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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.