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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.