Tag Archives: Carpenter

Adversity . . . it’s not just for breakfast anymore

Some days ago, I suggested that there might finally be a light at the end of the tunnel.  It turns out – as the old joke goes – the light was the headlights of the oncoming train.

The thought was based on the fact that the toughest teams (by record) had already been faced.  The last 23 games on St Louis’ schedule were against teams that have losing records.

Well, in the first place, they haven’t thrived.  After winning the first game against the Tigers, the Cards have lost 5 of their last 7 by every means imaginable.  Offensively, they have hit just .224 and have scored just 3.29 runs per game.  The pitching, meanwhile, has been pushed around in a way that we wouldn’t have thought we’d see very often at the beginning of the year.

The team’s great strength – the pitching staff – has been saddled with a 6.14 ERA over those games (4.63 from the starters and 8.37 from the bullpen).  Over the last 58.2 innings, Cardinal pitchers have walked 28 batters unintentionally (4.76 per nine innings) and served up 11 home runs (1.69 per nine innings).  A distressing combination.

For the most part, the pitching staff seems to be a mixture of those pitchers who have never re-discovered their feel after the isolation (Jack Flaherty,Carlos Martinez, Ryan Helsley, Andrew Miller) and those relievers who are starting to show signs of overwork (pretty much everyone else).

Another short start pushed the bullpen through the ringer against last night, as three relievers covered 5 innings with 108 pitches.  There are a significant number of weary arms as they face yet another doubleheader today.

Beyond just that, though, now the injuries have set in.  As I write this, we have no idea about whether Kolten Wong  or John Gant will be available to play, or whether they will be joining John Brebbia, Miles Mikolas, Austin Dean, Dexter Fowler and Giovanny Gallegos on the probably-out-for-the –rest –of –the-year list.  As we prepare to start the doubleheader, they are not yet certain whether their scheduled second game starter will be cleared to pitch.  Yadi Molina was hit by a swinging bat last night, but will be starting the first game.

All of this is happening on the heels of an exhausting span in which this team has played 38 games in 32 days, and have another 15 to play over the next 12.

Forget last night’s blowout (boxscore) – which has shortened their lead over their two closest competitors.  This is a ship that is taking on water on many fronts.

It wouldn’t be astonishing – I don’t think – if the Cards would fade from contention coming down the stretch.  The demands of the schedule, the fatigue of the pitching staff, the piling up of injuries.  The Cards are currently trying to settle on their fourth closer of the season, after Jordan Hicks, Kwang Hyun Kim and Giovanny Gallegos, have all been removed from the equation for various reasons.  I don’t know too many teams that could still compete having to turn to their fourth closer.  It is unclear whether the Cardinals can.

Historically, though, this is a team that has overcome adversity that would crush lesser spirits – with the storied 2011 team as the prime example.  That this team has (at 20-21) kept itself relevant through all of this is commendable.  If they are going to go on and cover themselves with glory, though, there’s a lot more adversity ahead for them to swim through.

Flaherty

In back-to-back starts against Kansas City and Cleveland, it looked like Jack Flaherty was returning to form.  He allowed just one run in ten innings during those two games.  His last three starts have shown a significant regression.

He has pitched a total of 10.2 innings over those three starts, twice failing to get through the fourth inning, while being roughed up for 14 runs on 16 hits, including 3 home runs.  His 11.81 ERA over that span is matched by a .340 batting average against, and a .574 slugging percentage allowed.

Most of that damage came last night, of course, but even dismissing that game, Jack had still given 5 runs over the 7.2 prior innings.

That’s 6 in a row for Woodford

Through his first three appearances of the year, Jake Woodford looked like he might be a promising addition to the bullpen.  Working multiple innings each time, Jake fashioned a 1.29 ERA over his first seven innings.  He still may become that, but Jake is battling through a learning curve at the moment.

Last night, when he served up the three-run home run to Keston Hiura that really broke the game open, it marked Jake’s sixth consecutive appearance allowing a home run.  In just 18.1 innings this year, Woodford has taken over the staff lead in home runs allowed with 7.

Over the six games (11.1 innings) in which he has served up one (and only one) home run, Jake has scuffled to a 9.53 ERA, a .340 batting average allowed, and a .745 slugging percentage allowed.

Through the early part of his career, Jake (a right-hander) has had much more trouble with right-handed batters.  The righties he faced last night went 2 for 5 against him with a double and a home run.  For the season, right-handers are 12 for 37 (.324) against him with 6 home runs against him to go along with the one double – an .838 slugging percentage.  Lefties hold a .206 average against him.

Edman

In a dreary evening, Tommy Edman was the only Cardinal bright spot.  He finished with 2 hits in 4 at bats.  Tommy has hit safely in 4 of his last 6 games – with 3 of them being multi-hit games.  He is 7 for his last 22 (.318) with 5 walks (a .444 on base percentage) during those games.

Apparently one of the switch-hitter’s problems is not facing enough lefthanders.  Tommy was 2 for 3 against the lefties he saw last night, and is 4 for 8 against them this month.  For the season, Edman is a .375 hitter against left handers (9 for 24).  Four of the hits have been for extra-bases (1 double, 1 triple and 2 home runs) – a .750 slugging percentage.

He only hits .240 against right-handers this season (30 for 125).  In September, he is just 10 for 49 (.204) against them, after going 0-for-1 last night.

Ravelo

After his 0-for-4 last night, Cardinal utility guy Rangel Ravelo is now in an 0-for-12 skid.  It has dropped him to just .208 for the month (5 for 24).

Molina

Another of last night’s hitless batters, Yadier Molina (who was 0-for-3 before leaving the game with a hand injury) is now just 1 for his last 13 (.077).  Molina is just 8 for 40 (.200) this month.

All of his at bats last night were against left-handed pitchers.  Always a good hitter against lefties, Yadi is just 3 for 17 (.176) against them so far this year.

Carpenter

After a hot early series against Cincinnati, Matt Carpenter is off again.  He was 0-for-4 last night, and is hitless over his last three games (0-for-8).  His average for the month has slipped to .237.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill was one of the many Cardinals to hit home runs in the first game of the September 10 doubleheader against Detroit.  He hasn’t had an extra base hit since.  After his 0-for-3 last night, Tyler is 2 for 15 (.133) over his last 7 games, with 6 strikeouts.  O’Neill has started 12 of the 17 September games, but is only hitting .227 (10 for 44).

NoteBook

The 15 run loss was – of course – the largest beating the Cards have absorbed this year, eclipsing by three runs the 14-2 pounding they took from Cleveland on August 28.

On the Bruhaha

In this column I try to almost exclusively focus on the game and pass by the extra-curricular stuff.  Last night’s game turned a little ugly as the Brewers started taunting from their dugout in the midst of the blowout.  For some reason, I was a little surprised at Ryan Braun’s exaggerated whinging on a called strike with his team ahead by double digits.  In retrospect, I don’t know why I should be surprised.

The Brewers have never had the reputation of being a particularly classy team – as far back as at least the Nyjer Morgan/Zack Greinke days, so stuff like this from them shouldn’t really surprise me.

Well, taunting in a game that you’re far ahead in is easy enough to do, but it does attract the attention of the karma gods.  The 2011 team was a bit like that.  And that season didn’t end well for them.

Right now, it’s a little easy to kick this Cardinal team.  I don’t have any idea if they have anything left in the tank to answer the insults tossed their way.  I do know, though, that it’s frequently a bad idea to kick the team that’s down.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Same Old Story

Through the first two swings of his at bat, you could see that Matt Wieters was just trying to take Kyle Hendricks up the middle or to the opposite field.  On the fourth pitch of the at bat, Matt accomplished his goal, floating a soft single into short center.  It was Matt’s first hit of the season and it drove in the only Cardinal run against the untouchable Mr. Hendricks in a 5-1 loss (boxscore) to the Cubs yesterday that left the two teams tied at 5 wins each at the conclusion of their season series.

As usual, there was the post-game hat tipping to a pitcher that the Cardinals – genetically incapable of hitting a changeup – have rarely had anything approaching success against.  The comment that made me chuckle most came from manager Mike Shildt, who noted that Hendricks never gives into the hitter.  No, Mike, of course he won’t.  Not until the hitter makes him. But Kyle never has that issue against St Louis.  A particular batter may take that changeup out of the strike zone once.  Or maybe even twice.  But eventually he will have to hack at it.  They just can’t help themselves.

It is up in the zone.  It is slow (comparatively).  It’s about six inches outside.  And it must be destroyed.  Adding to Kyles’s ease of conquest, when the Cards do chase that change, they put their best fastball swing on it.  They refuse to do what Wieters did.  They will not go with the pitch.  The result is an endless string of easy groundballs to the infield.

After Wieter’s hit made it a 5-1 game, the Cards did have an opportunity for more.  They had runners at first and second with only one out.  But the next batter (Matt Carpenter) came out of his shoes to attack that changeup over the outside part of the plate and stroked in nicely to the second baseman for the easy inning-ending double play – one of three Hendricks got from Cardinal hitters.

It’s the same story everytime we face him.  This was, I believe, his twentieth start against this franchise and we haven’t figured anything out yet.

What really kills me about Kyle, though, is his demeanor on the mound.  He is absolutely expressionless as he mows the team down.  Don’t get me wrong.  I 100% prefer this to the showboat style.  Give me Hendricks and his stoicism any day over Carlos Zambrano and his ego-stroking.  But Kyle displays all the enthusiasm of a day clerk putting away files.  Watching him and trying to guess what’s going through his mind, I came up with two possibilities – either of which would be appropriate.

1 – Boredom.  The Cardinals are just so easy and willing to play into his hands that it’s all that Kyle can do to stay awake while he’s on the mound.  Perhaps it’s of mild interest to him to find out just how far off the plate – inside and outside – he can throw his magical changeup and still get the batters to hammer at it.  But mild interest at best.

2 – Embarrassment.  Also possible is that Kyle maybe feels a little bad about how easy this team is for him to dominate.  Possibly he’s a little embarrassed by the ease with which we submit.  In fact, in that seventh inning when St Louis did score its lone run – and this is probably my imagination – but I almost thought I saw a hint of a smile, as if to say, “Oh, that’s nice, at least they’ll have something positive to remember.”  Again, I’m sure that’s my imagination.  But I can see how Kyle might feel a bit awkward in a situation where any effort on his part – no matter how minimal – is met with overwhelming success.

Are there college lineups that would give Kyle more trouble than we do?  Probably.

Still, I maintain hope that one day we will piece this together.  Maybe Matt Wieters should do a clinic?

The Bullpen Rises

While the Sunday finale was disappointing, the Cards did, nonetheless, take three of the five games and head home just 2.5 games out.  Rising to the occasion during this series and for the early games of the month is the hard-ridden Cardinal bullpen.

During the 21 August games, it was the rotation that held things together on the pitching side.  They pulled together a 2.62 ERA, with principle contributions from Kwang Hyun Kim (0.57), Jack Flaherty (1.54), Dakota Hudson (1.66) and Adam Wainwright (2.89).

For the bullpen, August was an immense struggle.  Coming out of quarantine with the same lack of repetitions that the rotation had, the bullpen was tasked, additionally, with picking up all of the innings left by a rotation not yet able to extend deep into games.  Coming into the season, the bullpen was regarded as one of the team’s strengths.  But under the considerable abuse of the first 21 games as they averaged nearly 4 innings a game, they staggered home with a bloated 4.78 ERA.

With those days behind them, now, it’s the bullpen that has come to the fore while the rotation has taken a step backwards.  Three of the 5 starts during the series against the Cubs lasted less than 5 innings.  In their last trip into Chicago, Cardinal starters managed just 21.1 innings over the 5 games, and were pushed around a bit to the tune of a 4.64 ERA.  The Cubs hit them at a surprising .273 clip, drew 11 walks in those 21.1 innings, and hit 4 home runs against them.

To the rescue came the pen.  Over the 17.2 innings they worked this long weekend in Wrigley, they stymied the Cubs to a 1.02 ERA, a .161 batting average, and a .226 slugging percentage.  Until the first game of today’s double-header, it had been 10 games since St Louis had allowed a run in the seventh inning (when they gave up the last couple of runs in the 14-2 beating they absorbed from Cleveland on August 28).  The last earned run they surrendered in the eighth inning came two games before that on August 27 in the double header against Pittsburgh when the eighth inning was an extra-inning.  They’ve played fewer eighth innings than sevenths due to all the doubleheaders.  Still, this makes 9 straight clean eighth innings.

Assuming that the workload against the Cubs and through today’s doubleheader against Minnesota doesn’t compromise them again, the bullpen looks like it’s primed to be the weapon the team envisioned.  Now, if we can just get the rotation back on its feet.

Cabrera

As with most of the relievers, Genesis Cabrera had some difficulty with his command the first few times out, but he is among the relievers who have really started to find his groove.  He threw two scoreless innings against the Cubs – striking out 5.  Over his last 8 games, Genesis has struck out 14 batters, has an 0.90 ERA and a .091 batting average against.

Getting Them On is One Thing

During the early part of the season – including the mid-August reboot – the Cardinal offense was repeatedly hamstrung by their inability to get their leadoff batter in an inning on.  Going into September, Cardinal leadoff hitters were limping along at a .200/.293/.337 clip.  To make matters worse, St Louis was only able to chase 49% of the ones who did get on home.

Then came the 16-run game against Cincy.  In that game, Cardinal leadoff hitters were 5 for 8 with a walk and 4 runs scored.  Since then, we have done notably better getting that leadoff runner on.  In the 40 offensive innings they had against the Cubs, 15 of their leadoff hitters reached (a .375 percentage).  But only 7 scored (47%).  A case in point is Harrison Bader – who had a nice bounce-back series against the Cubs.  He led off 4 innings during the series, reaching base 3 times, a single a double and a hit-by-pitch.  He didn’t score on any of those opportunities.

Wong

One of the bright spots in an inconsistent offense (that supplied the pitching with just 18 runs during the series) was leadoff hitter Kolten Wong – a .333 hitter during the series (6 for 18).  Wong has caught fire a little bit, lately.  He has hits in 6 of his last 8 games, getting multiple hits in 5 of them.  Since the calendar turned Kolten is hitting .423 (11 for 26).

DeJong

Several days ago, I mentioned something about Paul DeJong trying to work his way into a leadoff spot.  It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the numbers suggest that this wouldn’t be a terrible plan – at least as far as getting on base is concerned.  Paul reached in 3 of the 6 innings he led off in Chicago, and for the season, Paul has a .391 on base percentage when he leads off an inning.

A significant indictment of the lower middle part of the order is that after DeJong reaches to lead off an inning, he only scores 22% of the time.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s struggles continue.  He did hit a home run in the first game (a fly ball that just found its way into the over-hanging basket), but that was his only hit of the series.  He struck out in 5 of his 8 at bats, and grounded into a double play.  And, he made a damaging throwing error in the last game.  Over his last 16 games, Carp is hitting all of .109 (5 for 46).

B Miller

Brad Miller came in hot off the end of the Cincinnati series – he was 6 for his last 9 – but was immediately cooled down by the Cubs.  He was 1-for-13 during the 5 games.

NoteBook

At 75 degrees, the Friday game broke a 14-game streak of game temperatures above 80 for the Cards.  One of the, perhaps, under-mentioned aspects of the onslaught of games the Cardinals have played since coming out of quarantine (and Thursday’s day off ended a streak of 23 games played in 19 days) is that they played them right through the blazing heat of the summer. Now that September has arrived, perhaps at least the weather will be a little kinder to them.

Saturday’s second game was even cooler.  In fact, at 72 degrees, it was the coolest game-time temperature the Cards have played in this season.  The previous coolest game temperature for the Cards occurred the last time they faced Yu Darvish.  He beat them 6-3 in 73 degree temperatures (also in Chicago) back on August 18. 

With the Sunday game also checking in at 72 degrees, the entire series averaged 75.8 degrees, nearly 2 degrees lower than their first visit into Chicago (77.6) which had been the previous coolest series by average temperature.

Yadier Molina had started at catcher for the first 17 games after he returned from COVID isolation. It was the longest current streak of starts by a Cardinal at one position until Matt Wieters started the second game of Saturday’s double-header. The new current leaders for consecutive starts at the same position are Paul Goldschmidt at first and Paul DeJong at short, both with twelve consecutive starts.

To be clear, Goldschmidt has started every game, but not all at first base.  He has served as the DH three times.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Best in the Long Run?

Honestly, Mike didn’t have a whole lot of choice.

On the day that his most productive outfielder (Dexter Fowler) landed on the IL for an indeterminate amount of time, the game came down to two of the youngsters vying for that lineup spot.

The game against the Reds is tied at three in the ninth inning.  A single off the bat of Brad Miller and a walk to Paul DeJong set things in motion.  Yadier Molina then bunted the runners to second and third. 

If there were any moment in this chain of events that I would like to have back, it would be this one.  Yadi has carried one of the team’s hottest bats recently.  He had already contributed a home run earlier in the game, and was hitting .303 on the season.  Given this as a do-over, I might want to let Molina swing away.  It is, however, also true that Yadi is a profound double-play threat.  In just 76 at bats, Yadi has already bounced into 7 (nearly one third of the teams’ total for the year). So, the thinking is that rather than risk the double play taking all the starch out of the inning, a bunt could push the lead run to a position where he could score on a fly ball.  Cincinnati answered the bunt by intentionally walking Matt Carpenter, leaving the game squarely on the shoulders Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas.

At this point, there was some chatter about a pinch-hitter or two.  To his credit, manager Mike Shildt left his young prospects to face Cincy closer Raisel Iglesias and his high-ninties fastball.  It wasn’t, though, like he had a whole lot of choice.  Left on his bench was Harrison Bader (.196), Dylan Carlson (.176), the just-re-activated Rangel Ravelo (0-for-2 on the season) and backup catcher Andrew Knizner (4-for-16 on the season).

O’Neill has put up big home run numbers in the minor leagues, but has yet to overcome his strikeout problem in the majors.  When he went down on three pitches, it marked his twentieth strikeout on the season in just 73 at bats.

Then it was Thomas’ turn.  Lane burst brightly onto the scene late in 2019.  Before he broke his hand on August 27, Thomas hit .316 with 4 home runs in just 38 at bats.  He was especially good (in a short sample, of course) with two outs.  He was 6-for-16 (.375) with 2 home runs and 7 runs batted in in that circumstance.

But 2019 was a long time ago. 

Five pitches later, Thomas struck out as well, ending the threat.  He is now 1-for-12 in 2020.  Cincinnati then won the game, 4-3 (boxscore) on closer Giovanny Gallegos’ first slip up of the season.

Fowler takes a .279 batting average, 4 home runs, and a .485 slugging percentage with him to the IL.  If he plays again this season, it’s anyone’s guess whether he can pick up where he left off.  In the bigger picture, Dexter is 34 (and will be 35 next year in the last year of his contract).  For good or ill, Dexter is not the future.

And so it will be the stripling outfield – Bader, Carlson, O’Neill, Thomas, and eventually Austin Dean and Justin Williams.  There could be some struggles in the short term.  But in the long term this may be the best thing to happen for the Cards.  While none of these gentlemen is especially established in the show, all have excellent minor league pedigrees.  Save for the depth of pitching, these outfielders represent the pride of the organization.  Three of the six need to show that they can hit big-league pitching, and this opportunity coming sooner rather than later may be a blessing in disguise.

Last night, it didn’t work out that way.  But somebody will grab this opportunity.

B Miller

St Louis has now lost 5 of its last 8 games, and this in spite of Brad Miller’s best efforts to keep the team afloat.  Brad had two hits (one a home run) and a walk last night.  He now has had 35 plate appearances over the last 8 games with the following production: 3 singles, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs, and 8 walks (1 intentional) – a batting line of .333/.486/.815.  He has scored 6 times and driven in 8 during the 8 games.

Miller has been batting fourth, but might be eyeing a leadoff spot.  Both of his hits came with no one out, and over the last 8 games, he is a .455 hitter (5 for 11) and a 1.364 slugger (3 home runs and a double) batting with no one out.  For the season, Brad has a .385/.543/.885 batting line with no one out.  He is 10 for 26 with 4 of his 5 home runs.

DeJong

Another hot hitter, recently, Paul DeJong was saddled with an 0-for-2 last night, but he did draw walks in both of his plate appearances with no one out.  For the season, Paul has a .393 on base percentage when batting with no one out.

Carpenter

His ninth-inning intentional walk was the highlight of Matt Carpenter’s 0-for-3 evening.  Carpenter has played in 7 of the last 8 games, collecting 2 singles in 23 at bats (.087).  He is still walking.  Yesterday’s was his sixth in his last 7 games, and his thirteenth in his last 13 games.  Toss in 3 hit-by-pitches, and Matt carries a .370 on-base percentage over those 13 games – albeit with a .105 batting average (4 for 38).

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera walked two more batters in what, otherwise, was a spotless two innings in relief last night.  In 10.1 innings so far this year, he has walked 7 and hit 2 others.  But control notwithstanding, Genesis has started to settle in.  Over his last 6 appearances (8 innings) Cabrera has been touched for 1 earned run on 4 hits.  The last 32 hitters he’s faced are hitting just .077 against him.  And 9 have struck out.

Gomber

Austin Gomber is one of the reason why (at .173) the Cardinal pitching staff has the lowest batting average against them with two outs.  Batters are now 1 for 15 (.067) against Austin with two outs after he struck out Matt Davidson to end the eighth inning last night.

NoteBook

Aided by the blowout win in the second game, the Cards scored their most runs in any series so far this year with 26.  The previous high had been the 21 they scored in the first series against the Cubs.  That – of course – was a five-game series.  The previous high in a three-game series was the 19 they scored against Kansas City.

Brad Miller connected on his third home run in two games last night.  He also drew a walk – his sixteenth of the season.  All of last year, in 79 games and 170 plate appearances, Brad only walked 15 times.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Masters of the Two-Strike Count

Joey Votto took Dakota Hudson’s first three pitches of the game.  Dak got strikes on the first two before missing with the slider.  With the count now 1-2, Hudson came back with a fastball.  This pitch would serve him well on this evening, but this particular fastball was up and out over the plate.  Joey chopped it over the mound and over the second base bag.  Shortstop Paul DeJong got to it, but had no play – infield hit for Votto.

By game’s end, this would be a mere footnote in the Cards 7-5 victory (boxscore), but in a sense, they almost should have stopped the game and given Joey the ball.  That hit snapped an 0-for-27 streak that batters had against Hudson when in two-strike counts.  The streak stretched back to the first inning of the August 16 game against the White Sox when Tim Anderson bounced a 3-2 pitch through into right for a single.

Votto’s single would also be the last two-strike hit the Reds would get last night.  Thirteen more would go down against Hudson, and six more against the bullpen.

During his two-strike no-hitter (of sorts), Dak struck out 12 of the 27.  Ten others grounded out.  Of the five that managed to get the ball in the air against Dakota, two were infield pop-outs.  The last 13 Cincy batters to face Hudson with two strikes on them either struck out (7) or grounded out (6).

Clearly two-strikes is a bad place to be with Hudson on the mound.  Especially since the season re-started for the Cardinals, Dakota has employed that slider/heavy sinker combination to deadly effect.  Over his last 4 starts, batters are 2 for 42 (.048) against him in two-strike counts.

The Cardinal pitchers, who (at .133) have baseball’s third lowest batting average once they get to two strikes (according to baseball reference), have four other prominent pitchers holding batters under .100 in these counts.  Hudson’s is the lowest – the others being Alex Reyes (.063), Giovanny Gallegos (.067), Kwang Hyun Kim (.080), and Jack Flaherty (.091). 

For their part, the offense was only 3 for 19 (.158) with two strikes on them.  Yet two of those were two of the most important hits of the game – both coming with two outs as well.

With the game tied at one in the second inning, Kolten Wong fell behind Cincinnati starter Anthony DeSclafani 0-2 with runners on first and third (and two outs).  Kolten poked a fastball the other way through the left side for the single that gave the team the lead it never relinquished.

Two innings later, St. Louis loaded the bases (with two outs) for DeJong.  Paul capped a six-pitch at bat by jumping on a 3-2 slider that hung down the middle of the plate, launching it over the centerfield wall for his first career grand slam.

Few things in baseball are more deflating than surrendering important hits with two strikes and two outs.

Starters Still Flexing

For the evening, Hudson finished 7 innings allowing just 1 earned run on only 4 hits.  Hudson has tossed consecutive quality starts, and over his last 4 starts, Dak holds a 1.66 ERA.  He has surrendered just 10 hits over those innings, only 2 for extra-bases.  Opposing batters are hitting just .137 against Hudson with a .192 slugging percentage since the re-start.

Over their last 21 games, Cardinal starters hold a 2.62 ERA with a .166 batting average against.

Gallegos

Picking up where he left off last year, Giovanny Gallegos picked up last night’s save.  He has allowed no runs so far through 8 innings, and barely any hits.  Both batters Giovanny faced last night were quickly forced into two-strike counts and both struck out.  So far Gallegos has faced 24 batters this season – with 16 facing a two-strike count.  His ratio of 66.7% is the highest of any Cardinal pitcher who has faced at least 20 batters.  Of those, nearly two-third (10) strike out.  That percentage (62.5) is the highest on the staff of any pitcher who has faced at least 10 batters.

He may prove difficult to remove from the closer’s role – even after Jordan Hicks comes back next year.

Goldy

While the big hit and the due accolades will go to the other Paul in the lineup, Paul Goldschmidt was 3-3 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch last night, picking up where he left off at the end of the homestand.  Goldy is now 6 for his last 12, and is hitting .359 (23 for 64) since the team came out of quarantine.

Goldy drove in a first inning run with a double on an 0-1 pitch.  The count on him was 2-1 leading off the third when he was hit by a pitch.  He walked on a 3-1 pitch ahead of DeJong’s grand-slam in the fourth. The count was 2-1 in the sixth when he singled.  He finished in the eighth with an infield hit on a 1-1 pitch.

This seems to have become Goldschmidt’s comfort zone during a plate appearance.  He rarely offers at the first strike, but doesn’t want the pitcher to get the advantage that comes with that second strike.  So he is – especially after the re-start – sitting on that second strike.  He is 13 for his last 25 (.520) with a .760 slugging percentage in one-strike counts over the last 21 games.

Wong

Kolten’s RBI single snapped an 0-for-15 skid.  His average had dwindled to .202 before he finished with 2 hits in his last 4 at bats.

Edman

Tommy Edman continued his resurgence from a sluggish start to the season.  Edman had his second consecutive two-hit game last night, and has now hit safely in 7 of his last 8.  He is hitting .344 (11 for 32) in those games.

Much like Goldschmidt, Edman has been thriving on that one-strike pitch since the end of the quarantine.  Both of last night’s hit came on one-strike pitches, and Edman is 9-for-20 (.450) over the last 21 games on those pitches.

DeJong

About the same time that Edman started to figure things out, Paul DeJong, playing in his second game since the quarantine, also started to click in.  One game after he contributed three hits in the finale against the Indians, Paul slapped out two more hits (including the big home run) against the Reds.  DeJong has hits in 6 of his last 8 games – with four of those being multi-hit games.  He was 0-for-4 in his first game back on the field.  Since then, he is a .406 hitter (13-for-32).

B Miller

After settling into the everyday designated hitter role, Brad Miller has hit his first little dry spell of the season.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night (with 3 strikeouts), Brad is now 0 for his last 10.

Carpenter Draws a Walk

Matt Carpenter did, indeed, draw a walk (two, actually) and came around to score a run after one of them.  Matt has drawn at least one in 9 of his last 11 games, for a total of 11.  And while that certainly has value, actual hits off of Carpenter’s bat have been notably rare.  Over his last 7 games he is 1 for 18 (.056) and over the last 11, Carp is a .100 hitter (3 for 30) with only one extra-base hit.  Carpenter is down to .181 for the season.

But he is walking a lot.

Carlson

After a brief surge, Dylan Carlson’s average has plunged back below the .180 mark (he’s at .176).  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Carlson is now 1 for his last 12 (.083).

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s first-inning RBI double drove in the first run of the game.  The Cards had gone eight games (since their August 24 game against Kansas City) without scoring the first run of a game.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Doing the Right Thing Can Be So Hard

With summer camp winding down and the abbreviated regular season looming on the horizon (COVID permitting), there is all kinds of chatter among Cardinal fans about what this team will look like when and if it takes the field. But, for all of the chatter, there seems to be very little uncertainty regarding how Mike Shildt will deploy his forces. 

If you are going to bet on the outcomes of the “position battles,” this is how it is going to shake out. The outfield will begin as Tyler O’Neill in left, Harrison Bader in center and Dexter Fowler in right.  Top prospect Dylan Carlson will begin in the minor league camp.  Matt Carpenter will be the starting third baseman.  Tommy Edman will scrounge for at bats where he can find them.  And Carlos Martinez will be the closer.  Nobody expects anything different from Shildt.  Is this the right thing to do?  No.  But sometimes doing the right thing is really hard.

Let’s take third base.

Now 34 years old, Matt Carpenter has been the quintessential Cardinal.  He has played at least 114 games a season for the last 8 seasons, with an .835 lifetime OPS – all in St Louis, where he has been a three-time All Star and twice a top-ten finisher in the MVP race – most recently in 2018 when he hit 36 of his 148 career home runs.  He has also started at least 200 games at three different infield positions (3B, 2B and 1B) and even made 14 starts in the outfield.  Of all the decisions that I am about to question, this one is easy enough to justify.  At his best, Matt Carpenter is an elite offensive force.

However, Carpenter begins the 2020 season on the short end of three circumstances that must force Mike to re-evaluate his situation.  First, now 34 he is entering what is usually the declining phase of a player’s career.  Additionally, he is coming off the worst season of his career (.226 average, 15 home runs, .726 OPS).  Finally, his position was taken from him last year by the spectacular Tommy Edman, whose .304 batting average and .850 OPS led all Cardinals with at least 100 at bats last year.

The short and blunt of it is that Edman needs to play, and Carpenter’s age and recent decline make him vulnerable.  Matt may very well end the season back in the starting lineup.  Edman’s sophomore season may not live up to the promise of his 2019, or Carpenter may absolutely explode when he gets his opportunities and force his way back into the lineup.  But Matt needs to at least begin the season second on the depth chart.  After his stellar 2019, third base has to be Edman’s job to lose.

The outfield problem is Dexter Fowler – now also 34 and – if we are being honest – in clear decline.  Over the last two seasons, Fowler is a .216/.321/.367 hitter – a .688 OPS.  That figure includes a .183 average (17 for 93) last September.  He then went 2 for 33 in the playoffs – not that anyone hit much in the playoffs.

The Fowler problem is two-fold.  First, for some reason Shildt is enamored with him.  Second, the Cards are trying to graduate a whole bunch of high-ceiling outfielders.  In more-or-less pecking order they are:

  • Tyler O’Neill. Tyler has made kind of extended cameos at the big league level over the last two seasons.  His early career has been plagued by lack of contact (110 strikeouts in 293 at bats), but he has maintained a better-than-Fowler average of .258 and has 14 big league home runs.  Tyler has also been a two-time 30 home run guy in the minors and has 140 minor league home runs in about four seasons worth of at bats.  He carries a .271/.343/.529/.872 batting line over 2418 minor league plate appearances.  In 996 PA at the AAA level, O’Neill has 68 home runs and a .267/.339/.554/.894 line.  He needs only a sustained opportunity to see if that minor league success can translate into major league production.
  • Lane Thomas. It’s hard to say the impact that Thomas might have had on the team as it headed into the playoffs last year.  In 38 at bats before a broken hand ended his season, Lane hit .316/.409/.684/1.093 with 4 home runs.  That’s a bit out of synch with what Lane has done throughout 480 games and 2027 minor league plate appearances, during which he has hit 55 home runs with a .252/.329/.421/.750 batting line.  He has, though, gotten better against higher competition.  In 444 AAA at bats, Thomas carries an .815 OPS.
  • Dylan Carson. Dylan is the team’s top-rated prospect and number 16 in all of baseball.  Just 21 years old, Dylan hit .292/.372/.542/.914 with 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases across the two highest levels of minor league baseball in 2019.  He was hitting .313/.436/.469/.905 in spring training before camp shut down.
  • Austin Dean. Dean had two uninspiring partial seasons in Miami, hitting .223 in 291 at bats for the fish.  But Austin is a monster in AAA.  In 568 at bats over two AAA seasons, Dean has whacked 27 home runs and hit .331/.398/.546/.944.  Even though the PCL is known as a hitter’s league, these are still eye-opening numbers.
  • Justin Williams. After a modest minor league career, Justin – whose season was delayed by a broken hand – exploded at the AAA level last year.  In a small sample size (36 games and 119 plate appearances) Justin punished PCL pitchers to the tune of .353/.437/.608/.1.045 – numbers not easy to ignore.

The exit of Marcell Ozuna to the Braves opens up left field for one of these hitters.  The incumbent in center, Harrison Bader, deserves to begin the season as the starter based on his elite defense and his record of hitting in the minors. 

And then there is Fowler in right.  In all honesty, it will be a bit frustrating to see Fowler take at bats better given to one of the developing young talents.

What should happen here seems a bit over-obvious.  Like Carpenter, Fowler should start the season as, say, the fifth outfielder.  Some combination of Bader, O’Neill, Thomas and Carlson should man the outfield spots and the designated hitter, with Dean and Williams ready for whatever changeups the very strange 2020 season might throw.

Carlson is an interesting case.  With no previous major league experience, if the Cards place him on the opening day roster – and if he stays there the entire year – the Cards will lose a year of control over the talented young outfielder.  Whereas, if he spends the first week or so of the season in Springfield, the front office will be able to delay his arbitration years and eventual free agency by another year.  I don’t think that there is anyone connected with the club that does not believe that Dylan is one of their best 30 players right now.  In fact, since there will be no minor league season this year, St Louis is very lucky that their top prospect is close enough to major league ready that they can plug him into the big league scene this year with every expectation that he will hold his own.  Otherwise – like many of their other top prospects – this would be a mostly lost year for Carlson.

No one pretends, though, that this will happen.  At any moment, I expect to see the notice that Dylan has been re-assigned.  It will almost certainly happen.  But it’s the wrong move, and sends two bad messages.

The first bad message is that winning is nice, but pinching pennies is better.  So, we may lose a few early season games that we might have otherwise won – and that may cost us a playoff berth at the end of the season – but it’s OK because we will gain one whole season of financial control over our best prospect.  The other bad message is the one they are sending to Dylan.  That message lets him know that the Cardinals will exploit every advantage the system allows them in order to maintain maximum control over him for as long as possible.

That’s all well and good.  But one day the Cards will need Carlson’s good will.  The day will finally come when he is eligible for arbitration and finally free agency, and Dylan is likely to remember how he is treated in the early part of this season.  Putting Dylan on the opening day roster and giving him a chance to prove that he can stick in the majors might even prove to be the more economical decision in the long run.

Turning to the pitching decision, Korean import Kwang Hyun Kim has taken the team by storm.  With four plus pitches that he can throw at varying speeds and with excellent control – not to mention an unorthodox delivery, Kim is the front-runner to take the open starter’s spot.  This is not to say that Carlos Martinez’ performance in second camp has been any whit behind Kim.  But Martinez has a history as an effective closer – and the guy they were counting on (Jordan Hicks) has opted out of the season.  In the kind of logic that usually governs these kinds of decisions, that makes this an almost done deal. 

But that is only because no one on the team is listening to Carlos.

If assigned to the ninth inning, Martinez will, of course, fulfill that role to the best of his abilities.  But it has to be evident to anyone who is paying attention that being a starter is more important to Carlos than it is to any other starter on the staff.  It was his consuming desire to return to the rotation that kept him tirelessly firing breaking balls all during the break.  This was the carrot that Carlos has been chasing since last season ended.  It is almost his raison de etre.  Martinez – more than anyone else in camp – defines himself as an elite starting pitcher.

So, why in the world don’t the Cardinals exploit that passion?  Knowing that 2020 will be a sixty-game sprint, why don’t they let Martinez’ great passion help fuel that sprint? If it’s true that there isn’t a wealth of closing experience behind Carlos, it’s also true that there is no shortage of dominating arms that are clear candidates to dominate that calling.  Ryan Helsley would be my nomination, but for all of that, imagine how good Kim – a lefty with an strange motion that no one in the majors has faced before – would be in a role where teams aren’t going to get three or four looks at him a night.

Don’t get me wrong.  Kim will do well as a starter, and Martinez will succeed in the ninth.  But it’s not the right move.  The right move – the smart move – is to ride Martinez’ passion.

So often, it’s quite difficult to see what the right moves to make are.  The dawning of this abbreviated season comes with much more clarity than many. But as hard as it sometimes is to see the right thing to do, it can frequently be harder to do those right things. 

Especially since the wrong things will be so much easier.

Starting Pitching Continues Strong

The St Louis Cardinals ended their most recent homestand with an improbable four-game series against San Francisco in which the Giants didn’t score a single run off any of the four Cardinal starters.  The encore in the first series of the road trip in Pittsburgh fell short of that exalted standard.  Just barely.

With Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty in “October form,” the Cardinal starters combined for 20 innings in the series.  They gave 14 hits (10 singles, 3 doubles and 1 triple) and all of 2 runs – an 0.90 ERA backed by a .203 batting average against and a .275 opponent’s slugging percentage.

It all continued a remarkable starting pitching renaissance that has contributed principally to St Louis’ recent surges – and the Cards have won 23 of their last 30 and 55 of their last 84.  Nine games into September, and St Louis’ starters (according to baseball reference) lead all rotations in baseball with a 1.36 ERA (Atlanta is a distant second at 2.20).  The combined slugging percentage against the Cardinal starters this month (who have allowed just 2 home runs in 9 games) is just .249 – leading the season-long slugging percentage against St Louis below .400 for the season.  Now at .397, the Cards hold baseball’s third best slugging percentage against (and second to the Dodgers’ .386 in the NL).

It’s rarefied air, and this remarkable pitching effort is one of the strongest reasons for optimism as the playoffs approach.

Miles Mikolas

The only one of the Cardinal starters this weekend not to get credit for a quality start was Mikolas, and that only because he pitched just five innings – five very strong innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits.  After enduring a rocky stretch, this would have been Miles’ third consecutive quality start.

Even at that, Mikolas has still allowed just 5 runs on 11 hits (8 singles, 2 doubles and 1 home run) over his last 17 innings.  If these numbers pale somewhat in comparison to some of the other St Louis starters, his 2.65 ERA, his .180 batting average against, and his .262 slugging percentage against over these starts is still plenty good.

Miles’ two starts this month have been against divisional opponents Cincinnati and Pittsburgh – two teams that have seen him a lot.  Interestingly, of the 44 batters he’s faced in those two games, only 3 have hit his first pitch.  Across all of baseball, about one out of every 9 batters hits the first pitch.  Apparently neither the Reds nor the Pirates were getting what they expected from Miles with that first pitch.

Bullpen Misadventures

After Mikolas left the game with a 4-1 lead, the usually reliable bullpen got knocked around for the second time in 3 games.  After the Giants punched them around on Wednesday, Pittsburgh stung them for 8 runs on 9 hits over the last three innings of the game to walk off with a 9-4 victory (box score).  One of the Cardinal strengths over the course of this season, the bullpen begins September with a 5.33 ERA (ranking twenty-fifth in baseball to this point of the month).

Jack Flaherty

It is getting to the point with Mr. Flaherty that when you look at the line score and see that he allowed 5 hits in 8 innings, you assume he didn’t have his good stuff that night – never mind the zero on the scoreboard.  Jack has now thrown consecutive eight-inning starts, allowing no runs.  He is unscored on in 3 of his last 4 starts, 6 of his last 8, and 7 of his last 10.  Over his last 9 starts, he has allowed more than 4 hits just twice, and he has allowed that many just 3 times over his last 12 starts.  Flaherty has been other-worldly of late – with an 0.80 ERA over his last 12 starts (78.1 innings).

Jack has been especially devastating over his last 8 starts.  He has thrown 7 quality starts, going 6-1 in those games, with one other lead lost by the bullpen.  Over his last 54 innings, Jack has been brushed for just 4 runs – 3 earned (an 0.50 ERA).  He has struck out 65 in those innings while allowing just 25 hits (16 singles, 7 doubles and 2 home runs).  That ERA combines with a .137 batting average and a .208 slugging percentage against.  This is a nasty, nasty stretch of pitching.

August’s pitcher of the month, Jack has begun September with 16 innings of zero.  In 11 second half starts (71.1 innings) Flaherty holds an 0.76 ERA.

Offensive Contributions

Although they only scored twice in the series finale (enough for a 2-0 win), it was another productive offensive series, as St Louis finished with 16 runs across the three games.  They are now scoring 5 runs even per game in September, and 5.02 runs in 55 games since the All-Star Break.

Matt Carpenter

After fighting through an endless slump through most of the year, Matt Carpenter is finally showing signs of fighting his way out of it.  He was the only Cardinal with two hits yesterday afternoon, and, after going 3 for 4 in the series he is now 6 for his last 8.  This recent offense has pushed Carp up to the .400 level of the month.

Paul DeJong

With his 0-for-4 on Sunday, Paul DeJong had a six-game hitting streak snapped.  DeJong was 7 for 23 (.304) during the streak, with a double, two home runs and 6 runs batted in to go with a .609 slugging percentage.

Yadier Molina

Also having his hitting streak snapped on Sunday was catcher Yadier Molina.  Molina had hit in 7 consecutive games overall, and 14 consecutive games in which he had had an official at bat.  During the 14 games, Yadi hit a very loud .379 (22 for 58) with 5 doubles, 4 home runs and a .672 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Starting to struggle of late is lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler.  After a 1-for-10 series against the Pirates, Dex is just 4 for 26 over his last six games, with all the hits being singles.  He has walked just once in those games, so his batting line for September is just .154/.185/.154.

NoteBook

Fowler initiated Saturday’s rout with an RBI single in the third inning – his only hit of the series.  It held up as his fifth game-winning hit of the season.  He is now tied for fourth on the team with four other players (Carpenter, Tommy Edman, Jose Martinez and Molina) with 5.  Just ahead of them is DeJong, who has 6.  Marcell Ozuna (13) and Paul Goldschmidt (12) are vying for the team lead.

With ten strikeouts on Sunday, Flaherty now sits at 196 for his 168.1 innings this season.  With probably 4 starts left, Jack is in great position to reach the 200 mark for the first time in just his third season.

St Louis has now won six consecutive series. In their last nine series, they have won eight and split one.  After struggling on the road for much of the season, St Louis is now 35-36 away from home.  They have won 10 series, lost 11 and split 2 others on the road.  This Pittsburgh series was also just the seventh time in the 21 times they have lost the opening game of a series that they came back to force a rubber game.  They are now 5-2 in those rubber games.

St Louis continues to be the team you don’t want to try to turn things around against.  Pittsburgh was the nineteenth team to play the Cards after having lost its previous series (Colorado will be the twentieth).  St Louis has won 15 of those series, splitting 3 others.  Only the Padres – who won 2 of 3 to open our season at home – have bounced back against the Cards.  St Louis is now 45-16 (including 5-0 in rubber games) against teams that have lost their previous series.

St Louis scored first in all 3 games against the Pirates, and have scored first in their last 4 consecutive games and 6 of their last 7.

A victory tomorrow night in Colorado will give them 24 in their last 31 games.  It has been almost exactly a decade since they have managed that (August 8 through September 11, 2009).  Their 55 wins in their last 89 games is the first time they’ve managed that since June 19 through September 26 of 2015.  This has been one of this franchise’s more impressive hot streaks in quite a while.

Reds Have Just Enough to Subdue Cards

The slider was high (at the very top of the strike zone), and Eugenio Suarez – Cincinnati’s slugging third-baseman – didn’t quite square up on it.  The pitch wasn’t stung – but it was enough.  As his looping liner dropped safely into center field, Nick Senzel raced around third to score the second run of the inning.  And of the game.  And, as it turned out, the last Cincy run of the night.

Again, it would be enough as the Reds held on for a 2-1 victory (box score).

With 7 hits, 2 walks and a hit batter, the Reds had sufficient opportunities.  Of the 34 Reds that came to the plate in their 8 innings, 15 hit with at least 1 runner on base, and 6 had opportunities with multiple runners on base.  But Suarez’ flare was the only hit they managed.  Cincy hit .333 with the bases empty, and .083 with anyone on.

Most of the time, walking off the field having allowed just two runs should be good enough for a victory.  But these days, the only certainty for the Cardinal pitching staff is to throw shutouts.

For the eighth time in 12 August games, the Cardinals were unable to score as many as four runs.  They are hitting .231 this month as a team.  Stretching back to the end of July, St Louis has been held to fewer than four runs 12 times in their last 16 games.  It’s a stretch that has them scoring just 3.13 runs per game with a team OPS of .646.

One game after being nearly no hit in Kansas City, the birds added four more hitless innings in this one, ending up with just two hits for the evening.  Offensive innings have been awfully quiet lately.

To their credit, the pitching staff has held their own under this adversity.  In 12 August games, they are holding forth with a 3.24 team ERA and a .231 batting average against.  It’s been enough to keep the team afloat (6-6) this month.

And they have done it largely the way that last night’s starter Michael Wacha did.  By toughening up once runners reach base.

Since the All-Star break, Cardinal opponents are hitting .259/.332/.382 with the bases empty, but just .227/.317/.371 once they put a runner on.  Over the month of August, these numbers have tightened up even more.  While batters are slashing .248/.335/.360 with no one on base, Cardinal pitchers are allowing just .209/.283/.331 once a runner does reach.

Wacha has had some difficulties recently.  Even though they couldn’t prevent his sixth loss in his last nine decisions, his five strong innings were nice to see.  But as we slog through the mid part of August, this club is still waiting for its offense to show up.

Matt Carpenter

Starting at third base last night, Matt Carpenter played his tenth game since coming off the injured list.  He was hit on his shoe-top with a pitch and struck out twice in his three at bats.

Of all the bats in the lineup that the Cards are holding their breath for, Carpenter’s is one of the most critical.  Mike Shildt is convinced that Matt is still the Matt Carpenter of old, and one of the most dynamic bats in baseball, so Carpenter is going to play.  Let’s hope Mike is right.

Since his return, Matt is hitting .233 (7 for 30) and is slugging .300.  He has 2 doubles in those games.  Matt is hitting .222 (10 for 45) since the break, with only those 2 doubles – a .267 slugging percentage.

Stretching back to before his injury, it has been 23 games since Carpenter’s last home run.

NoteBook

The second run surrendered by Michael Wacha last night was the 400th off of him during his career, and the sixty-first this season.  Michael’s career most are the 86 runs he allowed in 2016, one of two seasons in his career in which he has allowed 80 runs or more.

His 2 walks bring him to 44 for the season.  He has never before walked more than 58 in a season.  That happened over 181.1 innings back in 2015.

Kolten Wong played in game number 117 last night.  He played in only 127 all last year.  His 3 at bats in the game bring him to 368 this year – already more than in any season since 2015 – the only year so far in his career in which Kolten received 500 at bats.

Moreover, his double was his 100th hit of the season.  Since he racked up 146 hits in 2015, Kolten has crossed the 100-hit mark only once in the last three years – he finished 2017 with 101.

The 2 total bases from last night bring Kolten to 146 for the season.  Already with more than in all of 2018 (137), Wong now ties his total from 2017.  His next total base will give him more than in any season since the 215 he fashioned in 2015.

His run batted in – his forty-third of the season – is also his most since 2015 when he drove in a career high 61.

With the walk he drew, Wong is now up to 39 this season.  His career high is only the 41 he drew in 2017.  Yesterday’s strikeout brings him to 62 this season – again, already more than in any season since 2015 when he fanned 95 times.

Kolten’s stolen base career high is 20 – achieved in 2014.  Last night he swiped his sixteenth of this season.

The Cardinals had held a lead at some point in seven consecutive games before last night – every game since their August 5, 8-0 loss in Los Angeles (which was also the last time that Wacha started).

This is Why You Always Have to Put the Fish Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TylerWebb

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

JohnBrebbia

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

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

Offense Dominated Again

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

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

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

The list of struggling Cardinal hitters remains pretty lengthy.

MattCarpenter

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

PaulDeJong

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

PaulGoldschmidt

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

MarcellOzuna

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

YadierMolina

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

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

HarrisonBader

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

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

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

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

NoteBook

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

Cards Overcome Sputtering Offense in Shutout of Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

Paul DeJong

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

Yadier Molina

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

Harrison Bader

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

Miles Mikolas

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

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

Giovanny Gallegos

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

John Gant

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

Jordan Hicks

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Marlins Emphatically Deny Cardinal Sweep

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

Wish granted.

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

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

Be Concerned, Be Very, Very Concerned

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

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

MattCarpenter

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

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

DexterFowler

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

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

HarrisonBader

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

MilesMikolas

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

TylerWebb

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

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

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

JohnBrebbia

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

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

Congrats to the Blues

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations to the entire organization.

NoteBook

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

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

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