Tag Archives: Carpenter

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.

Starters Rise to Occasion in Sweep of Cubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miles Mikolas

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

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

Jack Flaherty

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

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

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

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

John Gant

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

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

Johnny has been much better than anyone could have expected.

Jordan Hicks

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

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

Offensive Struggles

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

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

Kolten Wong

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

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

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

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

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

Harrison Bader

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

Paul DeJong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Cards Lose Consecutive One Run Games

The games were not quite identical.  In the Tuesday game, the Cardinal scoring happened in the first four batters of the game.  In the Sunday game, the runs against the Cardinals all came late at the expense of the bullpen after a clean outing by the starter (Jack Flaherty).  In the Tuesday game, the scoring against the Cards came against the starter before a clean effort by the bullpen.  In the Sunday game, St Louis wasted multiple opportunities with runners on base.  On Tuesday, the Cards only had 1 at bat with a runner in scoring position.  In the Saturday game, the winning run was walked home.  In the Tuesday game no Cardinal pitcher permitted a walk.

All that being said, the similarities between the two games are notable.  Early 3-0 Cardinal lead? Check.  Almost no hits from St Louis? Check (after getting 3 hits on Sunday, they managed just 4 on Tuesday). Encouraging performance from the starting pitcher wasted? Check (Flaherty gave no runs on 3 hits through 6 innings, striking out 7; Adam Wainwright did serve up 4 runs in his 6 innings, but also walked none and struck out 10).  Kolten Wong striking out on three pitches for the final out? Check.  Final score: Cardinals 3, Bad guys 4? Check. (Sunday box score) (Tuesday box score).

One run games are one of my “character” markers – one of those numbers that speaks directly to the team’s ability to win the tough games.  As with my other character markers (games after a loss and games against winning teams) this number also suggests a team-wide lack of character.  The Cards – losers now of 17 of their last 23, are 5-10 in one run games – having lost their last seven such contests.

In the seven one run losses this month, St Louis has scored just 18 runs (2.57 per game), hitting .188 and slugging just .274.  In those games, they have had 78 base runners.  They are also 11-0 in stolen bases in those contests.  But they have been consistently unable to produce that hit that will turn the game.

Tonight’s game will mark the statistical one-third point of the season.  The Cards are, in a sense, lucky to be only 4 games behind in the division.  They could easily be buried.  The rest of this division has left the door open a crack, but at some point St Louis will have to do better than losing two of three games to take advantage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Perhaps the only glimmer of good news from Tuesday’s loss is the continuing resurgence of Paul Goldschmidt.  The off-season’s big “get,” Paul hasn’t actually been the impact bat yet the Cards had hoped for.  But he began to turn it around against Atlanta, and added 2 hits – including a home run – last night against Philadelphia.

Paul now has multiple hits in 3 of his last 4 games, hitting .467 (7 for 15) in those games.

Dexter Fowler

In the only lineup change that manager Mike Shildt has made during the Cardinal’s 23-game collapse, four games ago he installed Dexter Fowler as the leadoff batter.  In what can only be described as a microcosm of the way the month has gone, Fowler – whose on base percentage has been over .400 for most of the year – has responded to the change with an 0-for-14 slump with no walks.  He has 3 hit-by-pitches during his stay at the top of the order, bringing his OBP for those games to .176 (with 7 strikeouts).

Fowler falls to .180 for the month (11 for 61), although his 13 walks do have his OBP for May at .359.

Dexter has played – and started – 6 of the 7 one run games played by the Cards this month.  He is 2 for 21 (.095) in those games.  For the season, in the 15 one run games the Cards have played, Dexter is hitting .162 (6 for 37) with 1 run batted in.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter has also shown signs of life lately.  Not last night, though.  His 0-for-4 keeps him at .236 for the month (21 for 89).

Carpenter has also struggled in the one runs contests St Louis has played.  This month, he is just 4 for 26 (.154) in the seven one run games.  For the season, he is hitting .186 (11 for 59) in the Cardinals’ 15 one run games, with 1 home run and 3 runs batted in.

Paul DeJong

Still no turning of the page for Paul DeJong.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Paul is hitless over his last 6 games, and hitless in his last 21 at bats.  One of the heroes of April, DeJong is hitting .215 in May (17 for 79).

Kolten Wong

Like his double-play partner, Kolten Wong’s bat has all but disappeared.  Hitless in 3 at bats, Kolten has gone 4 games without a hit, and is hitless over his last 16 at bats.  Wong is now down to .165 for the month, and .222 for the year.

Kolten is 2 for 22 (.091) this month in the seven one run Cardinal games

Yadier Molina

For the season, Yadier Molina holds the lowest batting average of any of the Cardinal regulars in one run games.  After his 0-for-2 last night, Molina is hitting .148 (8 for 54) in St Louis’ one run games with 3 runs batted in.  He is 3 for 22 (.136) in the seven played this month.

Adam Wainwright

Starter Adam Wainwright made a lot of good pitches last night.  He worked his way (as mentioned earlier) through 6 innings striking out 10 and walking none.  At the end of the day, though, he made just enough mistakes – allowing 4 runs on 8 hits including a home run – to cost him the game.

Suddenly, that has become a recurring theme for Adam.  Earlier this season, he and Miles Mikolas were the two pitchers holding the rotation together.  Over his last three starts, Waino holds a 7.20 ERA and a .322 batting average against.

In the now-dismal month of May, Adam has made 5 starts.  He is 1-3 with a 6.33 ERA and a .284 batting average against.

Of Adam’s 11 starts this season, 5 have ended up as one run decisions.  The Cards are 2-3 in those games.  Adam, himself, is 1-2 in those one run games, with a 4.78 ERA and a .295 batting average against.  He has also struck out 29 batters in those 26.1 innings.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos surrendered a damaging two-run home run on Friday, but has been pitching better recently.  He threw two scoreless innings last night.  That home run accounted for the only runs Gallegos has allowed over his last 7 games.  The last 27 batters to face him have only 3 hits and 1 walk – a .115 average and a .231 on base percentage.  Giovanny has thrown 72% of his last 120 pitches for strikes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

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

Harrison Bader

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

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

Hitless Against Atlanta

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

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

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

Fowler

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

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

DeJong

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

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

Wong

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

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

Cheers for the Rotation

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

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

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

Mikolas

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

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

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

Hudson

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

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

Flaherty

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

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

Andrew Miller

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

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

Jordan Hicks

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

On Again, Off Again Offense Off Again

The story is told of three statisticians who went duck hunting.  As the first duck flew overhead, the first statistician shot at him – but his bullet flew 50 feet too high.  Before the duck could disappear from sight, the second statistician also fired.  His bullet went 50 feet to low, prompting the third statistician to declare, “What do you know, we got him.”

The St Louis Cardinals will take the field tonight having outscored their opponents over the last six games (four games against Pittsburgh and two against Atlanta) 39-25.  This is a dominant enough differential that you might the Cards had won at least 5 of the 6 if not all of them.

Certainly, you would think the Cards would have won more than the two that they have, in fact, won.  But, like the duck in the story, the Pirates and Braves have taken little lingering damage, and the Cardinals have only statistics to comfort them.

One week ago tonight, the Cardinals battered Pittsburgh 17-4 and promptly lost the next three games as the offense disappeared.  On Tuesday evening, they landed on the Atlanta Braves to the tune of 14-3.  Last night they struggled to come up with three hits in a 4-0 shutout loss (box score).

For all of the fact that they managed so few hits, St Louis did have opportunities.  In a game that was just 2-0 until Atlanta’s last at bat, St Louis added 5 walks and a hit batsman to the mix.  They had 12 plate appearances with at least one runner on base, including 6 with two or more – highlighted, of course, by Paul Goldschmidt’s bases loaded opportunity with one out and the game still scoreless in the third.

Including the double-play that Atlanta starter Mike Soroka got from Goldschmidt, St Louis was 1-for-8 batting with a runner on base, 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and 0-for-4 with 2 double plays with two or more runners on.

Through March/April this team averaged 5.45 runs per game, scored at least once in every game, and managed at least four runs in 24 of the season’s first 28 games.

Beginning with the last game in April, this offense has been shut out 3 times, and has failed to score as many as four runs 8 times over the last 15 games – 7 times over these last 13 games.  Yet, for the 13 games, St Louis is still averaging 4.38 runs per game, thanks to the intermittent outbursts.

As the losses mount, the frustration level climbs.  But answers are hard to come by.  So is consistency.

Marcell Ozuna

While not disappearing completely, Marcell Ozuna has certainly faded recently.  He did hit the home run that started Tuesday’s onslaught, but that has been his only hit over the last 4 games (he is 1 for his last 17).  He is just 7 for 52 (.135) over the last 13 games, and is now hitting .179 for the month of May.

Matt Carpenter

The Cardinals are still waiting Matt Carpenter to find himself.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Matt has 1 hit over his last 5 game, and is hitting .115 (3 for 26) over his last 8 games.  His average for May has faded to .192 (only slightly lower than his season average of .199).  Yes, there are still the walks – he walked once last night and has 8 for the month.  But at some point, the Cards will need some hits from Carpenter.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul’s third-inning double play might have been his most telling at bat.  Goldschmidt did also draw a couple of walks, but otherwise went 0-for-2.  It brought a halt to Goldschmidt’s baby five-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Paul hit .476 (10 for 21).

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha failed to deliver the team’s fourth consecutive quality start, but he did give the team five innings on 90 pitches and left trailing 2-0.  For the season, Wacha has been pretty good at working out of messes with runners on base (hitters carry just a .236 average against Wacha with runners on base).  That success carried over last night, as the Braves were 0-for-8 against Michael with runners on.

His problem, of course, was keeping Braves off the bases in the first place.  Of the 13 batters that faced Michael with the bases empty, 2 walked, 2 singled, 1 doubled and Austin Riley collected his first major league home run.  While the Braves only touched him for 2 runs (1 earned), the constant traffic on the base paths added to the stress of Michael’s evening and hurried his exit.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos isn’t a reliever we’ve paid a whole lot of attention to – and with some reason.  Giovanny has had his ups and downs.  He pitched a perfect seventh last night, striking out two – an inning that highlighted two things that Gallegos – in his limited opportunities – has done quite well.

First, is keeping people off base.  With his perfect seventh, only 3 of the last 19 batters to face him have reached.  For the season, his .244 on base percentage against with the bases empty is the second lowest on the club – behind only Tyler Webb’s .240.

The two strikeouts bring his season total to 29 in 17 innings – an average of 15.35 per nine innings.

Lack of Two Out Hits Contribute to Loss in Washington

The one everyone remembers came in the eighth inning.  Singles by Jedd Gyorko and Marcell Ozuna, and a walk drawn by Harrison Bader loaded the bases for the Cards with two out in a game they had trailed 2-1 since the fourth inning.

Backup catcher Matt Wieters (who had contributed one of the early hits) was due, but it was the eighth inning and manager Mike Shildt had a bench loaded with regulars who were getting the night off.  The at bat would go Paul Goldschmidt, and he would be hitting against the left-hander.  Washington had brought in closer Sean Doolittle to face the right-handed Bader trying to earn a four-out save.

After losing his 8-pitch battle with Bader, Doolittle would now have to face the slugger Goldschmidt with no place to put him.  But also with two out, so Sean was always just one pitch away from getting out of the mess.

Goldschmidt fouled off the first three pitches, took a ball, and then flinched on a 1-2 inside fastball that was off the plate.  First-base umpire Quinn Wolcott emphatically rung him up.  The replays showed that it was close.

While that will be the one remembered, it was only one of several such late opportunities presented to the Cardinals, all of which slid by the boards.  In fact, from the fourth inning on – the inning they fell behind – St Louis had at least one hit in every inning, and had the tying run in scoring position in three of those innings (including that eighth).  But the lack of that two out hit – compounding the earlier mistakes that had put them in the hole to begin with – were too much for them to overcome, and the five-game winning streak came to an ignominious 2-1 end (box score).

The lone Cardinal run scored in the third, but the inning was greatly defused when Wieters was picked off of second after Dakota Hudson missed on an attempted bunt.  Washington scored their two runs in the fourth on a throwing error and a double play.  So, even though the hitters were mostly dominated for the second straight night by National starters (Stephen Strasburg last night and Max Scherzer the night before), St Louis will head to Chicago knowing they mostly let this one get away.

In the end, they finished 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position, and 0 for 3 in the sixth, seventh and eighth runners in scoring position and two out.  A single by Gyorko and Matt Carpenter’s walk gave Ozuna and Tyler O’Neill the RBI opportunities in the sixth.  Marcell popped out and O’Neill struck out.  The seventh inning opportunity came courtesy of an infield hit from Yairo Munoz and a walk drawn by Jose Martinez.  The inning ended when Kolten Wong’s foul fly decided not to go out of bounds and floated back to where right fielder Victor Robles could gather it in.

St Louis finished the game 2-for-11 (.182) with two out, ending six of their nine innings with strikeouts.  For the season – in spite of the fact that they have been one of baseball’s most consistent offenses – they are hitting just .246 with two outs.  An area I know they expect to be better in.

On the other hand, the Cards were 5 for 13 (.385) with no one out.  They remain one of baseball’s best hitting no-out teams, raising their season average to .293 and their on base percentage to .357 in that situation.  For the season, 56.7% of all Cardinal runners who reach with no outs have come home to score.

MattCarpenter

Given to pronounced slumps over recent years, Matt Carpenter is currently fighting his way through another.  Last year, when his season started slowly, he had the advanced metrics to fall back on that showed he was still hitting the ball hard – just not having any luck.

Recently, though, Matt just isn’t hitting the ball at all.  After last night’s 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts, Carpenter finished the Washington series just 1 for 16 (.063) with 11 strikeouts.  He is kind of a mess right now.

In his only at bat of the game with two out, Matt flew out fairly deep to center to end the first.  Carpenter is now 2 for 24 (.083) on the season with two out, driving in just 1 run.

Pitching Revival

Even in defeat, the recent improvement in the Cardinal pitching remains evident.  Starting with six very strong innings from Dakota Hudson, Washington ended with just 5 hits (all singles) and 11 strikeouts.  Frankly they were lucky to score at all.

After being fairly battered early, the Cardinal pitching staff seems to have found its footing a bit.  They have now fashioned 5 quality starts over their last 9 games, producing a 3.26 team ERA while holding opposing teams to just a .217 batting average.  The once concerning rotation has contributed 52 innings over those 9 games, with a 2.77 ERA and a .229 batting average against.

This is much more according to the plan.

Better With Two Outs

One of the great improvements over the last 9 games has been in St Louis’ ability to get that third out.  The first 282 batters to face the Cardinals with two out this year drew 35 walks and smacked 28 extra-base hits – including 15 two out home runs.  That batting line translated into .249/.358/.494

Over the last 9 games, 110 batters have faced the Cards with two outs.  They have 13 walks and just 4 extra-base hits – including just 1 home run – a batting line of .240/.336/.302.  Last night, Washington was 2-for-11 with two outs – but also with two more walks.

DominicLeone

After being battered over two games against Cincinnati (allowing 8 runs in 1.1 innings), Dominic Leone returned to form against Washington.  In 1.2 scoreless innings he struck out 4.

One of the Cardinal strengths all year has been pitching with no one out, as opponents have only hit .202 against St Louis in that situation.  Leone has been a solid part of that.  He struck out both of the batters he faced with no outs last night.  Batters are now 2-for-19 (.105) with 8 strikeouts when pitted against Leone with no one out.

Unfortunately, Dominic has also contributed to the two out struggles.  The hit he gave up last night came with two out, bringing opposing hitters to 9 for 19 (.474) against Leone in that situation.

When You’re Trying Not to Hit the Curve Ball

Last night in Washington, Adam Wainwright made his record-tying start with catcher Yadier Molina.  These two have formed the battery for 248 Cardinal games over the years – tying the Tom Glavine/Javy Lopez record.

In rolling through 6.2 innings in the game, Adam threw 80 pitches.  Twenty-six of those were curve balls – Waino’s signature pitch.  The fastest of these (according to Brooks Baseball) spun in at 77.6 mph.  Adam’s fastest pitch of the game (a sinker) registered all of 92.4 mph.  During the evening, 12 of Adam’s 80 offerings cracked the 90-mph barrier.

The league, of course, is well aware of who Wainwright is – especially at this point of his career.  Beating Wainwright means that you need some strategy for coping with that curve.

If he’s missing the strike zone with it, then the adjustment is easy.  Just don’t swing at it.  If he is throwing that curve for strikes, you can try to wait for him to hang one – Victor Robles got a hanger on a 3-1 pitch and sailed it over the wall.

But if he’s not hanging them often, then most teams will take the approach the Nationals took last night – hit him early in the count.  Once Adam gets two strikes on you, you become vulnerable to Uncle Charlie.  Early in the count, Wainwright will throw more cutters and sinkers to set the hitter up for the curve.  Twenty-one of the 29 batters to face Adam ended their plate appearance before strike two, with 7 of them hitting Adam’s first strike.

Across all of baseball, this is very profitable hitting territory.  According to baseball reference, all major league hitters are hitting .342 and slugging .617 when they hit that first strike.

But, of course, Wainwright and Molina have been around a bit as well.  Figuring that the Nationals would be looking to hit something other than that curve, they mixed plenty of cutters (13) and sinkers (23) – especially early in the count.  In a sense, it was a case of be careful what you ask for.  The battery of Wainwright and Molina was consistently effective at jamming the Washington hitters – who were very obliging.

In the second inning, Matt Adams got enough of one of those inside cutters to float it into short left-center for a single.  The next inning, Adam Eaton was quick enough on another inside cutter to stroke it just fair over the right-field wall.  For the rest, it was a predictable mix of relatively easy fly-ball outs.

For the rest of the series, Washington will have to deal with pitchers with more stuff in Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson.  But last night, they were treated to a demonstration of pitching as an art form.  When he’s right, Adam can make it look fairly easy.

Ah, But Those Home Runs

In spite of the strong performance, Wainwright did serve up two more home runs.  For the rotation, now, that is 34 home runs allowed in 151 innings.  The opposing slugging percentage against Cardinal starters is .502 – the second highest in all of baseball.

That Bullpen is Still Plenty Tough

As they have for most of the year, St Louis’ bullpen came in and closed the door.  Over the last 2.2 innings, Washington managed only 1 hit and no runs.  The batting average against the Cardinal bullpen falls to .178 – the lowest in the majors.

John Gant

Adding another strong outing to his excellent start, John Gant threw 1.1 scoreless innings last night.  His season ERA slides to an unexpected 0.98.

He reached two strikes on all 5 batters he faced last night, a facet of his game that has been exceptional this year.  So far this season, 63.2% of all batters John has pitched to have ended up in two-strike counts.  They have not prospered, hitting .050/.116/.050.

Speaking of Two Strikes

Almost as masterful on the other side was Washington starter Anibal Sanchez.  Mr. Sanchez, himself, featured a cutter that never exceeded 89.5 mph.  But he spotted it expertly on the corners of the zone.

He, and the relievers who followed him, put 27 of the 38 Cardinal batters in two-strike counts – on their way to ringing up 15 strikeouts and holding one of baseball’s most consistent offenses under four runs for just the fifth time this season.

Jose Martinez

Contrary to the plan at the start of the season, Jose Martinez started for the thirteenth consecutive game last night.  For the third straight of those games, he finished with 2 hits.  He has hit in 11 of those games, getting multiple hits in 7 of them.  Jose carries a .462 average (20 for 47) as he is making it exceedingly difficult for management to put him back on the bench.

One of those hits (his second inning single) came on a 1-2 pitch.  Martinez – among his other accomplishments – is the best two-strike hitter on the team, carrying a .318 average (14-for-44) when down to his last strike.

Matt Carpenter

While most of the team seems to be perking along, things are still a struggle for Matt Carpenter.  Matt found himself in two-strike counts through all 5 of his at bats.  He walked once and struck out the other 4 times.  He now has 7 strikeouts over his last 2 games.  For the season, only Paul Goldschmidt (61.4%) has found himself in two-strike counts with more frequency that Carpenter (60.0%).  Once considered the team’s best two-strike hitter, Carp is hitting .145 (9-for-62) in that situation so far this year.

Yadier Molina

And, yes, Yadier Molina’s career-best-tying 16-game hitting streak came to an end in the win.  Yadi was 0-for-3 with a walk.  During the streak, Molina hit .328 (21 for 64) with a couple of home runs.  Yadi drove in 19 runs during that streak.

Young but Surprisingly Patient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinal Bullpen Nearly Unhittable

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

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

Offensive Consistency Amazing

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

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

Jose Martinez

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

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

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

Harrison Bader

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

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

Jedd Gyorko

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

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

NoteBook

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