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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.