Tag Archives: Carlos Martinez

Please Tell Memphis that Mr O’Neill Sends his Regrets

No AAA affiliated franchise has things easy.  Almost without fail, as soon as someone starts to really put things together, the parent club decides that they have a need for that individual, and he magically disappears from the AAA team’s roster.

In Memphis, the Cardinals’ AAA affiliate, that situation might be less volatile than in some other cities.  With a mostly static roster, the Cards have found it relatively easy to leave their hot prospects in their minor league abodes, honing their various crafts.

Such has been the situation for one Tyler Alan O’Neill.  Once upon a time, Tyler O’Neill was a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners, becoming a Cardinal almost exactly two years ago today as the result of a July 21, 2017 trade.  Since then, he has had 216 at bats in St Louis, and 573 in Memphis.  He came north with the parent club this year, but, with playing time hard to come by, was returned to Memphis when Luke Gregerson was ready to come off the injured list.

And there Tyler stayed.  With his rookie status already exceeded, O’Neill was no longer listed among the Cardinal prospects.  So while Cardinal Nation followed the progress of the Nolan Gorman’s and the Randy Arozarena’s with considerable focus, Tyler O’Neill labored in relative anonymity.

Memphis, however, was more than happy to have him.  In about a year’s worth of at bats (573) Tyler has delivered 49 home runs for Memphis.  Add the 14 he’s now hit in the show, and, in just under two years in the organization, Tyler O’Neill has accounted for 63 home runs.  He has averaged one for every 11.7 at bats in AAA Memphis.

Who knows how long he might have remained there.  But about 14 games ago, Marcell Ozuna fractured some fingers while on the base paths and the big league birds were in need of an outfielder.  The thinking was that – as before – once Ozuna was pronounced fit, Tyler would be returned to his minor league venue.

Those plans may now be on permanent hold.

Yesterday afternoon, Tyler O’Neill drilled his fourth home run of the recent home stand and was a significant contributor to the Cards 6-5 victory over Pittsburgh (box score).  O’Neill was 7 for 12 against Pittsburgh (.583) with three of the hits being home runs.  He drove in 6 runs in the 3 games, and slugged 1.333.  The win was St Louis’ fourth in the last 5 games of the home stand.  Tyler hit .500 over the 5 games (10 for 20) and slugged 1.2000 (2 doubles, 4 home runs), while driving in 11.

O’Neill has now hit safely in 8 straight starts, hitting .438 during the streak (14 for 32), and slugging .875. For the month of July, Tyler O’Neill is carrying a .400 batting average (16 for 40) and a slugging percentage of an even 1.000.

It’s a very small sample size, I grant you.  But if this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to Memphis.  If this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to the bench when Ozuna comes back.  Someone else will lose those at bats.

In baseball, if you hit, you play.  If you hit a lot, you play a lot.

By the numbers, the Tyler O’Neill of July is very unlike the O’Neill we’ve seen here before.  If anything, his aggressiveness has increased.  Last year, he swung at 52.3% of the pitches thrown his way.  In his first 48 plate appearances this year, he swung at 52.4%.  In his 42 July plate appearances, O’Neill has chased after 58.3%.  Over the last 5 games, Tyler has swung at 50 of 79 pitches thrown his way – a super-aggressive 63.3%.

This aggression is even more pronounced on the first pitch.  Last year, Tyler went after the first pitch 36.6% of the time, and 37.5% during the early part of this year – both aggressive numbers.  He has offered at the first pitch 52.4% of the time so far this month.  He went after 8 of 12 (66.7%) against the Pirates.

But, even though he is swinging more often, he is making contact as never before.  As a rookie in 2018, O’Neill missed on 44.3% of his swings.  He was up to an amazing 50.5% of his swings through his first 48 plate appearances of 2019.

In July, Tyler is missing on just 28.6% (team average is 23.8% for the year).  In 31 swings against the Pirates, O’Neill missed the ball just 4 times (12.9%).

Thirty-one swings is far too few to prove anything definitively.  But if, indeed, Tyler O’Neill is making serious progress on connecting when he swings, then he will definitely not be going back to Memphis.

Little Other Offense

In winning two of three from Pittsburgh, the Cardinal offense was led, principally by O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt.  Together, they drove in 10 of the 14 runs the Cards scored in the series.  After them, there weren’t an awful lot of contributors, as the team finished the series with just 20 hits and a .220 batting average.  There are a handful of Cardinals who are still trying to turn things around.

Kudos to the Rotation

Aside from Tyler O’Neill, the heroes of the Pittsburgh series were the arms of the rotation.  Daniel Ponce de Leon’s short start on Wednesday broke a string of six consecutive quality starts.  Even with that, the rotation contributed 19.2 innings against the Pirates with a 2.29 ERA.  They walked just 5 (2 of those intentionally) and allowed just one home run.

In winning 4 of the last 5, St Louis has done so behind a rotation that has carved out a 1.93 ERA and a .222/.295/.299 batting line against.

Miles Mikolas

Monday’s starter, Miles Mikolas set the tone for the series – not just in effectiveness (he threw a complete game shutout) but also in style.  Of the 32 batters to face him, 29 hit the ball in play, with 20 of the 29 (69%) hitting it on the ground.  Miles threw just 3.13 pitches per batter faced (leading to just 11.11 pitches per inning) while throwing 73% of his pitches for strikes.

For the series, the Cards finished up getting ground balls 57.7% of the time, throwing just 3.58 pitches per batter (14.04 per inning), and throwing strikes 66.5% of the time.

For the season, Miles has thrown 1099 of his 1658 pitches for strikes.  His 66.3% ratio is the highest of any Cardinal pitcher who has thrown at least 700 pitches.

Jack Flaherty

Tuesday’s starter, Jack Flaherty, came fairly close to losing his second consecutive 1-0 game.  He avoided the fate by driving in his own run with a double to earn himself a no decision.

The 0-1 record aside, Jack has been very good his last two times out – allowing 2 runs in 14 innings. Three starts into the month of July, Jack holds a 2.89 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Carlos Martinez

Ending a fabulous run of performances, during which he gave just 1 run over 12 innings, Carlos Martinez was touched for runs in both of the last two games pitching in the closer’s role.  He gave a total of 3 runs in 2 innings, earning a loss and a scuffling save.

Even though Carlos’ pitches were up more than usual, he still had batters pounding the ball into the turf.  Of the 10 who put the ball in play against him, 7 hit the ball on the ground.  For the season, Carlos’ 65.0% ground ball rate is second on the team only to Jordan Hicks (67.2%).

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run homer on Wednesday proved to be the game-winning RBIs.  Paul now has 5 GWHs on the season, ranking him third on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9) and Paul DeJong (6).

Before the Goldschmidt home run, St Louis went into the seventh inning trailing 4-3.  It was the first time in seven games that they trailed after six innings.  On July 6, in San Francisco they trailed 5-1 after six on their way to an 8-4 loss (box score).

All of the Cards’ last four series have gone to rubber games – with St Louis winning three of those.  They are now 5-5 in rubber games on the season.

On Tuesday night, the Cards eclipsed the two million mark in home attendance.  With 128,928 attending the three-game set against the Pirates, St Louis now sits at 2,053,573 for the season – an average of 42,782.8 per home game.

Baby Steps?

The St Louis Cardinals finished their weekend series against Arizona with 25 offensive innings.  They only managed to put their leadoff batter on base in 5 of those innings.  Getting that first batter on base has been a constant struggle since April.  For the month of July, now, Cardinal leadoff batters hold a .266 on base percentage.  For the season, they sit at just .302.

The results in those 20 other innings against Arizona were fairly predictable.  The Cards scored in only 3 of them, totaling 4 runs.   Certainly one of the factors in the slow offensive start is the fact that all too often the power hitters are up with no one on and two outs.  Nobody – it seems – wants to embrace the table-setter’s role.

The good news is that – at least during the Arizona series – the Cardinals did finally figure out what to do once they did get that runner on.  They scored in 4 of the 5 innings that their first batter reached, totaling 7 runs in those innings.

This had also been a problem.  In the six games preceding the All-Star break, the Cards put their leadoff runner on 16 times, bringing him home just 6 times (38%).  For the season, only 48% of the Cardinal leadoff batters who reach base end up scoring.  When the offense is functioning well, that number will typically be closer to 55%.

It was only three games – and only one of the many offensive issues that this team will try to correct in the second half (and the offense overall hit just .215 and scored 3.67 runs per game in the Arizona series).  In essence, the offensive turnaround so far is more hoped for than evident.

But doing something when the leadoff batter gets on is at least a healthy place to start.  A baby step, if you will.

Matt Wieters

Thrust into the lineup due to the thumb injury to Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters is starting to find a comfort level at the plate.  He caught the first two games of the series, going 3 for 6 with a home run.  Matt has only had 24 plate appearances through the early games of July.  But he has answered those plate appearances with 4 singles, 2 home runs and 4 walks – a .300/.417/.600 batting line.

Kolten Wong

Heating up, finally, is Kolten Wong.  One of the mysteries in the Cardinal lineup, Kolten finished the series with 4 hits, and now has a little five-game hitting streak underway.  He is hitting .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.

Kolten is up to .375 (9 for 24) in early July.

Tyler O’Neill

Flashing a bit of the ability that has made him so successful at AAA, Tyler O’Neill put together a fine series against the Diamondbacks.  Moreover, as he is getting consistent at bats, Tyler is starting to show some encouraging consistency.

He was 3 for 8 against Arizona – with all the hits going for extra bases, and has now hit safely in all of his last 5 starts.  He is 7 for 20 (.350) with a .600 slugging percentage in those games.  For the month of July, Tyler is a .321 hitter (9 for 28) with a .536 slugging percentage and 5 runs batted in in just 7 starts.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was a big bat in the Sunday game with an important two-run home run.  He was held to an 0-for-4 on Friday, breaking a seven-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Paul had hit .346 (9 for 26) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the 7 games, with a .654 slugging percentage.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman ended the first half hot, hitting in his last 5 games.  He finished with 6 hits in 18 at bats during the streak, including a triple and a home run.  He drove in 6 runs over the 5 games with a .333 batting average and a .611 slugging percentage.

He began the second half going 0-for-5 against Arizona.

In the early games of his career, Tommy hasn’t yet shown a great knack for leading off an inning.  He was 0-for-3 as a leadoff batter against Arizona, he is 1-for-9 leading off innings this month.  So far, Tommy has lead off in 22 innings with 5 hits and 1 hit-by-pitch (a .273 on base percentage).

Edman has only walked once in his first 60 plate appearances.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez’ bat was another important weapon that was limited during the Arizona series.  Jose went hitless in 6 at bats during the series, and is now 0 for his last 11.

Rotation Rises

The primary reason that St Louis managed victories in two of the three over the weekend was the emergence of the starting rotation.  Building off the Jack Flaherty’s sterling seven-inning performance against San Francisco just before the break, all three Cardinal starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright) followed with quality starts of their own.  The three combined to pitch 19.2 of the 27 innings of the series, allowing a total of 3 runs.  They finished the series with a combined 1.37 ERA and a .149/.240/.239 batting line against.

Daniel Ponce de Leon

Daniel Ponce de Leon turned his latest spot start into the one that has vaulted him into the rotation.  He muffled Arizona for 6.2 innings, limiting them to 1 run on 3 hits with no walks (although he did hit one batter) and 7 strikeouts on Friday.  He lowered his overall ERA to 1.99 for the season, and to 0.79 (with a .114 batting average against) for the month.

He’s been nothing but impressive so far.  He’s forced his way into a starting job.  Now we’ll see if he can stay there.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson – Saturday’s starter – tossed his ninth quality start in his last 11 games.  Hudson is 6-1 with a 2.84 over his last 11 games.

Adam Wainwright

Outdueling Zach Greinke in the series finale, Adam Wainwright threw seven scoreless innings, and has quality starts in two of his last three outings, recording a 1.93 ERA in those outings.

Carlos Martinez

Inheriting the closer’s rule in the wake of the season-ending injury to Jordan Hicks, Carlos Martinez has been as good as could be hoped.  He saved both wins against Arizona, and has now thrown 6 straight scoreless outings (covering 7.1 innings).  Not only has he allowed no runs of his own, he has also stranded all 5 runners he inherited during those games.  He has 10 strikeouts over those innings, and those that are hitting the ball in play against him are hitting it almost exclusively on the ground (10 of 13).

He hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit since June 9.

NoteBook

Yairo Munoz started at shortstop on Sunday afternoon, breaking Paul DeJong’s streak of 26 consecutive starts at short.  That had been the longest current streak of any Cardinal at the same position.  That mantle now falls to Paul Goldschmidt, who on Sunday made his eighteenth consecutive start at first.

The Saturday game registered an official temperature of 90 degrees – significant evidence that summer is in full force in St Louis.  It was just the third 90+ degree game this season, and the first since May 25 when they beat Atlanta here 6-3.  The hottest game of the year so far was played in Mexico on April 13 when we lost to Cincinnati, 5-2.

That home series against Atlanta had been the hottest by average temperature this season at 86.3 degrees.  The just finished Arizona series averaged 88.7 degrees.  And, no, it was not a dry heat.

When the Cards took their 5-0 lead into the seventh inning on Sunday, it marked the first time they held a five-run lead going into the seventh inning since May 18 when they took a 7-2 lead into the seventh in Texas – on their way to an 8-2 victory (box score).  One of the consequences of the recent offensive struggles is that any late inning lead this team holds is generally precarious.  Laughers have been few and far between lately.

New/Old Offensive Philosophy Leads to Damage in Seattle

“Our hard-hit contact rate improved [in May] and our results decreased.  And I felt like we said, ‘You know what? We’ve got to do something different because we’re not getting the reward.’  We got away from the damage we were doing coming out of Spring Training.  We did without reward and lost our way a little bit.  We’ve gotten back to doing what we need to do, and that’s putting some damage out there.”

The speaker here was Cardinal manager Mike Shildt, quoted in Anne Rogers game story for MLB.com (full article).

The gist – as I understand it – is that the Cardinal hitters tried to be too selective at the plate.  Earlier in that same article, Dexter Fowler explained it this way: “See the ball in the zone and take that hack at it.  Guys sit there thinking, ‘Oh, he’s going to throw me this, so I want it in this spot.’  If it’s in the zone, hit it.”

June, of course, was a disastrous offensive month for the Holy Cardinal Franchise.  They managed just 3.54 runs per game and finished dead last in the entire major leagues in team batting average (.223), on base percentage (.286) and slugging percentage (.357).

The Seattle series did show a significant uptick.  In three games in the Pacific Northwest, the formerly inept Cardinal batsmen hit .275 (28 for 102), with 12 of the hits going for extra-bases (6 doubles and 6 home runs).  They slugged .510 in Seattle.

So, how much of the expressed philosophical issue and the described resolution are truly responsible for the woes of June?  And how compelling is the evidence that things have turned around?  Let’s play a little fact or fiction.

There actually is a statistical footprint that supports the “too passive” theory.  The usual statistical breakout of the average major league at bat is that slightly more than half of them get to the point where the hitter gets two strikes on him.  At that point, the numbers shift drastically to the pitcher.  Up to that point, major league batters hit over .300.  The other 50% of at bats are generally divided pretty evenly between batters hitting the first and second strike.  According to baseball reference, batters hitting the first strike thrown to them are hitting .354/.414/.636.  Once the batter gets two strikes on him, his numbers drop to .173/.247/.285.

St Louis’ numbers from June show that the first strike was hit only 17.5% of the time (suggesting a reluctance to take an aggressive approach).  Moreover, when that pitch was hits, the results – the “damage” if you will – sat well below the major league average.  Cardinals hitting the first strike in June hit .279/.357/.517.

Meanwhile, they ended up in two-strike counts an uncomfortable 57.3% of the time – with predictable results (.165/.225/.256).

For all of the talk, though, they didn’t hit that first strike any more frequently in this series.  Of the 109 batters who came to the plate in Seattle, 18 hit the first strike (just 16.5% – this number including two batters who walked before seeing strike one).

They did, however, hit that first pitch much better when they did hit it – going 9 for 16 (.562) with 2 doubles and a home run (.875 slugging percentage).

Of the 109 batters sent to the plate, 62 (56.9%) still ended up in two strike counts – higher than average.  These batters, though, also performed better.  The batting average was somewhat higher at .190 (11 for 58).  But 6 of the 11 two-strike hits went for extra-bases (3 doubles and all 3 home runs hit over the last two games).  Tommy Edman’s seventh-inning, game-winning single in the Thursday game (box score) also came on a two-strike pitch, culminating a 9-pitch at bat.

It could be argued from this, that the team isn’t any less selective than they were in June, but that when they do decide to swing, they are doing so with more abandon – that the swings, themselves, are more aggressive.

On the Other Hand

So, if there is some evidence of a new and more productive offensive philosophy in place, here are a couple of caveats to keep in mind.

First of all, the sample size is exceedingly small.  We are looking here at 109 plate appearances in contrast to 964 in June alone, and 3226 for the season.  Three games can suggest a possible turn-around, but proves nothing.

Second, of course, this was Seattle.  The Mariners are having a fairly dreary season, having lost more than fifty games, already.  There have been a lot of teams that have taken similar advantage of the Seattle pitching staff.  This becomes more credible when (if) they can perform similarly against a more established pitching staff.

Finally, this re-discovered damage happened on the road.  The question that hangs over this offense is – aggressive or not – can they do sustained damage in their spacious ballpark, where big flies tend to die on the track?

Don’t get me wrong, it was a relief to see some hits coming off the bats of some struggling hitters.  But there is still much to be proved.

HarrisonBader

Perhaps the change in philosophy affected no one more than Harrison Bader.  He had fallen completely into that pattern throughout the month of June.  Harrison hit that first strike just 19% of the time, and went just 3 for 12 when he did.  He ended with two-strikes on him 61.9% of the time, batting just .087 (4 for 46) when that happened.

Harrison had 7 plate appearances in the last two games of the Seattle series, and he hit the first strike in 3 of them – getting singles all three times.

PaulGoldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt finished the Seattle series with 3 hits over the last two games – a single and two doubles.  Two of the three hits came with two strikes on him – which was encouraging.  But again, Goldschmidt faced two-strike counts in 6 of his last 8 plate appearances.  Paul, who is, perhaps, more selective than he needs to be, has gotten to two strikes in 62.8% of his plate appearances.

JoseMartinez

Jose Martinez finished the Seattle series with a single and a double yesterday afternoon.  Jose has now strung together a nice six-game hitting streak.  He is hitting .333 during the streak (8 for 24), with half the hits going for extra-bases (2 doubles, 2 home runs).  Since being returned to the lineup 13 games ago, Jose is hitting .314 (16 for 51), and slugging .529 with 3 home runs.

DexterFowler

Fowler also has a little hitting streak going, having at least one hit in each of the last 7 games he’s had an official at bat in.  He walked as a pinch-hitter in the last game against San Diego.  Counting that walk, over his last 25 plate appearances, Fowler has contributed 5 singles, 1 double, 1 home run and 5 walks – a .350/.480/.550 batting line.

Fowler – like Goldschmidt – is a taker of pitches.  For all his talk about aggression, he never did hit the first strike thrown him at any point in the series, working with two strikes on him in 9 of the 11 plate appearances he had where they actually pitched to him (he was intentionally walked his last time up).

All three of his hits in the series came with two strikes on him.

YadierMolina

While most of the Cardinals’ struggling hitters found some measure of success in Seattle, things are still not falling in for Yadier Molina.  Yadi is 0-for-10 with a sacrifice fly in his last 11 plate appearances, but three of those outs (including the sac fly) have been line drives.  In 20 games since he’s returned from injury, Yadi is carrying a .239/.257/.282 batting line.

MichaelWacha

After allowing just 3 runs over 13 innings of his previous two starts, inconsistency found Michael Wacha yesterday afternoon, and he was driven from the mound before he could get through the fourth inning.

Wacha has labored to a 5.89 ERA since he returned from the injured list.

CarlosMartinez

Carlos Martinez’ season began on the injured list, and his first several appearances out of the pen were less than sharp.  That has resolved itself over his last 7 appearances (10.1 innings) in which he has given just 1 run on 7 hits (0.87 ERA).  Over that span, Carlos has walked just 2, given no extra-base hits, and struck out 11.

Of the last 24 batters to put the ball in play against him, exactly two-third have hit the ball on the ground.

AndrewMiller

Like Martinez, it took Andrew Miller a little while to get the feel of his slider.  The recent results indicate it is about back to its former level of filthiness.  He has struck out all of the last five batters he’s put into two strike counts, and 9 of the last 11.

NoteBook

Jose Martinez grounded into two double plays last night.  He has already bounced into 11 this season.  His career high are the 15 he hit into last year in 152 games and 534 at bats.

Last night’s victory gave St Louis a series win on the road.  This was their fourteenth road series of the season, and only the fifth of them that they have won, losing 8 and splitting 1.  Even with the win, they are 19-24 on the road this season.

Even though they eventually won the game, St Louis trailed after six innings for the ninth game in a row.

Carlos Martinez as Closer?

It was not quite a week ago that the Cardinals wrapped up one of the most successful months in their storied history.  With last Friday’s 12-5 conquest of Cincinnati, St Louis put the cherry on a 22-6 month.  The surprise feature of the historic month was the emergence of the bullpen.

An early-season disaster area, the relief corps contributed a 2.82 ERA to the August effort. Opposing hitters managed just a .214 average against these talented but young arms.  In 92.2 innings the bullpen allowed just 6 home runs, 13 doubles and no triples – a .307 slugging percentage against.

And then the calendar flipped to September.

Through the first four games of the season’s ultimate month, the bullpen suffered at least a hiccup, if not a major regression.  Through the first 21 bullpen innings of September, the relief corps surrendered 13 runs (12 earned) on 21 hits and 14 walks.  The hits included 4 home runs – three off the fingertips of presumptive closer Bud Norris – in just 1.1 innings.

Looking for just their second win in five games this month, the Cardinals thought they might breathe a little.  A 3-run first (courtesy of Matt Adams’ first Cardinal home run in a couple of years) – followed by 2 more runs in the second – gave them an early cushion.  A fifth-inning run (courtesy of Adams’ second home run of the night) made it 6-0 Cardinals.

But then, leading 7-2 in the seventh, starter Miles Mikolas ran into a spot of two-out trouble.  A Bryce Harper single and a double off the bat of Anthony Rendon brought Juan Soto to the plate with two runners in scoring position.  With 107 pitches thrown and 12 hits given up, Mikolas was certainly a candidate for relief.  Whatever misgivings manager Mike Shildt may have had toward his bullpen, they were not in evidence here.  Into the game came the usually reliable Dakota Hudson.

Dakota did get that final out of the inning – seventeen pitches later when Pedro Severino slashed a sharp line drive into right-center that the ever-quick Harrison Bader caught up to.  In between, a walk, a double, a single and a wild pitch had turned an early laugher into a tense 7-6 games.

What now?

The usual eighth- and ninth inning duo has been Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris.  But Hicks had pitched in both of the previous games (and warmed up several times).  With his work-load already approaching 70 innings (with a month left in the season), the 22-year-old (as of today) fire-baller has increasingly shown the strain of the season.  And Norris – of course – had suddenly sprung a leak.

At this point, the September bullpen had pitched to a 5.91 ERA.  They had thrown only 57% of their pitches for strikes – walking 15 batters in 21.1 innings – with a distressing opponent’s batting line of .288/.392/.588.

The ending tonight would be different.

On this night, the hero of the bullpen would be erstwhile starter Carlos Martinez.  The last six outs would belong to him.  He would get them, but – as has been true for most of this early month – it would not be easy.  After 40 more pitches – which included two singles, a runner reaching on an error, and 4 strikeouts, Carlos finally got Michael Taylor to chase a slider running out of the strike zone for the last out in a tenser-than-desired 7-6 victory (box score).

Carlos the Closer?

The two innings and 40 pitches preclude Martinez from being used again anytime soon, but does raise the intriguing concept of Carlos Martinez as Cardinal closer.  Norris has done an admirable job through most of the season, and a couple of bad outings in a row doesn’t necessarily mean that he is collapsing.  So any continued faith that Shildt has in him would not be unjustified.

At the same time, Bud has never been a closer in September for a team in the hunt.  This is unknown territory for him.  It is also so for Martinez, who did pitch out of the bullpen in September and the playoffs during his first two years (2013-2014) – but not as closer.

Since the All-Star Break, Norris is 6-for-6 in save opportunities when entering with a 3-run lead, allowing no runs and just 2 singles in 6 innings in those games.  He is only 5-for-8 when he has less than those three runs.  In the 6.2 innings he’s lasted in these contests, Bud holds an 8.10 ERA, with a .355/.487/.581 batting line against.

For the season, Norris is 14-of-14 with a 1.84 ERA and a .152/.200/.152 batting line against in save opportunities of 3-or-more runs.  When brought in to protect a 1- or 2-run lead, he is a much more pedestrian 14-of-19, with a 4.82 ERA and a .286 batting average against.  He has walked 9 batters and hit another in those 18.2 innings.

Carlos has only made 7 relief appearances – only once as the closer – but so far so good.  He has allowed just 1 run in 8.1 relief innings.

Should Martinez get more of these late-game opportunities, it raises an intriguing possibility.  Carlos was the team’s opening day starter in New York, where he threw the first pitch of the Cardinal season.  The Cardinal second half began on the road in Chicago, where Martinez again threw the first pitch of the second half.  St Louis’ season will end in Chicago, giving Carlos the opportunity to throw the last pitch of the Cardinal season.  I’m sure it’s been done before, but that would be a curious trifecta.

Miles Mikolas

Having already surpassed his career-high in innings (at least at the major league level – he threw 188 in Japan last year) Mikolas has struggled some, recently.  Although he missed by one out last night, Miles has only 1 quality start in his last 5 outings, while pitching to a 4.60 ERA over 29.1 innings.

This was the second time in three starts that Miles has served up 12 hits (Colorado had that many in 4.2 innings on August 24).  Over the 16.1 innings covered by those last three starts, Mikolas has served up 32 hits, with a .421 batting average against.

That being said, Miles hasn’t shown much signs of prospering on extra-rest.  He was pitching on six-days rest last night.  Since the break, he has pitched on extra rest 5 times.  In those games, he has worked 29.1 innings with a 4.91 ERA and a .336 batting average against.  His ERA is just 2.16 in the 4 games this half he has pitched on four-days of rest.

He has a 2.35 ERA this season when starting on four-days.

Fireworks from the Offense

After driving 40 home runs and averaging 5.29 runs per game in 28 games through that exciting August, the offense took a little breather during the first three games of September – all loses.  In those games, they totaled 7 runs and 1 home run.

Frankly, the only reason St Louis isn’t off to an 0-5 start this month is the return the last two games of the August offense.  Over their last 18 innings, Cardinal batsmen have smacked 8 home runs and piled up 18 runs – in both cases, barely enough to survive short starts and shaky bullpen efforts.

Marcell Ozuna

One of the things the offense could really use is a return to 2017 form for Marcell Ozuna.  Hitless in his first 8 at bats after a short DL stint, Ozuna has been one of the heroes of the last two games.  Marcell drilled two home runs on Tuesday night, and followed with 4 singles last night.

Ozuna – whose second-half average is up to .298 (45 for 151) with 8 home runs – was starting to turn things around noticeably in August before his injury.  In 20 August games, he hit .321 (26 for 81).

Jose Martinez

After leading the team with a .389 batting average in August, Jose Martinez began September in a mini-swoon (one single in his first 15 at bats).  He looked more like the old Jose last night, as he contributed 3 singles.  Martinez is now hitting .336 (48 for 143) in the second half.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter didn’t contribute as loudly as he usually does in a Cardinal victory, but he still added a single, a double, a run batted in and 2 runs scored.  Since the break, Matt is a .290/.418/.639 hitter with 16 home runs, 36 runs scored, and 33 runs batted in in 46 games (and those kind of RBIs are tough to achieve when you hit leadoff).  Matt has also been intentionally walked 13 times over his last 46 games.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong hit one of the home runs in Tuesday’s game, but can’t seem to keep anything sustained.  After his 0-for-5 last night, Paul is still hitting just .200 in the second half (34 for 170) – albeit, now, with 8 home runs.

NoteBook

Up next is a three-game set in Detroit.  After that St Louis plays 13 of its next 16 at home.  If this team can figure out its own home park (they are 37-31 at home) they could have an opportunity to open up some ground in the wild-card race.  And, since they then close the season with three games in Wrigley, if they can pick up a couple of games on Chicago in the process (they are currently 4.5 games behind), that could make for a very interesting closing series.

First, though, they will have to resolve – again – that bullpen.

DeJong Reverses RISP Trend in Cardinal Win

Fearless forcast – mark it down.  At some point this season, the Cardinals will lose a game to the Cincinnati Reds.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it will.

It almost happened Saturday afternoon.  Three Cardinal home runs accounted for all of their scoring in a 4-3 win (box score) – a game in which they were 0-or-6 with runners in scoring position (RISP).  This has been a continuing sore spot for an offense that has still mostly underachieved (in spite of the fact that they are still scoring 4.81 runs a game).  With the 0-for-6 on Saturday, the Cards fell to 6 for 32 (.188) is RISP opportunities over their four previous games.  It also dropped them to .230 (35 for 152) for the season in RBI opportunities.

For one afternoon on Sunday, though, the concerns were temporarily allayed as St Louis cruised past Cincinnati (for the seventh straight time this season) by a 9-2 score (box score). One of the game features was a 5-for-16 performance (.313) with runners in scoring position.  Whether this is the beginning of a turnaround is yet to be determined.

Noteworthy in the game – and in the early season struggles – is second-year shortstop Paul DeJong.  Entering the game just 2-for-19 (.105) with runners in scoring position, Paul had ducks on the pond every time he came to the plate Sunday afternoon.  Batting eighth in many of the recent games, manager Mike Matheny sought to change things up by batting DeJong fifth this day, and the game continually found him.

In the first inning – with the game still scoreless – DeJong came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out.  He bounced into the 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Now it’s the third inning.  The Cards have just pushed their lead to 2-0, when Paul came to the plate with runners at first and second and one out.  But instead of another rally-killing ground ball, DeJong slapped a single that positioned a runner (Yadier Molina) at third, where he would score on a fly-ball off the bat of Tyler O’Neill (his first major league RBI), giving the Cards a 3-0 lead.

When Dexter Fowler led off the fifth with a walk and a stolen base, DeJong had yet another RISP opportunity.  Nothing came of this as Paul grounded out.

In the meantime, the Cardinal offense had slowed, and the Reds began to chip away at the deficit.  So, when Paul came to the plate in the seventh inning – with runners at first and second and two out – the Cards were clinging to a 3-2 lead.  Just 3 for 22 at this point with runners in scoring position on the season, Paul DeJong finally came through.  He delivered a crushing three-run homer that took much of the pressure off, and sent the Cards on to their decisive victory.

While DeJong hasn’t (yet) been as consistent as he was in his rookie year, this was – nonetheless – his seventh home run of the young season.  Big hits in clutch situations from DeJong would go a long way toward healing what’s wrong with the St Louis offense.

If DeJong is turning the corner, the RISP results are still frustrating for Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter.  Wong ended the third by striking out with runners at first and second.  He is now 2 for 11 (.182) in the early season with runners on base.  Carpenter had a fourth inning chance with two on and no one out, but he was retired on a fly ball.  Matt is just 2 for his first 15 (.133) in RISP situations.

Again, it’s early.

Two RISP Pitching Notes

On the subject of runners in scoring position, a couple of pitching numbers jumped out at me this morning.  Neither pitcher pitched on Sunday, but rookie Jordan Hicks and top starter Carlos Martinez have both found another gear when pitching in RISP situations.  Hicks has held batters to 0-for-16 in these opportunities so far this season.

As for Martinez, he served up a two-run single to New York’s Yoenis Cespedes in the second inning of his shaky opening start against the Mets.  That has been the only hit this season off of Carlos when he has had ducks on the pond.  Batters are now 1-for-24 (.042) against Martinez in these situations – including 0 for their last 21.

Speaking of Pitching

Miles Mikolas (Sunday’s starter) added another strong effort to the rotation’s early success.  Miles finished his day having pitched 7 innings, allowing 1 earned run on 5 hits.  Since the first two games of the season, the Cardinal rotation holds a 2.73 ERA, allowing just 8 home runs over their last 112 innings.

Recent Scoring Changes – For Those Scoring at Home

Dexter Fowler’s struggling start got a little better.  In the fifth inning of the April 12 game in Cincinnati, Fowler reached when his pop-fly to short fell in.  Originally scored an error, Dexter has now been awarded a hit on the effort.  It pushes his early season average up to .192.

Fixing the Brand

As the 2017 playoffs begin to crank up in earnest, the St Louis Cardinals will be relegated to watching.  A proud franchise who – not too long ago played in four consecutive Championship Series –  will be bristling over their second straight exclusion from the post-season dance.

All over Cardinal Nation, a host of voices will be raised to give guidance and counsel to the St Louis management.  I understand that mine will be a lonely voice, lost – no doubt – amidst the throngs clamoring for truckloads of money to be thrown at some high profile free agent or other.  I am not terribly concerned about these voices, because (usually) Cardinal management has a much clearer grasp on the needs of their team than the common fan.

This year, however, from their early comments I am concerned that John Mozeliak and his councilors may have missed the many loud messages that his team has been sending him.  So, as I acknowledge the fact that my singular plea for reason is liable to vanish into the great void of the blogosphere, I will nonetheless send forth my diagnosis of the club’s current issues and – as far as I am able – to at least hint at some sensible prescriptions.

It is important to note that none of this is as cut and dried as most fans (and bloggers) seem to think.  Contrary to many opinions, giving Miami whatever they want for Giancarlo Stanton is not really a prescription for success, either in 2018 or beyond.

This is, in fact, both a critical and challenging offseason.  St Louis has a handful of gifted players who must be added to the 40-man roster or be lost.  They, therefore, will be challenged with making critical decisions about the futures of the players already on that roster.  In many of these cases, the cases for and against these players is anything but clear.  The organizational challenge is to be right in deciding which young talents to embrace and which to part with.

None of this will be easy at all, as I will attempt to point out.

First Off, This is a Team in Transition

Most followers of the Cardinals are already aware that this team is transitioning from the veterans of the teams that went to all of those championship series.  For years, the organization has been stockpiling talent throughout its minor league system.  Now, that rich resource is beginning to re-shape the major league team.

Twenty-three percent of all plate appearances taken by the 2017 Cardinals belonged to players who opened the season in Memphis.  That percentage rose to 34% in the second half.  The pitching staff was less influenced, but still 16% of the innings pitched came from Memphis arms.  That figure also rose to 25% in the second half.

Make no mistake.  The youth movement is underway.  There had been similar displacement the year before, with the emergences of Aledmys Diaz and Alex Reyes.  St Louis is clearly rebuilding, and trying to remain competitive while doing so.

The answer to getting this team back into the playoffs – for all of the rebuilding – is actually comparatively simple.  They need to guess correctly on a closer.

Get Thyself a Closer

For as uneven as the Cardinals have been the last two years, they would have made the playoffs both years if they could have successfully filled one position – the closer.  With more stability in the ninth inning, this teams could easily have made up the one game they lacked in 2016 and the four they fell short of this year.  Cardinal pitchers appearing as closers finished 2017 with a 3.75 ERA – the worst showing for Cardinal closers since the fourth-place 2008 team finished with a 6.27 ERA from its closers.

It has become axiomatic throughout baseball – probably on all levels.  If you don’t pitch the ninth, you will not succeed.  This organization believed it had the ninth inning covered at the start of both of the last two seasons.  They had no reasons to anticipate the struggles Trevor Rosenthal would have in 2016 or the problems that Seung-hwan Oh would run into this year.

Swing the net out to include the eighth inning, and the story becomes even more compelling.  They lost 6 games this year when leading after 7 innings.  Even more telling, in games the Cards were tied after 7 innings, they were only 3-12 – by percentage the worst performance by a Cardinal team in this century

But the Cardinals already know they have bullpen issues.  And solving the eighth and ninth innings may well get them back into the playoffs, but won’t address the issues that will keep them from advancing once there.

It’s from this point on that I don’t think the organization is seeing clearly.

The Magical Impact Bat?

Among the primary targets this offseason, an “impact bat” seems to be high on the list.  Really?  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t mind seeing an established bat in the middle of the lineup.  But who?  And at what cost.

The least intrusive path would be free agency.  But who would that be?  J.D. Martinez is probably the most established of the free-agents to be.  Would he come to St Louis?  Given the Cardinals’ track record of wooing elite free agents (not to mention the spacious ballpark), I’ll have to remain skeptical on this one.

What concerns me most is that they will go out and trade a whole bunch of promising players for a slightly upgraded version of Brandon Moss.  Is Josh Donaldson, for example, really worth surrendering the future of an Alex Reyes or a Sandy Alcantara?  Are you really sure we don’t already have that impact bat?  Can you say for certainty that the three-four-five spots in the Cardinal order come next July (or perhaps even June) won’t be Paul DeJong, Patrick Wisdom and Tyler O’Neill?  Look at some of the players on the team this year that got less than full-time at bats.

DeJong hit 25 home runs in 417 at bats.  Give him 500 at bats (around the norm for a starter) and Paul would have been a 30 home run man with a .285/.325/.532 batting line.  And he was a rookie this year.  There is a fairly good chance we haven’t seen the best of Paul yet.

Tommy Pham only made 128 starts, but finished with 23 home runs and a .306/.411/.520 batting line.  A .931 OPS sounds pretty “impact” to me.

Jose Martinez got only 272 at bats, but hit 14 home runs.  That would project to 26 home runs in a 500 at bat season to go along with his .309/.379/.518 batting line.  Are we really, truly sure that Jose couldn’t be a fulltime player.

Moreover, I think the “impact bat” is an over-rated concept, unless you’re running a Whitey-ball offense and your lineup is 7 jack-rabbits and one bopper.  Far more important is the depth of the lineup.

Consider:  in the offensively unimpressive first half, four of the eight Cardinal batsmen with the most plate appearances hit below .250.  Dexter Fowler finished at .248, Stephen Piscotty hit .240, Matt Carpenter scuffled in at .237, and Randal Grichuk hit the break at .215.  That’s a lot of outs sprinkled regularly through the lineup.  A “bopper” in the middle would certainly help, but with that many struggling bats, one “impact bat” won’t cure the problem.

Now consider: for the 44 games from August 6 through September 23, St Louis averaged 5.77 runs per game – an adequate offensive production, by anyone’s standard.  During that span – of the eight players getting the most plate appearances – only Carpenter (.244) was under .250 – and that just barely.  Nobody hit more than the 9 home runs that came off the bat of DeJong, but almost everybody hit some.  Most importantly, they weren’t making outs.  In almost all cases, a deep lineup is better for your offense than a concentrated one.

There is considerable pressure in the team to do something dramatic to push the team back into the playoffs.  Again, I am just one voice.  But if I had one of the best farm systems in baseball, I would trust it more.  I would give this system every opportunity to prove to me that the pieces I need are already at my disposal.  I’m not saying never trade from any of this surplus.  But I am saying don’t trade the future for a mess of pottage (no offense, Josh).

Wither Lance Lynn

In this post, I made most of my case for keeping Lance Lynn.  Since one of the comments made by the brain trust had something to do with shoring up the rotation (a goal I approve of), I have to wonder where they think they will get better value than Lance?  Remembering that he was in his first year coming off elbow reconstruction (the infamous Tommy John surgery), Lance’s 33 starts, 17 quality starts, 186.1 innings pitched and 3.43 ERA are quite impressive.

More than the numbers, though, Lance was a bulldog.  He even got hit in the head with a line drive and kept on pitching.  As the next generation of pitchers graduate to the majors, Lance would be a terrific mentor.

Yes, he faded at the end – which was disappointing.  Still, I am not at all convinced that, for the money and the years it would take to sign Lynn, they will find a better bargain out there.

Here’s a final note.  In a down year for free-agent pitchers, Lance will be a likely target for a certain division rival who is always scrambling for pitching.  He would be just what the doctor ordered for them.

My prediction here is that if they let Lance walk, they will regret it.

These are all important considerations, but the single most important failing of the 2017 team is one that I don’t think they are even aware of.

A Matter of Character

Throughout the course of the entire season, manager Mike Matheny would intone sentiments similar to this: time and time again, this team has shown me its character and its toughness; one thing I will never ever doubt is the toughness and character of this team.

The character of the team and its much-envied clubhouse was the foundation upon which the belief in the Cardinals’ eventual triumph was forged.  It is organizational bedrock.  The foundational doctrine upon which all decisions are based.

And it’s complete mythology.

In every way possible, the 2017 Cardinals tried to send this message to their manager’s office – and to their front office, too for that matter.  Character wins were almost non-existent in 2017.

They were 4-7 in walk-off victories, 5-9 in extra-innings, 24-29 in one-run games.  And two measures that I am fond of as revealers of character: they were 39-39 after losing their previous game, and 27-44 against teams with winning records – including losing 6 of their last 7 must-win games against Chicago.

As a point of reference, the 39-39 in games after a loss is the worst record for a Cardinal team in this century.  The 2007 team that finished 78-84 was 43-41 after a loss.  The 2006 team that snuck into the playoffs and won the whole thing after an 83-78 regular season was 43-40 after a loss (counting the playoffs).

By contrast, the 100-win 2005 team went 50-15 after a loss (counting the playoffs).  In fact, the three 100-win versions in this century (2004, 2005, 2015) combined to go 128-65 (.663) after losing their previous game.  There have been seven 90-win teams in this century so far.  After losing their previous game, those teams have combined to go 301-209 (.591).  There have also been seven 80-win teams in St Louis in this century.  Even they have managed to go 294-251 (.539) in games after a loss.

The utility of this metric is that it reveals precisely one of the principle failings of this year’s club – a frustrating inability to break out of losing streaks.  In my season wrap-up post, I documented several extended losing spells.  In most of them, St Louis needed to wait for a series against a pretty bad team (like Philadelphia) before they could pull themselves out of their tailspin.

As to the record against winning teams, think about 27-44.  That is a .380 winning percentage.  If you took a fairly good AAA team and had them play 71 games against average major league teams, this is about the record you would expect them to compile.  In fact, this winning percentage is also the lowest of any Cardinal team in this century, breaking the one-year-old record of the 2016 team that floundered along at 24-35 (.407) against teams that won at least as many as they lost.

I promise you that the talent gap isn’t that great between the Cardinals and the other winning teams in the league.  This points strictly to toughness.

Over the course of the entire century, St Louis is 766-566 (.575) after a loss, and 713-688 (.509) against winning teams.

So, who are the players who have routinely fallen short in these character games?  It’s time, I suppose, to name names.

Stephen Piscotty

Enduring the worst season of his career, Piscotty also routinely came up short in tough situations.  He hit .213 against winning teams (29 for 136) with 3 home runs.  This included a .179 average (5 for 28 – all singles) after the All-Star Break.  During the season’s second half he was also 10 for 57 (.175) in games after a loss, and just 3 for 24 with runners in scoring position.  Renowned for his prowess with runners in scoring position through the first two seasons of his career, Piscotty hit just .125 in the second half this year with ducks on the pond.

I don’t think anyone in the organization believes that 2017 will be a representative year in the career of Stephen Piscotty.  A combination of things conspired to derail his season early, and he never found his way back.  But, with talented outfielders rising through the system, the organization will now be forced to re-evaluate their commitment to Piscotty.  Further complicating the issue is that, should they decide to trade Stephen, they are unlikely to get full trade value.

Piscotty is a very cerebral player, and very likely to figure things out.  Whatever his future with the organization, Stephen is one player who could profit greatly by hitting the ground running next season.

Luke Weaver

This, I suppose, should be expected.  Rookie right-hander Luke Weaver was mostly a revelation during the last part of the second half.  But the young man still has some lessons to learn that the league’s better clubs are all too willing to teach.

Luke made 5 starts against winning teams, culling just 1 quality start.  He served up 6 home runs in 24.2 innings, compiling a 2-2 record with an 8.03 ERA and a .321/.381/.547 batting line against.  It will be interesting to see how quickly he learns and adapts.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman was a bit exposed – especially late in the season – by the better teams.  In 35 games (26.2 innings) against higher quality opponents, Matthew was pushed around a bit to the tune of a 5.06 ERA and a .284 batting average against.

Not So Cut and Dried

A few of the players on the team, though, defy an easy label.  In this difficult off-season, these will be the hardest decisions the organization will have to make, as guessing wrong will come with consequences.

Randal Grichuk

For the last two seasons, Randal has been the almost-emergent superstar.  In each of the last two seasons, his final numbers have disappointed.  But in both seasons he has shown enough hint of promise to earn another chance.

Grichuk finished 2017 with much the same totals as 2016.  The batting average fell a couple of notches to .238 (from .240) and the home runs dipped from 24 to 22.  He ended 2017 slugging .473 after slugging .480 the year before.  Overall, less than compelling.

But, he did hit .265/.303/.550 with 13 of his home runs in 189 at bats after the break.  So now, the organization has to decide if that was just a tease?  Or is it real progress?

He ended the year at just .218 (43 of 197) against winning teams, but hit 11 of his 22 home runs against them.  In the second half, he was 20 of 83 (.241) when playing winning teams, but with a .542 slugging percentage as half of those 20 hits went for extra bases – including 7 home runs.

In games after a loss, Randal checked in with a disappointing .201 average (36 of 179), including just .188 (15 for 80) in the second half – but again, with a .438 slugging percentage.

Randal mostly split right field with Piscotty in the season’s second half.  In Grichuk’s 34 starts the team was 22-12.  They were 13-18 in Piscotty’s 31 starts.

There is no question that Randal was productive in the second half.  His 13 home runs were only 3 behind team-leader Paul DeJong in 100 fewer at bats.  If the Grichuk of the second half had had a 500 at bat season he would have hit 34 home runs with his .265 batting average and .550 slugging percentage.

With Randal’s potential, you would hope for more than that.  But, if the Randal they saw in the second half is the Randal that they can count on seeing all of next year, I think they could accept that.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s entire season is tough to get a handle on.  On the one hand, he drew a career high 109 walks, leading to the second-highest on-base percentage of his career (.384).  On the other hand, his batting average continued to sink – down to .241 (30 points lower than his previous worst average).  On the other hand, he was apparently battling shoulder issues all season – perhaps accounting for much of that loss of production.  On the other hand, after playing in at least 154 games a year from 2013 through 2015, Matt has followed with two injury plagued seasons.  He also hit 23 home runs (his third consecutive 20-homer season) and slugged a solid .451.  His final OPS of .835 is still well above league average, but below either of his previous two seasons.

In his games against winning teams, Matt hit just .221 (49 of 222), but drew 38 walks, helping him to a .341 on base percentage.  He made 141 starts this year, with the team going 70-71 (.496) when he was in the lineup, and 13-8 (.619) when he wasn’t.

So did Matt have a good year or not? With the home runs and the on base, I suppose that I would have to call it good, but troubling.  By degrees, Matt is becoming more valuable for his ability to walk than for his ability to hit the ball.  And, by degrees, the team is starting to feel the loss of that big hit.

Carpenter is one of the team’s core members, and he will be on the field somewhere on opening day (barring another injury).  But a lot of elements in his career trajectory concern me.

Michael Wacha

While this was – in many ways – a triumphal season for Michael Wacha, he is still coming up short in these character games.  After suffering through three injury plagued seasons, an offseason workout regimen kept Michael on the field for 30 starts and 165.2 innings.  The anticipation is that his 12-9 record and 4.13 ERA will be marks to build on going forward.

It may, indeed, play out that way.  It is, nonetheless, true, that Wacha (who excelled against good teams and in stopper situations early in his career) continues to trend down in these games.

From 2013 through 2015, Wacha pitched in 40 games (35 starts) against teams that boasted winning records for the season.  He was 15-9 in those games with a 3.08 ERA and a .217 batting average against.

In 2013 and 2014, Wacha pitched in 12 games (10 starts) after a Cardinal loss.  He was 5-3 with a 2.88 ERA in those situations, holding batters to a .195 batting average.

In 2017, Wacha was only 2-6 in 12 starts against winning teams.  His 5.90 ERA was accompanied by a .296/.365/.502 batting line against.  He was 5-4 in 13 starts following a Cardinal loss, but with a 4.76 ERA.  Since 2015, Wacha is 4-10 against winning teams with a 5.70 ERA, and since 2014 he is 15-9, but with a 4.64 ERA in games after a loss.

Wacha is yet another enigma on this team.  Beyond the physical issues, there has been a palpable loss of mojo.  The spectacular hero of the 2013 playoffs has lost that big game feel.  Wacha is one of the players who could make a huge difference next year if he can channel his earlier self.

Carlos Martinez

In spite of the fact that he tossed his first two complete-game shutouts and crossed over both the 200-inning and 200-strikeout plateaus for the first time in his career, Carlos Martinez regressed noticeably in 2017.  After going 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA in 2015 (his first year in the rotation), and 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year, Carlos saw those numbers sink to 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA.  And the core difficulty that he had was with winning teams.

In his first two seasons in the rotation, Martinez had gone 12-9 with a 3.35 ERA against winning teams.  He had put together quality starts in 17 of his 26 starts against them.

He made 15 starts against winning teams this year.  Only 7 of those fulfilled the standards for a quality start.  Even though he has “stuff” the equal of any pitcher in the game, he was only 4-7 with a 4.28 ERA in those games.  He was just 1-3 with a 6.12 ERA with a .301 batting average against them in the second half of the season.  After allowing just 12 home runs in 166.2 innings against winning teams his first two years in the rotation, he served up 11 in 90.1 innings against them last year.

In all likelihood, this is just a bump in the road for Carlos.  But there were a couple of concerning developments that I noticed that need to be solved somehow, or Martinez will never realize his potential.

For one thing, Martinez continually tries to do too much.  His anointing as the ace of the staff this year may have fed into this tendency.  Especially in big games, he tries too much to give extra effort.  In a game that rewards players that learn to play within themselves, this will usually be counterproductive.

It was noted that Carlos complicated three consecutive late-season starts by throwing away routine double-play balls.  More than this, though, Martinez’ need to do too much affected his fielding for much of the season.  He dove, scrambled, and lunged for every near-by ground ball.  He probably caused nearly a dozen infield hits by deflecting grounders that would have been right to his infielders.

On several occasions, he even kicked at ground balls to his right, like a hockey goalie trying to make a skate save.  Now, I ask you, what good could come of that?  Who in the world could make a play on a ball that Carlos has deflected with his foot?

It’s all part and parcel of a young pitcher losing control of himself.

The other issue is even more concerning.  There sometimes – especially in big games – seems to be an emotional fragility to Martinez.  Something in his confidence seems to drain if the opposing team has early success against him.  He hasn’t fully mastered the ability to gather himself after bad things happen and continue to pitch within himself.

There is no better example of this than the game that sent the Cardinal season spinning toward its final destination (box score).

For ten batters on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Wrigley, Carlos Martinez was untouchable.  His 100-mph fast ball jumped and ran like a thing alive, and his slider was about eleven different flavors of filthy.  The defending champion Cubs – possessors of one of the most potent lineups in baseball – couldn’t touch him.  Five of the ten batters struck out, and four of the others hit groundouts.  Of his first 43 pitches, 30 were strikes.

Then Kris Bryant – the eleventh batter to face him – looped a fly ball to right on a 2-0 pitch.  It wasn’t hit terribly well or terribly far.  If this incident had happened at Busch, Piscotty would have probably been about a step on the track as he made the catch.  But in Wrigley it was just far enough to creep over that overhanging basket for a game-tying home run.

And with that, the air went out of Carlos Martinez.

The first 10 batters he faced got no hits.  Six of the last 16 he faced got hits.  After striking out 5 of the first 10, he didn’t strike out another batter.  While 30 of his first 43 pitches were strikes, only 31 of his final 57 made it to the strike zone.  None of the first 10 batters walked.  Carlos walked 3 of the last 16 and hit another as his once dominating slider flew wildly all over the place.

Carlos ended the affair lasting just 5.1 innings.  On a day that he started with devastating stuff, he ended serving up 7 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks.

Being “the man” requires uncommon mental and emotional discipline.  The next level for Martinez lies just beyond that barrier.

Let it be noted that in three years in the rotation, Carlos is 17-8 with a 2.96 ERA in games after a loss.  That includes his 4-3, 2.61 mark this year in those situations.

Better Than the Numbers Suggest

One player deserves mention in a better category.  His contribution was greater than his numbers might suggest.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler was the big free agent acquisition after being one of the drivers of Chicago’s championship the year before.  His final numbers were sort of ordinary (.264 batting average with 18 home runs).  He also hit just .225 (42 for 187) against winning teams, and .237 (52 of 219) in games following a loss.  Not overly impressive.

But Fowler’s season was a story of two halves.  Hobbled by a variety of injuries in the first half (mostly his feet), Dexter limped to a .248 average (albeit with 14 home runs).  He had hit .199 (27 of 136) against winning teams, and .201 (28 of 139) in games after a loss.

As his health improved, Fowler became a decided force for good throughout the second half.  He hit .288/.400/.488 after the break, including .294 with a .400 on base percentage against winning teams, and .300 with a .402 on base percentage in games after a loss.

The guy I saw at the end of the season is the guy I’m excited to see all year next year.

Setting the Bar

The Cardinals did have a few players who consistently rose to the challenge of the games against the better teams.  They should get a notice as well.

Tommy Pham

Tommy’s break-through season wasn’t limited to beating up on lesser teams.  Tommy hit .287 against over .500 teams with a .391 on base percentage.  He also hit .330/.451/.558 in games after a loss.  He also hit .305/.420/.514 with runners in scoring position.  Tommy had himself a year.

Lance Lynn

It’s probably fitting that I spend the last few paragraphs that I am likely to devote to the 2017 baseball season to Lance Lynn.  While the Cardinals repeatedly fell short against winning teams, Lance was 4-3 against them, with 4 other potential wins lost in the bullpen.  He posted a 3.09 ERA against these teams in 78.2 innings, with a .196 batting average against him.

Are we really, really sure we want to cut ties with him?

Final Word

Again, I am just one voice.  But the message clearly sent from the 2017 season is that this team’s greatest need is not some aging slugger to bat fourth.  The greatest gap between the Cards and the Cubs – and the other good teams in the majors – is the character gap.  If this were my team, this is the area that I would focus on first.

Cards Withstand Eighth Inning Rally

After three hours and 46 minutes – and 349 pitches – the St Louis Cardinals – clinging by their fingernails in the chase for the National League’s last playoff spot and in a death struggle against their ancient rivals – finally held on to one of the season’s most uncomfortable victories, 8-7 (box score).

Starter Carlos Martinez ground through 4.1 innings that were complicated by 4 hits, 4 walks, a hit batsman, and a batter reaching on a catcher’s interference call that wiped out a potential double play.  In all, that’s 10 base-runners.  But, in a departure from his earlier form, Carlos didn’t unravel.  Pitching under nearly constant pressure, Carlos held his stuff together, allowed only 3 of the runners to score (only two of them earned), and walked off the mound holding a 5-3 lead.

And then there was the eighth inning.  In a throwback to the thready first half when the Cardinal bullpen hemorrhaged runs in that inning, two Chicago home runs put 4 sudden runs on the board and closed St Louis’ big lead back down to a single run.  The Cubs ended the game putting the tying run in scoring position in both the eighth and ninth innings against newly ordained closer Juan Nicasio.

But – for one night, anyway – the Cardinals were the tough ones as they won enough of the tough at bats to hold off the defending world champs.

Time to exhale.

That Nettlesome Eighth Inning

Repeatedly through the first 88 games of the season, games would blow up on the Cards in the eighth inning.  They limped into the break with a 5.63 ERA in this inning, and a .281 batting average against.  Up until last night, the relative competence of the late inning relief corps was one of the marked improvements in the team.  Up until last night, the team’s second half ERA in the eighth inning was 3.44 with a .230 batting average against.

The two home runs in that inning last night bring to 12 the number of eighth inning home runs hit against the Cardinals since the All-Star Break – one more than in any other inning (there have been 11 hit in both the first and fourth innings).  For the season, now, more runs have been scored against this team in the eighth inning (91) than in any other (85 have been scored in the fifth, the next highest inning).  Their ERA in that inning is still 4.87.

Pitchers Still Struggling

Even though Martinez had some gritty moments, at the end of the day, the Cards have still gone 11 straight games without a quality start, and, surrendering 6 more earned runs, the team ERA is up to 5.87 over those games.  The last 11 Cardinal starters have managed just 44.1 innings – fractionally more than 4 per start – with an 8.53 ERA and a .308 batting average against.  If this keeps up, even a sometimes heroic offense will be unable to keep this team in playoff contention.

Carlos Martinez

While he had moments, and all ended well, Martinez is still struggling through the final playoff push.  Over his last 3 starts, Carlos has made it through just 16 innings with a 7.31 ERA and a .279 batting average against.  Through 5 starts in the month of September, Carlos is 2-1 with a 4.35 ERA.

Ironically for Carlos – considering his season long issues with the first inning – the first innings of his last three starts have been perfect.  In his 5 September starts, Carlos has allowed just 1 baserunner – a walk that didn’t score – in the first innings of those games.  Now, it’s the second inning that’s the issue.  His ERA is now 7.20 this month in the second.

Zach Duke

Zach Duke ended the messy fifth inning, and then tossed a flawless sixth.  Zach, who looks like he has finely found that mystic slider, struck out 3 of the 5 Cubs that he faced.  Over this stretch where the starters have been putting a lot on the shoulders of the bullpen, Zach has been one of the members of the pen who has stepped forward.  He holds a 1.69 ERA over the last 11 games (he’s pitched in 6 of them).  Zach has stranded his last 12 inherited runners.

Eight is Enough for the Offense

While September hasn’t been their most efficient month, the Cardinals are still putting enough runs on the board most nights to get a victory.  With the 8 last night, they are averaging 4.88 this month, and 5.01 in the second half.

Tommy Pham

The Summer of Pham isn’t quite over yet.  With 2 more hits last night – including a home run into Big Mac Land, Tommy Pham has pushed his September batting line to .303/.432/.576.  Since the All-Star Break, Tommy has been to the plate 277 times, with the following results: 46 singles, 14 doubles, 1 triple, 12 home runs, 40 walks, 6 hit-by-pitches, 2 sacrifice bunts, 1 sacrifice fly, and 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts – a batting line of .320/.433/.548.  In his last 65 games (59 starts), Pham has scored 50 runs.

Jedd Gyorko

With two more hits last night, Jedd Gyorko now has 5 in his last two games – including 2 home runs.  He is now hitting .350 (7 for 20) over his last 7 games (about the time he moved back into the starting lineup), with a .700 slugging percentage.  A hot Gyorko down the stretch could make a big difference.

Randal Grichuk

As September has worn on, it seems that Stephen Piscotty has claimed the top spot in the pecking order in right field.  Randal Grichuk got a spot start there last night and drove in two important runs with opposite field extra-base hits.

Grichuk has never become the superstar that Cardinal fans have hoped.  Not yet anyway.  And it certainly feels like this will be his last month as a Cardinal.  St Louis does have a glut of outfielders.  But, before Randal returns to the bench to watch the end of the season play out, it should be noted that since the All-Star Break Grichuk is a .270/.311/.556 hitter.  In 178 second half at bats, Randal has hit 12 home runs, tied for second on the team with Pham (who has hit his in 228 at bats) and trailing only Paul DeJong (who has hit 15 in 272 at bats).  As they say, these numbers will play.

My point, I guess, is to not be too hasty in unloading the talented Mr. Grichuk.  And, maybe, to give him a few more starts down the stretch.

NoteBook

Matt Carpenter’s first inning home run stood up as the game-winning hit – Carpenter’s fifth of the season.  The team leaders going into the last 5 games of the season are Dexter Fowler with 12; Yadier Molina – 11; Gyorko – 9; Carpenter, DeJong, Grichuk, and Kolten Wong all with 5.

Making Their Statement – Such As It Is

Two nights ago, a frustrated Cardinal team unloaded on the second-place Milwaukee Brewers by a 10-2 score.  Was it a statement that this very talented team was through pussyfooting around with the rest of this division? No.  That team was nowhere to be seen yesterday afternoon as they managed only five hits and fell to the Brewers.

Three nights before that, this Cardinal team put together an improbable late inning rally, scoring 2 in the eighth and two in the ninth (on a walk-off homer by Tommy Pham) to stun Tampa Bay 6-4.  Was that the spark that would light the fuse? No.  There was no late inning magic the next day as Tampa Bay took the deciding game of the series, 2-1 in ten innings.

On Saturday, August 12, the Cardinals hung a 6-5 defeat on Atlanta.  It was their eighth straight win.  After languishing at one point in mid-July as far as 6.5 games back, the aroused Cardinals had fought their way back to a tie for the division lead.  That time they even fooled me – and I’ve seen this movie before.

Since the last game of that winning streak, the once-hot Cardinals have lost 10 of their last 15 after last night’s 6-5 loss in Milwaukee (box score).  During that same time span, the Cubs have won 12 of 17 to push the Cardinals back to 6 games under.  In fact, since the last game of that winning streak, the Cards have lost ground to everyone in their division except the Pirates, who have been 5-12 since then.  Even the lowly Reds have gone 7-9 and picked up 1.5 games on the fading Cardinals.

But wait there’s more.

Eleven of these last 15 games have been played against teams with losing records. The Cards lost 7 of those games.

And, of course, with losing 3 of the 4 played against the winning teams they’ve faced, St Louis is now 2-5 this month, 8-9 since the All-Star Break, and 31-40 this season when pitted against teams that currently carry at least a .500 record.

Yesterday saw an all-too familiar pattern repeat.  The Cardinal starter, Carlos Martinez, was battered for 10 hits in 5.2 innings.  Over the last 15 games, Cardinal starters have been spanked to the tune of a .312 batting average against.  With one game left in the month, the batting average against the Cardinal starters this month stands at an even .300.

Game by game, series by series, month by month, this team is sending a very clear message about who they are and who they are not.  They are and have been the team that blinks.

Carlos Martinez

The loss interrupts what had been a pretty good steak for Martinez.  He hasn’t been the dominant pitcher that they believe he will yet be, but he was coming off four very good outings.  Over his previous 24 innings, Carlos had walked just 4 batters, and carried a 3-0 record with a 2.89 ERA.

In the season’s second half, Carlos has faced four teams with winning records.  He matched up against Arrieta and the Cubs on July 21 in Chicago.  It rained hits against him (10) but he battled through 6 innings that night.  Still he would have lost that night, 3-2, had the team not exploded for 9 late runs against the Cub bullpen.

On July 26 he was home to face Jeff Hoffman and the Colorado Rockies.  He lasted 6 that night, too, but gave up 5 runs.  Again, his offense rescued him in a 10-5 victory.

His next start was August 1 in Milwaukee against Jimmy Nelson.  Carlos served up 3 first inning runs, and that was the game.  Martinez made it through only 5 innings, throwing 102 pitches in the 3-2 loss.

And then, yesterday, back in Milwaukee he lost again 6-5, lasting just 5.2 innings and allowing 6 runs (3 earned).

It all adds up to a deceptively bad 1-2 record and a 5.16 ERA – but these games ended up as two Cardinal wins and two very competitive one-run losses.  He did leave a lot of pitches up, and he was hit harder than you would think – the four teams combined for a .323 batting average against Carlos, including 4 home runs.  But Martinez kept us in all of those games against some very talented offenses.

For the whole season, Martinez has been arguably our best starter against winning teams.  In 15 such starts against them, Martinez has 9 quality starts, a 6-6 record with a 3.69 ERA, and a .247 batting average against.  He has also struck out 110 in just 92.2 innings against them.  In his first two years in the rotation, Carlos pitched 28 games (26 starts) against teams that would finish the season with at least a .500 record.  He compiled 17 quality starts, a 12-9 record, a 3.35 ERA, and a .231 batting average against.

Yesterday’s loss was the tenth of the season for Martinez – the first time he has ever had double-digit losses in any season.  He was 16-9 last season, and is 44-31 for his career.

With the three earned runs allowed, Carlos also set a new career high in that category.  After allowing 66 earned runs all of last year in 195.1 innings, he has now surrendered 68 already this year in 174 innings with all of September to go.

Other Starters Facing Winning Teams

Lance Lynn’s second half roll has included 3 games against teams with winning records.  He is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in those games – all quality starts.  For the season, he holds the team’s second-best ERA against winning teams (3.87) in 83.2 innings.  His record in those games is 4-5.

Adam Wainwright’s record is 6-4 in 13 games against winning opponents, but only 5 of those games have been quality starts, and his ERA sits at 5.17 for 69.2 innings.  Over his first 10 seasons, Adam pitched 151 times – with 119 starts – against winning teams.  Eighty-one of those starts were quality starts.  Waino held a 56-42 record in those games, with 7 more potential wins lost by the bullpen.  His ERA was 3.16 over 828 innings.  Over the last two years, Adam has only 9 quality starts out of 23 against quality opponents.  He is 8-9 with a 5.29 ERA and a .302 batting average against in those 127.2 innings.

Michael Wacha has struggled the most when faced with stiffer competition.  In 11 starts against teams currently at .500 or better, Wacha has managed just 2 quality starts, a 3-4 record and a 5.56 ERA while serving up 10 home runs in 55 innings.  Wacha’s trend is similar to Wanwright’s.  Through his first three years in the league, he was 15-9 with a 3.08 ERA against winning teams.  Through the last two, just 5-8, 5.51.

Bullpen Quietly Coming Around

The bullpen gave the team a shot at the comeback yesterday as they retired all 7 Brewers they faced.  For the season, their ERA is still a spotty 3.85 against winning teams, but that number has only been 2.94 in 49 innings since the All-Star Break.

Offense Still Scoring Enough to Win

They don’t score 10 runs every night anymore, but most of the time the offense puts up enough runs to win.  They scored 5 yesterday, and are averaging 5.27 runs per game through the 5-10 slump.  For the month, they average 5.81 runs per game, and 5.09 since the break.

Much of that, though, has come at the expense of poorer teams.  With only 5 total hits yesterday, the Cards are at just .245 this month, and .248 for the year against teams that are at least at .500.

Tommy Pham

Pham was a sort of one-man offense again.  He accounted for 4 of the runs with 2 two-run home runs.  Tommy has now hit in five straight games.  In the 21 plate appearances accounted for in those games, Tommy has 3 singles, a double, 3 home runs, 6 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, and 4 walks – adding up to a .412/.524/1.000 batting line.  He is hitting .288/.413/.635 with 5 home runs and 10 runs batted in over the last 15 games; .292/.419/.500 for the month; and .316/.423/.525 since the All-Star Break.

People keep talking about getting a “middle of the order” bat for the lineup.  Projected out to the 625 plate appearances a regular player would normally get in a year (remembering that Tommy spent the first 27 games of the season in Memphis) and Pham’s season would read 28 home runs, 110 runs scored, 84 runs batted in (from the second spot in the order) to go with a .307/.402/.517 batting line.  That sounds pretty “middle of the order” to me.

Tommy is also a player who hasn’t been intimidated by the good teams.  In the season’s second half, he’s hitting .344 (21 for 61) against winning teams.  For the season, that average is .294 (55 for 187) with 7 home runs.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did walk twice and score a run, but was also 0 for 2.  His has been one of the missing bats in the recent 15-game tumble.  Matt is hitting .163 (8 for 49) with 15 strikeouts – a slump moderated somewhat by his 8 walks and a hit-by-pitch.  For the month of August, Matt’s on base percentage still sits at .376 while his average fades to .200.

Paul DeJong

Among the day’s disappointments was the snapping of Paul DeJong’s six game hitting streak.  He had hit .346 (9 for 26) before yesterday’s 0-for-4.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong came into Milwaukee riding a ten-game hitting streak.  He was 0-for-9 over the two games.  In the season’s first half, Kolten hit .300 (27 for 90) with a .385 on base percentage in games against winning teams.  Since the break, though, Wong has been scuffling at .220 (13 for 59) when playing against higher caliber opponents.

Luke Voit

Luke Voit finished the day 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts.  Overall, the second half of the season hasn’t been as kind to the rookie as the first half.  He is now hitting .203 (12 for 59) since the break.  Of course, yesterday was only his ninth start of the second half.

St Louis’ final 30 games will only include 10 against teams with winning records.  They have 7 more with the Cubs and the final 3 at home against Milwaukee.  On paper that sounds promising, but the Cardinals have done quite a lot of losing to teams below .500.  Most of the recent 5-10 slide has been against losing teams.

Left on the schedule other than the Cubs (against whom the Cards are 4-8 this season) and the Brewers (7-9) are San Francisco (1-2), San Diego (1-2), Pittsburgh (7-6) and Cincinnati (5-8).

If the organization’s recent moves are an indication, they will be coming down the stretch with a significantly younger team.

NoteBook

The Milwaukee series was the Cardinal’s twenty-first road series of the year, and yesterday’s game provided them their fifth opportunity to sweep a road series.  The Brewers became only the second of those teams to avoid the sweep.  Philadelphia was the other team, when they salvaged the last game of their season series against St Louis on June 22.  Martinez was the losing pitcher that afternoon as well.

It doesn’t make any difference – and is really only an observation – but the powerful Milwaukee team hit three home runs during the two days we spent there.  I’m pretty sure none of the three get out of Busch.

Cardinals “Almost” Get Past San Diego

When you are the snake bit team, all the inches go against you.  In the aftermath of last night’s 4-3 loss to San Diego (box score), I found myself reflecting on how easily the Cardinals could have shut out the Padres.

The Padres were set up for a big inning in the sixth, loading the bases with no one out.  But after Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez popped up Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg bounced an easy double play grounder right back to Martinez.  With the end of the inning in front of him, Carlos lobbed the throw over the head of Yadier Molina.  The throwing error tied the game at one. A second run would score before the inning ended, when Carlos was almost out of the inning.

Then came the ninth.  Game tied at 2, Sam Tuivailala in to try to get the tie into the bottom of the ninth.  Jabari Blash looped a soft liner toward right-center where second baseman Kolten Wong almost caught it, the ball eluding his glove by inches.

After a hit by Manuel Margot put runners at second and third with no one out, Carlos Asuaje slashed a grounder to the drawn-in first baseman Jedd Gyorko.  Even though Gyorko has spent most of the season at third base, he was almost able to corral the ball and make a play at the plate.  That infield hit drove in the go-ahead run.

The insurance run later scored on a sacrifice fly to right, with Margot just barely beating Randal Grichuk’s throw.

Toss in scoring opportunities missed in five different innings, and four double plays grounded into, and you get the picture.

Yes, that’s baseball.  It happens to everyone from time to time.  But it also speaks to character.

The Padres left town just 57-70 on the season.  But they took two out of three here because they were mentally tougher than the home standing Cardinals.  Five game ago, the Cards outlasted Pittsburgh 11-10.  That win gave them 13 wins in 16 games, pushed their overall record to 63-59, and pulled them to within 1.5 games of the first-place Cubs.  It was just enough of a surge to spark excitement – to allow the fan base to hope that the pieces of the season might finally be coming together.

Since then, they have lost 4 of 5.  Yes, there have been injuries.  But some of the most successful Cardinal teams of the recent past took great pride in overcoming injuries.  They had a toughness that has only been seen in glimpses in this team.

One still encouraging trend is the offense.  Even though held to only 3 runs, the offense still slapped out 12 hits.  Across all of baseball, their .292 team batting average for August ranks second behind Baltimore’s .293.  Their .380 team on base percentage this month is first by 14 points over Texas and Cincinnati – who are next at .366.  Their .489 slugging percentage is second, again, to Baltimore’s .524.  They lead all of baseball this month in OPS.  At .869 they are 8 points better than Baltimore (.861).

Even on evenings when they don’t score many runs (like last night), they still almost always hit.

Paul Dejong

Three more hits from rookie shortstop Paul DeJong brings him to .330 for the month of August (30 for 91), and pushes him back over .300 for the year (he is now at .301). His double was his fifth of the month, to go with 6 home runs and 16 runs batted in.  Paul is slugging .582 thus far in August (and .573 for the season).  In 38 games since the All-Star Break, DeJong is 46 for 158, with 8 doubles, 11 home runs, and 28 runs batted in.  He is hitting .291 and slugging .551 in the season’s second half.

In the eighth inning, Paul cuffed Craig Stammen’s 2-0 fastball into left for a hit.  It was the only time all night that Paul was able to put the first strike thrown him into play.  When Paul hits the first strike, he is a .440 hitter (22 for 50).

Dexter Fowler

The Cardinal losing streak has come in spite of the best efforts of Dexter Fowler.  He is 5 for 14 (.357) over the last five games after getting three more hits last night.  Dexter continues his serious tear since his return from the disabled list.  In 63 plate appearances over 15 games, Fowler has 9 singles, 8 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, 13 runs scored, 13 runs batted in, 13 walks, 1 sacrifice fly, and has been hit by 1 pitch.  It all adds up to a batting line of .417/.540/.729.  He has pushed his second-half average up to .318 (28 for 88) and his on base percentage to .445.

Dexter’s night featured a fourth-inning double on a 3-2 pitch, and an eighth-inning single on a 2-2 pitch.  Two strike hitting is suddenly a proficiency for Dexter.  Coming out of the All-Star Break, Fowler was 1 for his first 20 (.050) when hitting with two strikes on him.  He is now 7 for 21 (.333) in August when batting with two strikes.

Kolten Wong

Wong is another player who is doing everything he can to keep the Cardinals’ collective head above water.  Reaching back to July 30, Wong put together a 5-game hitting streak before going 0 for 2 on August 5.  So, on August 6, he began an 8-game hitting streak that ran till he went 0 for 4 on August 15.  So, on August 16, he began his most recent hitting streak, which has reached 7 games after Wong collected two more hits last night.

Kolten is now 8 for 22 (.364) over his last 5 games, 31 for 79 (.392) this month, and 42 for 126 (.333) since the All-Star Break.

One of the tip offs that Kolten is really dialed in is when he jumps on the first strike.  He was 1-for-2 last night hitting the first strike.  He is now 10 for 18 this month (.556) when he hits that first strike.  He is also hitting .448 in the second half (13 for 29) and .407 for the year (24 for 59) when he puts that first strike in play.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham has cooled off a bit recently.  Over the last five games, Tommy is just 1 for 14 (.071).  Pham, who had only grounded into 4 double plays in his entire career before this season, bounced into 3 last night alone.  He now has grounded into 16 for the season.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos made the big error that probably cost him the game, but otherwise threw another excellent game.  He went seven innings allowing just the two runs (only 1 earned).  Martinez has now put together 4 consecutive quality starts, during which he has thrown 28 innings with a 2.89 ERA and a 3-0 record.

Batters who hit the first strike from Martinez were only 1 for 8 last night.  Over the month of August, batters who hit Martinez’ first strike are only 8 for 33 (.242).  Across all of baseball, batters hitting the first strike thrown them are hitting .347/.408/.609.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons bent, but didn’t break in last night’s eighth inning.  He walked 2 and hit another, but wriggled out of trouble, keeping his scoreless streak alive at 17 games and 15.2 innings.  His season’s ERA is now down to 2.63.

I’m not exactly sure how he does it, but Tyler has the most uncanny ability to get batters into two-strike counts and then finish them off with that deceptive slider.

Across all of baseball, batters end up in two-strike counts about half the time.  From there, they end up hitting .177 and striking out about 40% of the time.

Last night, 4 of the 6 batters that Lyons faced ended up in two-strike counts.  They went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout.  Since the All-Star Break, 36 of the 53 batters that Lyons has faced have ended up in two-strike counts (67.9%).  They are 1 for 31 (.032) with 20 strikeouts.  In the season’s second half, 55.6% of batters that see strike two from Tyler Lyons end up getting strike three as well.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost 4 of its last 5 rubber games.  For the season, they are 6-10 in rubber games.

Back on Tuesday, St Louis lost the opening game of a series for the twenty-third time in 41 series.  They are now 6-15-2 in series when they lose the first game.

Jedd Gyorko’s double accounted for his sixty-fourth run batted in of the season – a new career high.  He drove in 63 in his rookie year of 2013.  Even though he hit 30 home runs last year, he managed just 59 runs batted in.

When Carlos Trusts His Stuff

Carlos Martinez has these days where he looks every inch the elite pitcher that St Louis believes he is and will be.  He has those other days, too.  But last night he played hard ball with one of baseball’s more dangerous lineups and came away the victor in an 11-3 conquest (box score).  Carlos went 8 of those innings, striking out 7 and allowing just 2 runs on 7 hits (that would have been only 4 hits had Carlos simply gotten out of the way of a few infield grounders).

What was different last night from his previous start when he gave three first-inning runs to Milwaukee?  The easy answer would be command.  In Milwaukee he threw strikes with only 55 of his 102 pitches.  Last night he also threw 102 pitches, but with 70 of them being strikes.  He gave no walks last night.

But the deeper answer is that last night Carlos trusted his stuff – and it worked out for him.  It’s a fine line.  There are games when he doesn’t trust his stuff.  There are games when he trusts his stuff and gets beaten up a bit.  But when the fastball runs – and it was darting a lot last night – Carlos Martinez can be a handful.  Last night, 23 of the 31 batters he faced saw some flavor of fastball on the first pitch.  Overall, 58 of his 102 pitches were either the four-seam (47) or two-seam (11).  According to Brooks Baseball who tracks such things (here), Carlos never quite reached 100 mph, although he came exceedingly close (his top speed weighed in at 99.9), but he threw with great confidence and great movement at 96-98.

His attacking mindset – and the Kansas City Royals’ willingness to chase that fastball – allowed Carlos to keep his pitch count low enough to finish 8.  For the game, 18 of the 31 batters he faced lasted 3 pitches or less – including 3 of the 4 he faced in the eighth.

As you watch Martinez walk 5 batters in 5 innings, as he did in Milwaukee, you might get the feeling that Carlos’ is less pitch-efficient than the other starters in the rotation.  In actuality, for the season, Carlos is dealing with batters at just 3.66 pitches per.  Only Mike Leake (3.57) expends fewer pitches per batter.  When you throw a lot of fastballs and don’t nibble, the at bats cycle through pretty quickly.  Last night, Carlos’ 31 batters in 102 pitches worked out to 3.29 pitches per.  That will usually get you deep into a game.

And Oh Yes, There Was Some Offense Last Night, Too

On July 26, your St Louis Cardinals took their baseball wood to the Colorado Rockies by a 10-5 score.  In the nine games that followed, those same Cardinals totaled 19 runs.  Now they have scored 24 over the last two games, featuring big innings of 4, 6 and 9 runs.

With the outburst comes hope of a more sustainable offensive situation over the season’s last 50 games.  There are certainly a number of Cardinal players who are overdue for an extended hot streak.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter capped off the 6-run fourth inning with the 3-run home run that opened up the game.  Matt is one of those who have suffered through a less-than-expected season.  Even with his two hits last night, his season average still sits at .249.  However, he is now hitting .295 (23 for 78) with a .396 on base percentage (12 walks) since the All-Star Break.

As per usual, Matt Carpenter saw more pitches than anyone else on the team.  In his 4 plate appearances, he cost Kansas City pitchers 21 pitches – 5.25 per appearance.  For the season, he leads the team with 4.37 pitches per PA.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez did less damage last night than the night before.  Still, he contributed two more hits and is now at .333 in the second half.  Mike Matheny really can’t bench him while he’s getting two hits a night, can he?

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina pushed his second half batting average to .320 with two more hits (24 for 75). He has now hit safely in 6 of his last 8 games, during which he is 11 for 26, including 2 doubles and 2 home runs – a .423 batting average and a .731 slugging percentage.  With two runs scored last night, Molina has scored 8 runs in his last 8 games.

Ever aggressive, Yadi swung at half of the 12 pitches thrown him last night.  Molina is swinging at 53.6% of the pitches thrown his way this season.  Of the regulars and semi-regulars, the only higher percentage belongs to rookie Paul DeJong, who swings at 54.7% of the pitches thrown to him.

When Yadi came up in the second, he did so with Jose Martinez at first and no one out.  It is likely that Kansas City viewed this as a double play opportunity – as Molina has grounded into many double plays over the years.  Things have been very different in that regard for Molina so far this year.  Yadi hit the ground ball – but it shot down the left-field line for the double that set up the big inning.

Molina still hasn’t grounded into a double play in the second half, and has bounced into only 6 in 74 opportunities this year (8.1%).

Tommy Pham

Not much disappointing news from last night, but one down note was the end of Tommy Pham’s most recent hitting streak – a six-gamer during which he hit .333 (8 for 24).

One of the biggest differences in the new Tommy Pham is swing and miss percentage.  Last year, Tommy missed 34.8% of the pitches he swung at.  That was the highest rate of any non-pitcher on the team (higher even than Brandon Moss’ 33.7%).  He is down to just 20.6% this season, and in the season’s second half Tommy has only missed on 28 of the 179 swings he’s taken.  Of all players with at least 25 plate appearances in the second half, only Matt Carpenter (15.3%) misses with fewer swings than Pham’s 15.6%.  He swung the bat 8 times last night, and only missed with one of the swings.

However, Tommy also seems to feel that just because he can finally see, that means that everyone else (like the umpires) can as well.  Pham was called out twice last night on close pitches – the first of which was clearly inside (and probably high, as well), but ultimately too close to take.  Tommy frequently seems mystified by the fact that the same umpires that miss calls on everyone else also miss calls on him.  Of the 84 times he has struck out so far this season, 34 (40.5%) have been on called strike threes.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s second-inning sacrifice fly gave the Cards a brief 1-0 lead.  It was the first time in 8 games that St Louis had scored first.

Before last night, the Cards had trailed at some point in eight straight games, and 10 of their last 11.