are hitting a distressing .218 and scoring just 3.75 runs per game.  According to baseball reference, the team’s .656 OPS so far this month ranks them as the third worst in baseball – ahead of only Kansas City and Baltimore, while their batting average is better than only Cincinnati’s (.216).

These days, if you are a starting pitcher in St Louis, it is risky business to fall behind.

Jack – who has lost 3 of his last 4 decisions – has served up 8 home runs over his last 21 innings.

TylerWebb

Although the run didn’t score while he was on the mound, Tyler Webb did serve up the double to left-hander JT Riddle that set Miami’s three-run eighth into motion.  Tyler has now given runs in 3 of his last 6 games.  Over the 4 innings he has pitched in those games, the 20 batters to face him are hitting .400/.444/.667.  Tyler’s ERA for the month of June has risen to 4.26 over 6.1 innings.

JohnBrebbia

One of the team’s great assets in April and May, John Brebbia is scuffling through June.  Most of the real damage done in that eighth inning occurred with John on the mound (he allowed the inherited runner to score, and then added two more of his own runs in just two-thirds of an inning).

John has pitched 8 times this month, and given up runs in 4 of those games.  In 7 June innings, John has been banged for 9 runs (8 earned) on 9 hits and 3 walks.  It all equates to a 10.29 ERA and a .300/.364/.500 batting line.

Offense Dominated Again

Jordan Yamamoto must be thinking the majors are a piece of cake.  He has pitched only two games in the “show” and – not only has he not allowed a run in 14 innings – he has barely been threatened.  In those innings, he has given just 5 hits and 4 walks – a 0.643 WHIP.

Of course, both of those starts have come against the offensively challenged Cardinals.  His next start, I believe, should be in Philadelphia.  He may find out then that it won’t always be this easy.

As for the Cardinals, in an ironic counterpoint to the big hits Flaherty (and Brebbia, for that matter) gave up when they had two strikes on Miami’s hitters, the Cardinal batters couldn’t even taste success when they had the advantage.  St Louis was 0-for-7 against Yamamoto when they were ahead in the count.

The list of struggling Cardinal hitters remains pretty lengthy.

MattCarpenter

Hitless again in 3 at bats last night, Matt Carpenter still looks like he’s getting closer.  He is still hitting just .245 for the month of June.

PaulDeJong

Among the casualties last night was Paul DeJong’s seven-game hitting streak.  During the streak, DeJong hit .367 (11 for 30) and slugged .700.

PaulGoldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt endured another 0-for-4 at the plate.  He has 1 hit over his last 6 games (20 at bats).  For the month of June, Paul’s average has slipped to .179 (10 for 56).

MarcellOzuna

After a torrid start to the month, Marcell Ozuna is also starting to fade.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Marcell is just 3 for his last 17 (.176) with no extra-base hits.  Marcell’s last extra-base hit was the ninth-inning home run he hit against Miami’s Adam Conley in the blow-out win back on June 11 (23 at bats ago).

YadierMolina

Yadier Molina was 0-for-3 last night.  Over his last 7 games, Yadi is just 4 for 26, with 3 singles and a double.  He has drawn 1 walk, driven in 1 run, and struck out 7 times over that span, giving him a batting line of .154/.185/.192.

Yadi was behind in the count for all 3 plate appearances last night.  Since his return from injury, Yadi has found himself behind in the count on 46.9% of his plate appearances.

HarrisonBader

Harrison Bader’s hitless streak reached 5 games and 16 at bats after his 0-for-3 last night.  Bader is 9 for 50 (.180) for the month of June.

Bader had one of the at bats against Yamamoto where he was ahead in the count.  In the fifth inning he came up with a runner at first and two outs – the game was still 1-0 at that point.  After taking a ball, Harrison jumped on a fastball down and in and bounced to third.

All season, Bader has been unable to take advantage of being ahead in the count.  He is 2 for 12 this month when ahead in the count (.167) – both singles.  For the season, he is 9 for 42 (.214) when he has the advantage at the plate.  The hits are 7 singles (2 of them of the infield variety), 1 double, and 1 home run – a .310 slugging percentage.

If you don’t make hay when you’re ahead in the count, you will struggle to sustain a decent batting average – one reason Harrison’s has fallen to .220.

NoteBook

Here’s how the recent games have gone.  Last night’s game broke a streak of 5 straight games in which St Louis held the lead at some point.  It was also the sixth of the last seven games that the Cards had trailed in at some point.

Cards Overcome Sputtering Offense in Shutout of Miami

If it’s possible to hang a fastball, that’s what Austin Brice did in last night’s eighth inning.  It seemed to start at Dexter Fowler’s ankles, but then it rose and just spun in the middle of the zone.  For his part, Fowler launched it over the wall in right for the three-run homer that put Miami out of its misery and sent St Louis on its way to a 5-0 victory (box score).

Breakthrough opportunities were fairly rare – as has mostly been the case recently.  Two first-inning singles had given Dexter a first-and-second opportunity with two outs, but he struck out.

From that point, the Cardinals didn’t see a runner in scoring position till the fifth, when Matt Carpenter – who had made the score 1-0 with a third-inning home run – gave St Louis a two-out opportunity when he laid down a bunt-double.  The Fish gave away that run – in the first place by playing their entire infield on the right side to allow the bunt-double, and then Starlin Castro dropped Paul DeJong’s pop fly to short center to allow the run.

With DeJong advancing to second on the error, Paul Goldschmidt had the chance to deliver the key hit – but he grounded out.

The Cards followed by going down in order over the next two innings, so this final opportunity in the eighth was welcomed.

For the game, the Cards managed a .238 on base percentage with the bases empty, resulting in 21 of St Louis’ 33 batters coming to the plate with no one on.  This has been a recurring pattern.

Over the last 17 games, the Cardinals hold a .281 on base percentage when the bases are empty.  The results have been 62% of all Cardinal hitters batting with no one on, only 5 bases-loaded plate appearances all month, and 16 of the last 23 Cardinal home runs (69.6%) being solo shots.

Here’s the thing though.  St Louis has won 11 of those last 17 games.

Slowly, but consistently, the pitching is settling into the decisive factor the Cardinals have been counting on all season.  Sometimes it’s been two steps forward, one step back.  But, while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Cardinal pitching staff has put together a 3.42 ERA over these last 17 games.  That would be good enough for second in the league if they had been able to maintain that all year.

I’m not really sure that I believe in this team yet.  I would like to see them keep the streak going a little longer and, perhaps, see more wins against quality opponents.  But this is exactly the kind of thing that those who do believe in this team point to.  The fact that – even when the offense struggles to get out of its own way – the pitching can be dominant enough to keep them competitive.

A week ago they had just been swept by Chicago and sat one game under .500 and 5.5 games behind in the division.  Today they have trimmed that margin to 2.5 games, and have pushed their way to 3 over .500.  The opportunity is before them.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter continues to hint that he is about to turn the corner.  He had a big game on Monday with 3 hits, including a home run.  Carpenter has hits in 4 of his last 5 games.

Carpenter never batted last night with a runner on base.  That’s normal for him.  As he has spent most of the year as the leadoff hitter, 69% of his at bats have come with the bases empty.  Of his 10 home runs this season, 9 have been solo shots.

Paul DeJong

DeJong didn’t leave his hot streak in New York.  With 2 hits last night, Paul has pushed his hitting streak to seven games, getting multiple hits in three of them.  Over the 7 games, he is hitting .367 (11 for 30) with a double and 3 home runs.  He has driven in 6 runs during the streak, while slugging .700.  He has also hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna rebounded from a tough series in New York to collect a couple of singles last night.  Marcell is up to .340 (18 for 53) for the month of June.

One of Marcell’s hits came in his 2 at bats with no one on base.  Throughout the last 17 games, Ozuna has been one of the few hitters to get hits with bases empty.  He is, in fact, hitting .378 on 14 hits in his last 37 such opportunities.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt’s season stays stuck in neutral.  He was hitless in 4 at bats last night, and has just 1 hit (that two-run home run in New York) over his last 5 games (16 at bats).  Paul is down to .192 (10 for 52) on the month.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina picked up two hits in his first game back from the injured list.  In the 6 games since then, hits have been harder to come by.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Yadi is 4 for 23 (.174) with 1 double (.217 slugging percentage) since that first game back.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader had the big first game in New York with 3 hits, a couple stolen bases, and the big defensive play.  He’s had no hits since.  With his 0-for-3 yesterday, Harrison is hitless in his last 13 at bats, with 7 strikeouts.

Miles Mikolas

In his three June starts, Miles Mikolas has had consistent issues keeping the bases clean.  Even though he shut the Marlins out through 6 innings last night, Miami batters were still 5 for 15 (.333) when hitting against him with the bases empty.  For the month, batters are hitting .355 (11 for 31) against him with the bases empty.

Last night he was very good once a runner reached.  The Fish were only 1 for 8 when they hit against Miles with a runner on base.  In his other starts this month, he hasn’t been so efficient.

Giovanny Gallegos

First out of the bullpen in support of Mikolas was Giovanny Gallegos, who recorded a scoreless seventh.  At some point someone other than me is going to have to start taking this kid seriously.  Gallegos has now thrown 12 scoreless innings over his last 9 games, giving just 4 hits and no walks – he has been throwing his pitches for strikes 75% of the time during this streak.  The last 38 batters he’s faced have a batting line of .108/.105/.162.

John Gant

John Gant had a couple rough games early in the road trip, as he gave runs in consecutive appearances.  Still, John has been more than just solid recently.  He pitched a scoreless eighth last night.  He has pitched in 8 of the last 17 games, throwing 10.1 innings with a 2.61 ERA.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks has held the back end of the bullpen very solid over the Cards recent rise.  He earned last night’s save with a 1-2-3 ninth.  He has now pitched in 7 of the last 17 games, with a 1.23 ERA and an .083 batting average against in 7.1 innings.

NoteBook

The victory was the Cardinals’ ninth this month – tying their total for the entire month of May.

Nonetheless, St Louis had trailed at some point in five consecutive games until last night.

The Cards scored first for the third straight game and the fourteenth time in their last 20 games.

Last night was game number 64 for Dexter Fowler this year.  Between his injuries and unending slumps, Dex played in only 90 games all last year.  He also now has 193 at bats, after finishing last year with just 289.  His strikeout was also his fifty-second of the season after striking out just 75 times last year.

Marlins Emphatically Deny Cardinal Sweep

So, if you are a rookie pitcher making his very first major league start – like Miami’s Jordan Yamamoto was last night – the one thing you might ask of your teammates is a little bit of a cushion.

Wish granted.

Before Cardinal starter Miles Mikolas could get out of the second inning, he was behind 5-0, and young Yamamoto carried it from there, slicing and dicing the Cardinal lineup for 7 three-hit, shutout innings.  There were more runs in the Marlins’ tank, but they didn’t need them as they rolled over the Cards 9-0 (box score).

Other than the fact that the game finally ended, there were few positives the visiting team could take from this most recent drubbing.  Few positives, but plenty of lingering concerns.

Be Concerned, Be Very, Very Concerned

As good as Jordan was on the mound, this game adds to a very long trend of offensive futility in St Louis.  Over their last 24 games, the Cards have now been shutout twice; held to 1 run three times; to 2 runs 5 times; and to 3 runs 4 other times.  St Louis is 3-11 in the 14 games where they have scored less than 4 runs.

Over the dismal 24 games, the Cardinals are hitting .214 and scoring 3.50 runs per game.  Manager Mike Shildt’s patience looks like it will have to hold out a little longer.

MattCarpenter

Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Matt Carpenter’s current slump has him with just 2 singles for his last 15 at bats (.133).  He’s had no extra base hits in his last 5 games.

Eleven games ago, Matt was re-installed as the leadoff hitter.  The change hasn’t sparked much.  Matt is hitting .226 (7 for 31) since then.

DexterFowler

After his own 0-for-3 last night, Dexter Fowler is now hitting .140 (7 for 50) over his last 17 games (13 starts). Only 2 of those hits are for extra-bases (he has a double and a home run), leading to just a .220 slugging percentage.

Dexter has drawn just 1 walk in his last 8 games, and is hitting .222 for early June.  In the Cardinal’s 24-game offensive tailspin, Fowler has the lowest average (.153) of any of the regulars.

HarrisonBader

Harrison Bader went 0-for-2 with a walk last night.  He now has just 1 hit over his last 4 games, and is hitting .200 (6 for 30) for the month.  That being said, 5 of the 6 hits have been for extra-bases, and Bader has also drawn 7 walks, so his OPS this month is actually a pretty healthy .875.

MilesMikolas

Loser of 4 games all of last year, Mikolas lost his fourth in a row last night.  Over the five starts, there haven’t been a lot of positive numbers – a 7.03 ERA, a .343/.377/.626 batting line against, and just 2 support runs.  Not a happy combination.

TylerWebb

Tyler Webb is another unsung Cardinal reliever who has been pitching very well of late.  Although he surrendered an inherited runner, Webb was the only Cardinal pitcher last night not to allow a run.

Over 12 innings in his last 10 games, Tyler has given just 2 runs on 5 hits.  The hits have been 4 singles and a double.  He holds a 1.50 ERA over those appearances, with a .132 batting average against, and a .158 slugging percentage against.

While walks have been an issue this year, Webb has walked just one batter over his last 5.1 innings, throwing 67% of his pitches for strikes in those innings.  The last home run Tyler allowed was to Yasiel Puig on April 25.  That was 17.2 innings (and 293 pitches) ago.

JohnBrebbia

A revelation earlier this year, John Brebbia has regressed to the norm with a deafening thud.  Miami put an exclamation point on last night’s win with a three-run home run off of Brebbia.

John has now been scored on in 3 of his 5 June outings – giving up at least 2 runs each time.  For the 4 total innings pitched this month, John has given 7 runs.  Opposing hitters hold a .294/.400/.765 batting line against him, and of the 11 batter to put the ball in play against him, only two have hit the ball on the ground.

Congrats to the Blues

We’ve talked baseball and football here, but until now no hockey.  But last night the St Louis Blues were finally able to lay claim to Lord Stanley’s Cup.

I have often felt that being a Blues fan was the closest a St Louisan could come to knowing what life must be like for Cubs fans.  When the Cubs finally broke their historic jinx a few years ago, I sort of felt that the same karma that had permitted the Cubs championship might take pity on the Blues.

Our jinx wasn’t nearly as long – although at 52 years it was long enough.

Some has been written about the fact that it was the Boston hockey team (the Bruins) on the other end of the ice.  It hasn’t been forgotten around here that the Cards were the opponents when the Red Sox (Boston’s baseball team) broke an impressive World Series jinx of their own in 2005.

The expansion St Louis Blues impressively made the Stanley Cup Finals in each of their first three years in existence – getting swept in each of those three final series – the last time by the Bruins.  At that point it would have been impossible to think that it would be a half century before this franchise would ever win it all.

Congratulations to the entire organization.

NoteBook

Miami was the eighth team St Louis has played this season that came to us after losing its previous series.  The Cards have now won 5 of those series, split 2 others, while losing just one (to the Padres in the opening series at home).  They are 16-7 when they get to play against a team that lost its previous series.

With 5 earned runs allowed last night, Miles Mikolas has been touched for 42 earned runs already this year in 78.1 innings.  He allowed only 63 all of last year (in 200.2 innings).

The home run he allowed was the fourteenth off of Miles already this year.  He allowed 16 all of last year.

Leadoff Struggles

It was a most unusual sight.  It was the top of the second inning of Sunday night’s game, and Marcell Ozuna trotted home from third to score the tying run.  It was an uncommon moment for a lot of reasons.

First of all, in the three weekend games (all losses), St Louis only scored 6 total runs, so any time a Cardinal runner crossed the plate under any circumstances, it presented a fairy unique occurrence.  Moreover, of the 6 runs the Cards did score, this was the only one that did not come courtesy of a home run, and the only time in the series that the Cards managed to tie the score once they had fallen behind.

It was also unique for what had happened 5 pitches earlier.  Ozuna grounded a ball in between short and third, and Kris Bryant – trying to make a play on the ball – threw it away, sending Marcell to second.  Thus, in the twentieth inning of this grueling and humbling beat down at the hands of the division-leading Cubs, Marcell Ozuna became the very first Cardinal leadoff man to reach base.

He wouldn’t be the last.  After going 0-for-19 to begin the series, St Louis would put 4 of their last 8 leadoff batters on base.  But only Ozuna would score.

Ozuna would lead off the fourth with another single, but would be thrown out trying to steal second.

Paul Goldschmidt would double to lead off the sixth, and Ozuna would follow with a single too hard hit to allow Paul to score.  But Paul would try to score on a ground ball from Dexter Fowler, and be thrown out at the plate.  A flyball and another grounder ended the threat.

Trailing by four, Kolten Wong walked to lead off the ninth.  He was still on first two outs later when Jose Martinez drew a walk.  But Matt Carpenter’s ground ball ended the game.

Even with the strong close, St Louis only put 4 of their 27 leadoff men on base – a scuffling .148 percentage.  And managed to score only 1 of the 4.  During April, when they averaged 5.45 runs per game, their leadoff hitters held a .361 on base percentage, and came home to roost 55% of the time they reached.  In May, as the run production slipped to just 4.30 runs per game, the leadoff on base percentage slipped as well, to .324 – and only 40% of those made their way home.

Seven games into June, and the Cardinals are scoring less than 3 runs a game (2.71).  There are many pieces that are broken, but one of them is certainly the batters leading off innings.  For the first 60 innings of the month, our leadoff hitters are batting .175 with a .217 on base percentage.  And when they do manage to get on, they are scoring only 38% of the time.

This has been a significant part of what has now been an extended team-wide offensive slump.  Over the last 21 games, the Cardinals are hitting a tepid .214, and are scoring just 3.48 runs per game.  In the last 186 offensive innings, only 51 leadoff hitters have reached base (.274) and only 21 of them (41.2%) have scored.

It’s getting to be a long, long time since this offense has shown their teeth.

MarcellOzuna

Offensive bright spots were few and far between in this series (which saw the Cardinals bat .186 over the three games).  One of the bright spots, though, was definitely Ozuna.  With his 3 hits on Sunday, Marcell finished the series 4 for 12 (.333) including a three-run home run.  He is off to a .385 start for the month (10 for 26).  Even while the rest of the team has scuffled over these last 21 games, Ozuna has been heating it up.  Now 24 for his last 80, Ozuna is hitting .300 over the last 21 games, with 4 doubles, 5 home runs, 17 runs batted in, and a .538 slugging percentage.

Ozuna was 2 for 3 as a leadoff hitter during the series. For the season, he has been one of our most consistent in that function.  He is a .294 hitter (15 for 51) with 4 doubles and 3 home runs – a .549 slugging percentage opening up innings.

PaulGoldschmidt

With his double, Goldschmidt was 1 for 2 leading off innings during the series.  Even during the 21-game offensive brown-out, Paul has still taken excellent leadoff at bats and given the team opportunities.  He has reached in 7 of the last 16 innings he has led off (.438), but – as on Sunday night – has only made it home once.  For the season, Paul has a .392 on base percentage when leading off, but scores only 40% of the times that he does reach.

HarrisonBader

Solidly re-enthroned as the everyday centerfielder, Harrison Bader’s June could have started off better.  He did hit a home run in the Saturday game, but was overall just 2 for 11 in the series, and has started June off with a .208 batting average (5 for 24) – albeit with 4 of the 5 hits going for extra-bases (2 doubles and 2 home runs).

PaulDeJong

Paul DeJong was held hitless in 4 at bats Sunday.  That put a stop to a brief five-game hitting streak.  Paul only got one hit in each of the five games, hitting .278 during the streak (5 for 18).  But the streak did include 2 home runs.

Rotation Struggles

Difficulties in the starting rotation is a bad companion to offensive woes.  Chicago had little difficulty with St Louis’ starting pitchers, hitting .348 against them while scoring 10 runs during the 12 innings that they pitched.

MilesMikolas

Friday’s starter Miles Mikolas’ recent struggles continued.  He had already served up 3 runs in 4 innings before he was removed after taking a line drive off his forearm.  Miles took the loss, and has now lost 4 in a row, with a 5.47 ERA over his last 26.1 innings.

AdamWainwright

Sent to the injured list after the Sunday game, Adam Wainwright is another pitcher trending downward.  Coming off a stretch where he threw 4 quality starts in 5 games, Adam now has just 2 such starts in his last 7.  Over his last 39.1 innings, Waino is 2-4 with a 5.03 ERA.

NoteBook

This series was St Louis’ tenth road series of the season so far.  They have now gone into the last game of half of them needing a win to avoid a sleep.  They have managed to avoid the brooms in three of the five series, falling victim only to the Cubs twice.

The Cards begin the season 11-19 on the road.

The Cubs were the eleventh team St Louis has played this season that had won its previous series – and they have also gone into the last game of five of those series facing a sweep.  As before, the Cubs (twice) are the only ones of these series that St Louis didn’t at least salvage the finale of.

The Cards are 13-20 against teams that had won their previous series.

With the Friday night loss, St Louis has lost the first game in six of their last seven series.

Last year, in 200.2 innings, Miles Mikolas allowed 16 home runs.  The home run he served up in the first inning of Friday’s game was the thirteenth already this year in just 73.1 innings.

The loss, by the way, was his sixth of the season – already a career high.  In 32 starts last year, Miles lost just 4 times.

In his abbreviated, 4.1 inning start Sunday night, Adam Wainwright did cross over the 2000 inning threshold for his career – he now has 2002.2.

Starters Rise to Occasion in Sweep of Cubs

So, it was another minimal offensive series for your St Louis Cardinals.  Granted, they faced three quality arms, but as the Sunday game ended, the Cards had scored just 11 runs during the three games, hitting .233 on just 21 hits.

Oh, did I mention that St Louis won all three games?  By scores of 2-1 in 10 innings (box score), 7-4 (box score) and 2-1 again (box score).

If this team is going to be special this year, it will be because of their pitching.  For the first fifty or so games, the rotation showed inconsistent flashes of potential.  For three games as May faded into June, and against their divisional rival from up North, the Cardinal starters were very special.

The Cards got 20 innings from their starters in this series – and might well have had a couple more, had Jack Flaherty’s Saturday start not been interrupted after five innings by rain.  For those 20 innings the Cubs dented St Louis’ starters for just 3 runs on 12 hits – a 1.35 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Yes, there was a bit of luck involved.  Especially on Sunday, when Chicago hit Adam Wainwright harder than the results showed.  Still, the club couldn’t have asked for more from the starters.

The bullpen was nearly as good, although hiccups from Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia threatened two of the games.

In fact, that might be the most satisfying element of the series.  Each game was tightly contested, and Chicago could very easily have swept the home team.  These were, in fact, the type of games that the Cards have repeatedly lost to Chicago over the last few years – the character games.  For one weekend at least, it was St Louis coming through with the clutch hit and the big defensive play.

To keep things in perspective, there is still a lot of baseball to be played – and many more contests against Chicago.  This was just one chapter in a very long novel.  But it was not insignificant.  Much like their season series against their other primary division competitor.  After losing 5 of the first 7 against Milwaukee, they came back to sweep the Brewers the last time they played them to even that series.  This sweep, though, does more than just answer the Cubs earlier sweep of the Cards.  Getting off the deck and answering these two teams provided a significant confidence boost.

And confidence, by the way, is not in short supply.  I don’t think I ever remember a more confident two-games-over team.

The rest of the summer will tell whether that confidence is warranted or just bravado.  One thing to remember, though.  Both of St Louis’ answering sweeps were at home.  If they have true designs on the division title, this team will have to find some way of coping with Miller Park and Wrigley Field – Wrigley as soon as this Friday.

Fifty-eight games into the 2019 season, this team is still a mystery.

Miles Mikolas

Three starts ago, Miles Mikolas endured a nightmare start in Texas – he gave 7 runs (and 2 home runs) in less than 2 innings.  That disaster stands in sharp contrast to Miles three starts before and his two starts since.  In those other 5 games, Miles has pitched at least 6 innings in all of them, (and 7 in the other 4) without giving up more than three runs in any of them.  In fact, he gave up as many as 3 runs in only one of those games.

Over the 34 innings that surround that Texas game, Miles has allowed as many runs (7) and home runs (2) as he did in that Texas game.  He holds a 1.85 ERA in those other games, holding those teams to a .213 batting average, while walking just 4.

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty followed Mikolas’ 7 strong innings (1 run on 6 hits) with a strong effort of his own.  After allowing solo home runs in the first two innings, Jack settled down and kept Chicago off the scoreboard till the rains came in the fifth.

The rain interrupted a streak of three consecutive quality starts from the young right-hander.  Over his last 4 starts, Jack has a 2.74 ERA over 23 innings with 26 strikeouts.  His last 4 opponents are hitting .182 against him.

Through the month of May, the 30 batters that swung at Flaherty’s first pitch ended up hitting .320.  On Saturday the 6 Cubs who chased after Jack’s first pitch finished 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts.

In fact, in that Saturday game Chicago’s hitters combined to go 0 for 11 when they swung at the first pitch.  For the series, the Cubs were just 3 for 32 (.094) in at bats where they swung at the first pitch (the major league average when swinging at the first pitch is .268).

John Gant

One of the bullpen heroes of the series, John Gant pitched in two of the games, winning the Saturday game and saving Sunday’s contest.  He allowed a walk, but retired the other five batters he faced.

John is on another streak of scoreless outings, as he has allowed no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks over his last 7 innings over 6 games.

Johnny has been much better than anyone could have expected.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks was the winner in the Friday game, pitching two innings.  He was brought back to save the Sunday game, but faltered.  Manager Mike Shildt says he isn’t concerned, but maybe he should be at least a little.

Hicks has now given runs in 3 of his last 6 games.  Over his last 5.2 innings, Jordan has given 6 runs on 7 hits and 5 walks.  The 29 batters he has faced over those appearances are hitting .292 against him – far too high for a kid who throws 104+.  With the walks, the recent on base percentage against him is .414.

Offensive Struggles

I began by referencing the recent offensive brown-out.  Even though the pitching (and defense, by the way) made what little offense they got stand up, the Cards have been a less than stellar offensive machine for quite a while now.

Over their last 16 games, this team is averaging 3.94 runs per game with a distressing .217 team batting average.

Kolten Wong

When Kolten Wong rolled to second in the second inning of the Friday game, he extended his current hitless streak to 22 at bats.

From that moment on, Wong owned the series as much as any non-pitcher could.  He got 6 hits in his last 9 at bats (two hits in each game), stole two bases, scored twice, drove in two – including the important first run in the Sunday game – and made the defensive play of the series to end the eighth inning of the Sunday game (you have probably seen the highlight of Wong racing almost into mid right-field and going full extension to gather in Anthony Rizzo’s soft liner.

Wong had himself a series.  Historically, Kolten is either icy-ice cold or broiling hot.  No one in this clubhouse would complain if Wong went on a substantial tear.

For the series, Wong was 2 for 4 in at bats where he swung at the first pitch.  For the season, that is when he is at his best.  He is still hitting .316 (18 for 57) when swinging at the first pitch.

Marcell Ozuna

Left fielder Marcell Ozuna didn’t get a hit in 3 at bats in the Sunday game, breaking a short but very loud five-game hitting streak.  During those previous 5 games, Marcell went 9 for 19 (.474).  He hit 2 home runs, drove in 6, and slugged .842.

Matt Carpenter

For much of the early season – for whatever reason – Matt Carpenter has been noticeably more aggressive on the first pitch.  In April, he chased the first pitch thrown him 22.4% of the time.  In May, it was 24.1%.  In all of this, the results weren’t much.

Lately, he has returned to the Matt Carpenter we remember, and his numbers have been steadily rising.  He had 10 plate appearances in the Cub series and took the first pitch 9 times.  He finished the series 3 for 9 with a walk.  Over his last 16 games, Matt has taken the first pitch thrown 81.7% of the time – and is slashing .310/.408/.548 when he does.

You would think this would make him all the more dangerous when he does swing at the first pitch, but that hasn’t materialized yet.  Over those same 16 games, Matt is slashing .200/.273/.500 in the plate appearances in which he chases that first pitch.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader hit a home run late in the Saturday game.  It was his only hit in the last two series (1 for 19 – .053).

Paul DeJong

And Paul DeJong’s tailspin continues.  He did get a late single in the Sunday game, but that represents only his second hit in his last 11 games (and 36 at bats).  Over the 16 games that the Cards have scuffled for runs, Paul is hitting .145 (8 for 55) with just 1 home run.

Paul swung at the first pitch only twice in his 11 plate appearances in the series.  In his red hot April, DeJong swung at the first pitch 24.3% of the time, and with devastating effect – a line of .438/.455/.719.

In May, he took the first pitch 86% of the time.  Over the last 16 games he has watched the first pitch 89.4% of the time – more frequently than Carpenter.

The numbers suggest a more timid approach at the plate, but that’s not what I see from him.  After his blazing April, pitchers seem much less anxious to challenge Paul early in the count.  He sees a great many first pitches just off the plate or just low – occasionally, these pitches cross the corners of the strike zone.

After they establish the outside, many pitchers are then able to jam DeJong later in the at bat.  They have had some success doing that.

Mostly, though, Paul appears to still be taking disciplined at bats.  I don’t see him chasing many pitches at all.  But he is missing his pitch when he gets it – or fouling it off.  Timing just a little off.  Or, when he does get into one, someone makes a great play on it – like Albert Almora did in the Saturday game.

DeJong, I think is close.  One thing he won’t have to worry about is opportunity.  As with Wong and Carpenter and all the other starters who went through extended slumps, he can depend that Shildt will continue to write his name on the lineup card even if he goes 2 for his next 50.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards did score first yesterday.  They have scored the first run in 5 of their last 7.

The Cardinals have won only 7 series all year, but 4 of them have now been by sweep.  Of the 5 series that St Louis was in position to sweep, only Washington – who faced a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cards – was able to avoid the redbird brooms.

The Cub series was also just the eighth series this year in which the Cards won the first game.  They are 5-3 in series when they win that first game.

With his 8 innings on Sunday, Adam Wainwright now has 66.1 on the season.  He pitched only 40.1 innings all last year.  He also now has 1,998.1 for his career – leaving him just 5 outs shy of 2000.

Dakota Hudson and His Heavy, Heavy Sinker

From a mostly disastrous May, the St Louis Cardinals will have very few positives to carry with them into June.  One of those positives will be the re-discovery of Dakota Hudson.

Hudson wasn’t a favorite to win a spot in the rotation during spring.  Most thought he would end up in the bullpen.  In April, it looked like he should have started the season in Memphis.  None of his first 5 starts met the criteria for a quality start, he served up 8 home runs in 24 innings, and held a 5.63 ERA and a .327 batting average against.

The Dakota Hudson of May has been significantly different.  After dispatching Philadelphia, allowing 1 run on 4 hits through 6 innings of a 5-3 victory (box score), Dakota wrapped up his second month in the rotation with 5 quality starts in 6 games, a 2.80 ERA, and just 1 home run surrendered in 35.1 innings.

Differences?  There were a couple on display last night.  The recurring theme would be trust.

The April Hudson tried – I think – to be too fine.  Trying to locate his power sinker in the lower part of the strike zone, he had difficulty adjusting if the other team forced him to bring his pitches up.  He also didn’t show a lot of trust in his other breaking pitches.

The results were 11 unintentional walks – an average of 4.88 per nine innings.  More telling, Dakota missed with his first pitch to 48 batters in April.  They finished with 8 singles, 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 10 walks and 1 sacrifice hit.  Those 48 batters drove in 9 runs with a .432/.553/.973 batting line.

Last night, against a Philadelphia lineup that has bedeviled the Cards throughout the series, Dakota didn’t worry at all about elevating his sinker, and even if behind in the count, he didn’t hesitate to throw his entire arsenal – including a slider that has become particularly nasty.

Aside from the two intentional walks dished out to Rhys Hoskins, Dakota threw ball one to 10 of the 21 batters he faced.  Six of those misplaced first pitches were sinkers – three of them low and the other three inside.  Philadelphia did a credible job all evening of laying off the low sinker.  What they learned was that the sinker wasn’t necessarily easier to hit when it was up in the zone.

One of those batters (Jean Segura) did end up drawing a walk.  None of the other 9 reached base.  Dakota came back to strike out two of them (Bryce Harper in the first and Hoskins in the second) on that nasty slider.  Six of the other seven grounded out, four of them on sinkers up in the zone.

The seventh was Cesar Hernandez who smoked a high sinker right at shortstop Paul DeJong for the double-play that ended the sixth-inning mess.

For the month of May, Dakota allowed 11 unintentional walks (2.80 per innings), while batters hit .229 against him after he missed with the first pitch.  It is a much different Dakota Hudson.

There is a great benefit in having that heavy, heavy sinker – especially when you have this kind of trust in it.

What to Do About the Pen

Even deploying his presumed best arms, the bullpen almost let the game get away again.  With 2 more runs allowed last night, the St Louis relief corps enters the last day of the month with an aggregate 5.08 ERA.  The struggles of the starters and the offense have occupied significant attention, but a nettlesome bullpen has certainly contributed to the month’s woes.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continues hot.  With 2 more hits last night, Paul has hit in 5 of his last 6, with multiple hits in four of the five games.  He is hitting .476 (10 for 21) over that span.

Matt Wieters

An injury to Yadier Molina is never good news.  His backup, Matt Wieters has taken some advantage of the opportunity.  He has started 3 of the last 8 games and has had 2 hits in each of them – giving him 6 in his last 11 at bats (.545).  Moreover, half the hits have been for extra bases (a double and 2 home runs).

Wieters now has 3 home runs this month in just 20 at bats, while hitting .400 in May.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong hit a home run in the seventh inning of the last game against Kansas City.  He hasn’t had a hit since – his current hitless streak sitting at 21 at bats.  He has struck out in 7 of those at bats.

Over his last 10 games, Wong is 2 for 33 (.061).  He is down to .155 for the month, and .216 for the season.

Paul DeJong

In an even greater slump – if such a thing were possible – is Kolten’s double-play partner Paul DeJong.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul is 1 for his last 26 (.038).

DeJong is down to .207 in the month of May.

Harrison Bader

Add Harrison Bader to the list of the slumping.  He was also hitless in 4 at bats and over his last 5 games has 1 single in 14 at bats (.071).

NoteBook

Marcell Ozuna’s second inning home run was the game-winning RBI – the eighth this season for Ozuna.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.

 

Cards Unable to Salvage Home Stand; Fall Back to .500

For a few hours on Sunday evening, it looked like the home stand might be salvaged.

Part of the early season Cardinal success was built on a terrific start at home.  After struggling a bit with San Diego in their season-opening series, St Louis won 11 of its next 13 home games.  As the wheels began to come off in May, though, they began to struggle at home as well.  A seven-game home stand against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh resulted in five losses.  This week, the Cardinals’ most recent home stand started to go south as well, as they lost two of the first three games.

Then, on Saturday evening, just as another loss seemed inevitable, the Cardinals suddenly put together a four-run eighth-inning rally – capped by Jedd Gyorko’s first home run of the season – to pull out a rousing 6-3 victory (box score).

And then, on Sunday evening, it looked for a while like it just might carry over.  A great start from Jack Flaherty and excellent bullpen work from John Gant and Carlos Martinez left the Cards one inning away from a 3-0 victory that would give them consecutive wins for the first time this month, their first series victory in nearly a month, and break a string of 5 consecutive losses in the third games of a series.

But, victory again proved elusive, and the talented young Atlanta team answered the Cardinals’ Saturday miracle with one of their own, earning a 4-3, 10-inning victory (box score).

In the aftermath, the bullpen found itself the focus of the discussion – and with good reason.  The pen worked just 8.2 innings during the series, but gave 7 runs on 13 hits and 8 walks, their 7.27 ERA accompanied by a .361/.477/.528 batting line against.

The less frequently told story, though, was the continued offensive decline.  In the Sunday finale, the Braves and their starter Julio Teheran repeatedly invited the Cards to blow the game open.  Julio and his four relievers walked 6 batters, hit two more, and allowed a wild pitch and three stolen bases while their defense added a couple of errors behind them.

St Louis put runners in scoring position in 5 of the first 7 innings.  At the end of the day, though, they managed just 3 hits – all singles – ending with just the three runs.

The fading Cardinal offense finished the three games against the Braves with a .192 team batting average and just 3 extra-base hits – scoring just 11 runs in the three games.

For the five-game home stand (in which they finished 2-3) they hit just .216.  From the start of the losing trend, this team is hitting .233 – just .226 in the last 12 home games.

Matt Carpenter

The Brave series wasn’t devoid of good news.  One of the more interesting developments was the re-positioning of Matt Carpenter deeper in the lineup (he hit fifth during the series).  This is not the first time something like this has been contemplated.  Carpenter has batted lower before, but always without any tangible results.

This time, though, Matt responded quite well over the weekend, going 6 for 12 with a home run and 3 runs batted in against Atlanta.

Paul Goldschmidt

The Paul Goldschmidt eruption that everyone has been waiting for has not yet occurred.  Paul had no extra-base hits, and drove in just 1 run during the recent home stand.  But, Paul did have seven hits in the 5 games, including a 5-for-11 performance (.455) against the Braves.

While the last 12 home games have not gone well for the Cards, Goldschmidt s hitting .354 (17 for 48) in his home games this month.  Again, though, the extra-base hits and runs batted in have been conspicuously missing.  His 17 home hits include 1 double and 1 home run.  He has driven in 5 runs in 12 home games this month.

Harrison Bader

Of the Cardinals’ four “starting” outfielders, the only one hitting the ball right now is Harrison Bader.  He went 3 for 9 against the Braves.  Harrison has started 6 times over his last 8 games, hitting .440 (11 for 25) over that period. He is hitting .306 this month (15 for 49), and .322 (19 for 59) in the 26 games since he returned from a hamstring issue.

Marcell Ozuna

After a great start to the home stand against Kansas City, Marcell Ozuna was one of many Cardinals to dry up against Atlanta.  He finished the series with 1 single in 11 at bats (.091).  During the 6-16 slide, Ozuna has started every game, batting fourth and playing left field.  He is hitting .172 (15 for 87) in those games.

Marcell hit well enough at Busch during his first season as a Cardinal (.299 with 13 home runs).  He has been less comfortable at home this year.  In his 12 home games this month, Marcell is hitting .149 (7 for 47) with just 1 home run.  For the season, he is a .196 hitter at home (19 for 97), although 12 of those hits are for extra-bases, including 6 home runs.

Hitless Against Atlanta

In the detritus of the Brave series are a trio of regulars who failed to get a hit.  Newly promoted to the leadoff spot, Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch in each game – the only times he reached base in the series.  Otherwise, he was 0-for-10 with 5 strikeouts.

Number three hitter Paul DeJong was also 0-for-10, and eighth-place hitter Kolten Wong never reached base (except by error) in his 13 plate appearances.  Toss in Jose Martinez – who made one start and went 0-for-4, and these four Cardinals combined for an 0-for-37 series.

By contrast, Yairo Munoz – who is hitting .342 (albeit in very part time play – watched every at bat of the series from the bench.

Fowler

Fowler’s has been one of the missing bats this month.  He is still reaching base – he’s had 13 walks and now 4 hit-by-pitches this month, but is hitting just .193 (11 for 57) in May.

Dexter is 6 for 32 (.188) at home.

DeJong

With his 0-for-10 series against Atlanta, Paul DeJong finished off a hitless home stand (0-for-15).  His overall hitless streak has now reached 18 at bats since a two-run, first-inning double against Texas lefty Drew Smyly on the nineteenth.  Paul has slipped below .300 for the season, and is now hitting .224 (17 for 76) in May.

Paul is 5 for 37 (.135) with 1 home run and 4 runs batted in in 12 home games this month.

Wong

Kolten is now down to .226 for the season, and .171 (13 for 76) for the month.  He is hitless in six of his last seven games.

The upcoming road trip – brief though it is – may be a blessing for Kolten.  He has had a great season on the road (.312/.418/.558), but has done nothing but struggle at Busch, where he is 14 of 91 (.154) with only 5 extra-base hits (4 doubles and a home run).

Cheers for the Rotation

If the bullpen and the offense came up measurably short over the weekend, the efforts of the starters in those games deserves recognition.  Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty each tossed quality starts at the Braves, while they combined to pitch 19.1 innings allowing only 5 runs on 15 hits and just 2 walks.  The starters limited a dangerous Atlanta lineup to a 2.33 ERA and a .217 batting average.

Cardinal starters now have 9 quality starts in the last 14 games.

All season, the starters have been much more solid at home than on the road.  They now have a 3.56 ERA in 28 starts in their own ballpark, against a 5.88 ERA in 24 road starts.

Mikolas

Few pitchers personify the radical home/road splits of the starting rotation more graphically than Mikolas.  Miles has pitched at home 3 times this month, throwing quality starts in each occasion.   He has walked just 1 batter in 21 innings at home in May, while posting a 2.14 ERA and a .178 batting average against.

For the season at home, Miles had quality starts in 5 of 6 starts, a 3-3 record, a 3.15 ERA and a .196 batting average against.  He has walked 5 batters in 40 home innings.

On the road this year, Mikolas has had a tougher time of things, with 1 quality starts in his 5 road efforts leading to a 1-2 record, a 7.66 ERA, and a .350/.387/.650 batting line against.  In 22.1 road innings, Miles has been spanked for 35 hits, including 7 home runs.

Hudson

Dakota Hudson has been one of the most encouraging stories of the month.  Dakota approaches his last start this month riding a streak of three consecutive quality starts.  He has 4 quality starts in 5 games this month, where he holds a 3.07 ERA.  Dakota has allowed just one home run in his last 6 games (35 innings) – a span during which opposing hitters are hitting the ball on the ground 64 % of the time.

Hudson also has significant home/road splits.  He is 2-1 with a 3.58 ERA in 6 home starts, and 1-2 with a 5.23 ERA in 5 road games (4 starts), but that number has been modifying this month.  His first two road starts in May were both impressive.  He lost 2-1 in Washington on May 2, but gave the team 6 innings, allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits.  He got the only win in the Texas series on May 18, going 6.1 more innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits.

Flaherty

Jack Flaherty also has now thrown three consecutive quality starts of increasing dominance.  On Sunday night against the Braves, Jack threw six innings of 3-hit, shutout ball, walking no one and striking out 7.  Flaherty has a 2.50 ERA and a .172 batting average against over his last 3 starts.

Flaherty – whose next start will be at home against the Cubs – is 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 6 home starts.  He is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in 5 road starts.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller eventually surrendered the tying run Sunday night.  It was almost impossible not to.  He came in with the tying run at third and no one out.  He got the first strikeout, but couldn’t get the second.  Ozzie Albies won a ten-pitch duel with Miller by poking a game-tying single into right.

Miller, was, however, the winning pitcher on Saturday night, and has been steadily getting better.  In 10 innings over his last 11 games, Andrew holds a 1.80 ERA and a .188/.235/.281 batting line against.  He has also struck out 12 in those 10 innings.

Jordan Hicks

After picking up his first save of the month on Saturday, Jordan Hicks was back to the mound in the ninth inning Sunday night.  It was the first time he pitched on consecutive days this month.  He retired none of the four batters he faced.  Jordan was also the losing pitcher in the last game of the Texas series, when he allowed 2 runs in 1.1 innings.

Over his last three games, Hicks has now allowed 5 runs on 6 hits in 2.1 innings.  The last 15 batters to face him are hitting .462.  On the last 23 swings taken against the kid with the 102 mph fastball, there has only been one swing-and-miss.

NoteBook

Friday’s loser, Miles Mikolas – although he pitched quite well – absorbed his fifth defeat of the season, tying his career high.  He lost only 4 times in all of 2018.  He also allowed 2 more home runs, bringing him to 12 already this season in just 62.1 innings.  He served up 16 all of last year in 200.2 innings.

Also, in the Friday game, Matt Carpenter launched a ninth-inning home run that accounted for the five-hundredth run batted in of his career – just the fifteenth of this season.  Carpenter has hit at least 21 home runs a year for the last 4 years, but (because he has mostly hit leadoff) has never driven in more than 84 runs a year.  This year, he is on pace to finish with 49 runs batted in.  It would be his lowest total since driving in 46 back in 2012.

Sunday’s loss ended up taking 4:07 to finally unravel.  It was the Cardinal’s second four hour game this season, and their longest game at home.   On April 1 in Pittsburgh it took them 4:50 and 11 innings to finally subdue the Pirates 6-5.

Next up are the Phillies, who – in spite of their loss on Sunday – took two of three from Milwaukee.  Over the Cardinals’ last 8 series, Philadelphia will be the sixth team that they have faced that won its previous series.

Texas Lefty Leaves Cards Less than Smyly

After an encouraging 8-2 victory on Saturday (box score), the St Louis Cardinals faced the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon, needing any kind of win to halt a four-series losing streak.  They would give the ball to young Jack Flaherty (who would turn in a strong effort).

But, standing in the way was veteran Texas left-hander Drew Smyly.

It’s funny how some tendencies follow a club over the course of decades – regardless of the makeup of the club.  In St Louis, the boogeyman has been almost any flavor of left-handed pitcher, but especially the soft-tosser.  In this context, Smyly isn’t the softest of soft tossers, but with a fastball that topped out at 92.6 (according to Brooks Baseball), Drew doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters with sure speed.  But it’s enough fastball to tantalize and to set up his curve and changeup.

On a superficial level, you tell yourself that it doesn’t just happen to the Cardinals – that these guys are getting other teams out as well.  But someone is hitting these pitchers.  Smyly entered the game with a 6.85 ERA.  And, in the early going, it looked like the Cards had him solved.  In quick succession, Drew allowed a double, a walk, and a two-run double.  Quickly, it was 2-0 St Louis.

But that would be it.  Smyly would face 16 more batters before ending his four-inning stint.  St Louis would score no more runs and manage just one more hit against him.  Drew wouldn’t figure into the decision, of course (a 5-4 Texas win in 10 innings – St Louis’ thirteenth loss in its last 17 games).  Along the way, he would walk 3, but he would also strike out 4 of those last 16 batters faced.

It doesn’t stand as a dominant game, per se, but by the end it fell along familiar parameters.  St Louis finished 3 for 15 (.200) against Drew, and just 5 for 29 (.172) during the three-game series against Texas’ left-handers.  They are down to .235 against them for the season.

Offensive Struggles

While losing two of three in Arlington, St Louis did manage to score 15 runs in the series, but hit only .236 (26 for 110) and couldn’t cash in on other opportunities.  The Cards are hitting just .241 this month.

Harrison Bader

St Louis’ complex outfield picture got more complex over the weekend.  With Jose Martinez moving into the DH slot in the American League park, Harrison Bader was able to start all three games in center.  Bader was nothing but spectacular.  He, of course, made several sparkling plays in center.  He also went 7 for 12 (.583), including a home run and 2 doubles (a 1.000 slugging percentage) at the plate.

Harrison started the season as the regular centerfielder.  But he started off slowly at the plate, and when he went down briefly with a hamstring pull, Martinez found his way into the lineup and hit his way into a permanent spot.

While his opportunities have been infrequent, Bader has hit .326 (15 for 46) since his return, and is now hitting .306 (11 for 36) for the month.

Bader had multiple hits in all three games in Texas, and it seems hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup when the season resumes Tuesday night.

Harrison was only 1-for-4 against left-handed pitching in the series, but was 6-for-8 against the righties.  While not qualifying, yet, as a regular, Bader is hitting .357 this month (10 for 28) against righties – the highest on the team for anyone with more than 20 plate appearances against them.

Paul DeJong

As you might suppose, St Louis isn’t overburdened with batters who are flourishing against left-handed pitching.  One who has been succeeding all year is Paul DeJong.  The righty was 2-for-3 against Texas’ left-handers in the series – his hits being a double and a home run.  For the season, Paul has the team’s second highest average against lefties.  In 32 plate appearances against southpaws (and there haven’t been an awful lot of lefties to face the Cards so far this season), Paul now has 2 singles, 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 6 walks.  He has driven in 7 runs against lefties so far, with a .346/.469/.769 batting line against them.

Yadier Molina

Everyday catcher Yadier Molina – who has been so consistent all season – had a tough series in Arlington.  He was just 2 for 13, going hitless in two of the games.  Over his last 5 games, Yadi is hitting just .150 (3 for 20) with no runs scored and one run batted in.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler had his one big moment.  Capping a nine-pitch at bat in Sunday’s ninth inning, trailing by one, Dexter lined a game-tying home run into the upper deck in right.  The home run (clutch as it was) broke an 0-for-15 streak.  Fowler – over .300 for much of the season – is hitting just .195 this month (8 for 41).  Bader had almost as many hits in the Texas series as Dexter has had all month.

Fowler – a switch hitter – is getting fewer and fewer opportunities against lefties.  He is hitting .208 against them this season (5 for 24) with no extra-base hits.  Lately, though, he has been struggling against right-handers as well.  He is 6 for 32 (.188) against them this month.

Kolten Wong

In the Saturday victory, Kolten Wong was held hitless in 5 at bats – breaking his encouraging little five-game hitting streak.  Wong – who has struggled lately – was 6-for-18 (.333) during that streak.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt walked 4 times in the 3 games in Texas.  He subsequently scored 3 runs and drove in a run with a ground ball.  But he had no hits in the series (0-for-10).  Paul hasn’t had the best of starts.  He is 16 for 65 (.246) this month with 2 extra-base hits (1 home run).  He has driven in 5 runs in 18 games in May.  He is 6 for 28 (.214) this season against left-handed pitching.  Paul has 1 home run against lefties this year.

It’s safe to say that there is an explosion coming from Mr Goldschmidt.

Cheers for the Rotation

As we approach the end of May, almost any good news from the pitching staff in general and the rotation in particular is cause for celebration.  The overall numbers from the Texas series are not particularly warm or fuzzy.  The staff finished the series with a 4.73 ERA, and the starters finished at 7.43 and a .327/.383/.582 batting line.

The actuality wasn’t as bad as the numbers.  Game One starter Miles Mikolas was driven from the mound after 1.1 innings, having allowed 7 runs on 9 hits (including 2 home runs).

From the moment Mikolas left the mound through the end of the series, the Cardinal pitching staff contained the Texas offense to just 7 more runs in 25.1 innings.  Their 2.49 ERA was backed by a .195 batting average against.  Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty followed Mikolas with quality starts, and the bullpen – pitching as many innings as the starters in this series – were flawless (until the end of the Sunday game).

As I said, any hint of light at the end of the tunnel is welcome.

Mikolas

Miles Mikolas had tossed three consecutive quality starts – throwing a total of 20 innings – before his meltdown in the first game.  He had pitched three straight games without allowing a home run.

Hudson

Dakota has also been steadily improving.  He served up 8 April home runs in just 24 innings – contributing to a 5.63 ERA.  In 23 innings over 4 starts (3 of them quality starts) in May, Hudson has allowed just 1 home run and holds a 3.13 ERA (that ERA figure is a little deceptive in that it doesn’t include the 6 unearned runs he allowed a couple of starts ago).

Among the most encouraging notes from the Saturday win was Dakota Hudson dominating lefties.  Until that night, the 101 lefties to face Hudson had owned him to the tune of a .388/.475/729 batting line with 8 home runs.  Saturday night they (lefties) finished with just 4 singles in 21 at bats against Hudson (.190).

NoteBook

In the Saturday game, Paul DeJong – in addition to getting two hits – drew a walk.  It is already his twenty-fifth walk of the season.  All last year he drew 36 – his current career high.

Then in the Sunday game, Paul drilled his seventeenth double of the season.  All of last year, he only hit 25.

With their fifth straight series loss, St Louis (holding a 10-14 road record) is now 2-5-1 in road series.  They are also 2-5-1 in series when they lose the first game.

This was also their eighth series so far this year against a team that had won its previous series.  They are also, now, 2-5-1 in those series – going 11-13 in those games.

(This post was originally composed Monday, May 20).

Behind a Lot Lately

There is this moment in Groundhog Day.  Phil (the Bill Murray character) has just driven his truck off a cliff, where it landed upside down at the bottom of a gorge.  Andie MacDowell’s character (Rita) shudders a bit at the horror, and Larry (played by Chris Elliott) tries to comfort her by saying, “He . . . might be okay.”  One second later the truck explodes in fire.  Larry then adds quietly, “Well, no.  Probably not now.”

There was a moment like that in last night’s game.  The Cardinals began the top of the second by throwing the ball around a bit, and gift-wrapped the first two runs of the game for Philadelphia.  The bases were now loaded with one out, but with the score still just 2-0, one could reasonably think “we might be okay”.  Of the 20 batters to put the ball in play against Cardinal starter Dakota Hudson on this evening, 17 would hit the ball on the ground.  A well-placed ground ball here could very well stop the bleeding.

But Philadelphia’s next hitter – Bryce Harper – turned out to be one of the three who got the ball in the air.  When it finally came down (in the right field bullpen), the Phillie lead grew to 6-0.  Well, no, probably not now.

May has been playing a little like Groundhog Day for the Cardinals.  Especially the last week or so.  In losing 5 of their last 6, the Cards have been falling behind early and often.  Thursday night in Washington they fell behind 2-1 in the fourth and never recovered.  Friday in Chicago, it was 3-0 Cubs after 3.  The Cards went quietly after that.  On Sunday, it was 1-0 Chicago after 2.  St Louis would never catch up in that one either.

Up until the point that they were waxed by Cincinnati 12-1 on April 26, this edition of the Cardinals had never trailed by as many as ten runs in a game, and had faced a deficit as large as five runs only once.  They have now trailed by double-digits three times in the last 12 games.  Last year’s team – on its way to a modest 88-win season – only trailed by as many as ten runs three times all season (a 13-5 loss to Jon Lester and the Cubs on June 15, an 11-4 loss to Max Fried and Atlanta on June 30, and a 17-4 spanking at the hands of Rich Hill and the Dodgers on September 15).

By way of comparison, the 2018 Cardinals pitching staff faced 6,246 batters.  They faced 2,558 of them while holding a lead (41.0%), faced another 1,671 (26.8%) with the game tied, and 2,042 (32.7%) while trailing in the game.  All last season, the pitchers faced just 21 batters (0.3%) with a deficit of ten runs or more.

In March-April of this year – even including the blowout against Cincy, the Cardinal pitching percentages were: ahead – 44.1%; even – 22.3%; and behind – 33.6%

Over their last six games, they have one win – the 6-0 win on Monday during which they never trailed – and have had brief leads in 2 of the 5 losses.  All included during this losing skid, the Cards have only been ahead 16.9% of the time and tied another 29.6% of the time.  Cardinal pitchers have trailed in the game 53.5% of the time.  In just the last six games, they have already pitched to 4 batters (1.9%) while trailing by at least ten runs.

I have quoted the pitching staff numbers.  The hitters in all these cases, of course, will be similar.

One of the immutable baseball truths is that you are never as good as you look when you are winning and never as bad as you look when you are losing.  Truly, this team isn’t as helpless as it has seemed over the last week or so.  But the losing is taking, I think, an emotional toll on this young team.

In April, this team hit .281 when they were trailing in a game.  They erased one four-run deficit, and came close to doing that on two other occasions. 

Recently, though, the bats have been very quiet once the team has fallen behind.  Over the last six games, they are hitting just .231 while trailing in games.  Over their last 5 defeats, they have scored just 7 runs after they have fallen behind.  Only three of those runs scored while the games were close enough to matter.

Of course, you would like to see the team stop falling behind early.  You would also like to see some of that early season bounce-back from the bats on those occasions when they do fall behind by a few runs.

Dakota Hudson

In spite of last night’s debacle, Dakota Hudson has been trending upward over his last several starts.  After beginning the year with a 6.08 ERA, a .350 batting average against, and a .633 slugging percentage against (courtesy of 5 home runs allowed over his first 13.1 innings), Hudson has been better over his last 4 starts.  He still surrenders more home runs than he should (4 over his last 21.2 innings), but with a more palatable 3.74 ERA.

Paul Goldschmidt

Things will certainly start looking better once Paul Goldschmidt figures things out a bit.  After another hitless evening (0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts), Goldschmidt has sunk to .245 for the season.  Over his last 10 games (9 starts) Paul has had 41 plate appearances.  He has 6 singles, 15 strikeouts and a groundball double play to show for it – a disappointing .146/.146/.146 batting line.  It has been 12 games since Paul’s last extra-base hit, 13 games since his last run batted in, and 14 games since his last home run.

Marcell Ozuna

After a torrid early-season streak, Marcell Ozuna is another Cardinal who has fallen on hard times of late.  After his 0-for-3 last night, Marcell is now 2 for 19 (.105) over his last five games.  He falls to .222 for the month (6 for 27).

Marcell did have a first-inning opportunity – while the game was still scoreless – with a runner at first and two outs.  He grounded out to end the inning.  Over the last 6 games, Ozuna is 0-for-9 when the game is tied, and 6 for 31 (.194) for the season in that situation.

Harrison Bader

When he first returned from the injured list, Harrison Bader provided a little pop with his bat.  Lately, though, he has been affected by the general offensive downturn.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Bader is 3 for 16 (.188) so far this month.

Kolten Wong

The disappearing act of second baseman Kolten Wong also continued.  Hitless, again, in 3 at bats, Wong is now 0 for his last 13 and is hitting .091 (2 singles in 22 at bats) this month.

Young but Surprisingly Patient

So, clearly, these are not your father’s Washington Nationals.  Famously, Bryce Harper abandoned the club over the off-season.  Familiar names like Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon are still Nationals. But haven’t played recently due to injuries.

Prominent in the new Washington lineup are three prospects under 23 years of age.  Carter Kieboom (what a great name for a baseball player) is just 21 – he started at shortstop.  Victor Robles is the 22-year-old centerfielder.  And, of course, the future face of the franchise, 20-year-old Juan Soto is the left fielder.

For the kids and the rest of the Nats (and the rest of the lineup was all over 30), it was another day of what might have been.  A three-run second gave them an early lead, but a six-run Cardinal fifth flipped the narrative, and St Louis carried home a 6-3 victory in the series opener (box score).

In many ways, the game followed the desired Cardinal script.  The resilient lineup finally broke through after the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – kept the opponent within range.  Washington finished with just the 3 runs on only 4 hits.  The kid starters finished the evening 0-for-10.  But they also drew a couple of walks and saw an aggregate 61 pitches.

By game’s end, the Nationals (old as well as young) exacted 177 pitches and 6 walks from the Cardinal pitching staff.  The three-run second was aided notably by a couple of walks, and Washington manufactured an eighth-inning rally against John Brebbia as they walked the bases loaded – including a ten-pitch walk nursed by Soto.

I have only seen Washington for one game, but patience seems to be the organizational meme this year.  Thirty-seven National batters stood in at the plate last night.  Thirty-one of them took the first pitch – 15 of them taking first-pitch strikes.

Things didn’t quite work out for them last night, but sometimes process proceeds production.  It was a little uncommon to see such young players committed to patient at bats.  It will be something to keep an eye on as the series – and their season – progresses.

Cardinal Bullpen Nearly Unhittable

Washington’s patient approach took its toll on the St Louis bullpen, as well.  Cardinal relievers – forced to cover 4 innings after starter Michael Wacha could only give them five – ended up throwing 76 pitches over those four innings.  Still, when all was said and done, the Nationals finished 0-for-12 against the St Louis pen.  The batting average against Cardinal relievers drops now to .180 – the lowest in the majors (Houston’s bullpen is a fairly distant second at .202).

The pen does have some issues – walks and home runs.  But nobody is putting together strings of hits against these guys.

Offensive Consistency Amazing

While none of the offensive numbers from last night’s game are particularly newsworthy, at the end of the day the Cards had put up six more runs.  Twenty-eight games into the season, St Louis has scored at least four runs in 24 of them.  They currently sit tied for third in the major leagues (with the Yankees) for most runs per game – 5.54.

While the Nats were hesitant to swing at the first pitch, the Cards did so 12 times.  St Louis is actually one of baseball’s best hitting teams when they swing at the first pitch.  They were 6 of 12 last night in at bats that began with a swing at the first pitch, and are hitting .292 on the season in those at bats.

Marcell Ozuna

In the middle of the rally – again – was Marcell Ozuna.  His was the two-run single that put the Cards ahead.  Ozuna has now driven in 10 runs over his last 5 games – including 3 game-winning hits.  Marcell has now driven in the winning run a team-leading 4 times (Paul Goldschmidt is second with 3).

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez added two more hits, including a double, and another run batted in last night.  Jose has been in the starting lineup for 12 straight games.  He is hitting .409 (18 for 44) in those games.

Jose collected the first Cardinal hit of the game – his line single in the fourth. Martinez, I think, gives the impression of being an impatient hitter, but in that at bat he took the first three pitches before jumping on the fourth pitch.  For the season, Jose actually takes the first pitch of an at bat 84.6% of the time.  That figure actually leads the team (Matt Carpenter is only taking the first pitch 77.5% of the time).

And when he takes that first pitch, he ends up hitting .365 in those at bats.

Harrison Bader

Gone for ten days earlier this month nursing a slight hamstring pull, Harrison Bader’s opportunities have been somewhat sparse since his return.  To this point, Bader doesn’t seem to have suffered from his relative inactivity.  He had 2 hits last night in his first start since his return (including the home run that put St Louis on the board) and has been 3 for 6 since his return with a walk and a hit by pitch.

He also hasn’t lost his touch in the outfield.

Matt Carpenter

Speaking of Carpenter, the only time he put a ball in play last night he tried going again to left field – a fly out.  His other plate appearances ended in a walk and three strikeouts.

Things still haven’t been falling Matt’s way.  He has gone 8 games without an extra-base hit, hitting .192 (5 for 26) in that span.

Jedd Gyorko

Playing time has been sparse for Jedd Gyorko as well.  A major contributor the last couple of seasons, Jedd has yet to make much of an impact.  Twenty-eight games into the season, Gyorko has 20 at bats.

Last night, getting a rare start, he took the first pitch in all 3 plate appearances, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout.  The season is very young, but to date, Jedd has taken the first pitch 14 times, going 0-for-13 in those at bats with 1 walk and 6 strikeouts.  Jedd is 2-for-7 the times he has swung at the first pitch.

NoteBook

Last night was only the fourth time in ten series that St Louis won the opening game of the series.  They went on to sweep the other three series (two games against Pittsburgh, four against the Dodgers, and three against the Brewers).