Paul DeJong led the decisive second inning off with a walk, and Tyler O’Neill followed by slapping a single into left-field. DeJong would be forced at third on Andrew Knizner’s grounder, but they would provide the runners on base for Harrison Bader’s three-run home run that accounted for all of the game’s scoring on Sunday (box score).
In their sometimes on, sometimes off offensive performances here in the early days of 2021, on thing the Cardinals have managed to do with better than average consistency is score the runners who get on base with no one out. On Sunday, the Cards put four runners on base with no one out – scoring two. For the three game series in Pittsburgh, 11 of the 16 runners who reached base before the first out was recorded found their way home (68.8%).
For the season, now, 54.9% of the time that St Louis can get a runner on with no one out, they will push him around.
In contrast, the Pirates put 13 runners on base during the series with no one out, and only managed to get 2 of them home. It was a frustrating series for the Pirates, who brought a .500 record into the series (12-12), but were outscored 22-8 in the three-game sweep.
A Cardinal offense that hit .266 with a .505 slugging percentage managed to share the spotlight this series with a starting rotation that continues to silence opposing offenses on a daily basis.
For 19 innings this weekend against the Cardinal starters, Pittsburgh managed just 4 runs on 14 hits – 11 singles and just 3 doubles. St Louis starters finished another series with a cumulative ERA under 2.00 (1.89) while holding the Pirates to a .219 batting average and a .266 slugging percentage.
Over the last 12 games (8 of them Cardinal wins), the rotation has shouldered 77 innings with a 1.75 ERA and a .194 batting average against. The organization’s belief all along was that this rotation would be capable of this kind of sustained excellence.
There’s a long way to go, but so far so good.
With equal parts inconsistency and bad luck dominating his first three starts, Carlos Martinez took the mound on April 21 in Washington with an 0-3 record and a 7.80 ERA. Carlos would lose that game, too, 1-0 to Max Scherzer, but that game was the beginning of his turnaround. After his 8 shutout innings on Sunday, Carlos is 2-1 with an 0.84 ERA and a batting average against of .153 over his last three starts. The 11 hits that he has surrendered over his last 21.1 innings have been 6 singles and 5 doubles (a .222 slugging percentage).
Carlos has been this good before. Once upon a time, he was a two-time All-Star and the ace of the staff. Injuries and inconsistency have cost him a couple of years. It’s been a bit of an uphill hike, but for now Carlos looks like he’s back to pitching as well as he ever has.
Jack Flaherty opened the 2021 season in rather inauspicious fashion. Staked to 11 runs of offensive support, Jack couldn’t last long enough to qualify for the win (he was pulled after 4.1 innings).
Since then, Jack has won every time out (5 for his last 5). And while on-going run support has certainly been part of it (the Cards have scored 7 or more runs for him in 4 of his 6 starts), Jack has held up his end of the bargain was well. Over his last 30 innings, Flaherty has been touched for just 7 earned runs on 19 hits (13 singles, 5 doubles and 1 home run). He carried a 2.10 ERA with 32 strikeouts over those 30 innings, while holding opposing batters to a .181 batting average and a .257 slugging percentage.
Jack was the starter and winner of the Saturday game (box score).
As much as anyone else, Tyler O’Neill was the offensive star of the series. He went 7-for-13 with multiple hits in each game. Only two of the hits were pulled, the other five either went to right field (including a double hit high off the right-field wall) or to dead center – where his long home run went.
Tyler has 5 multi-hit games in his last 8 contests, and is hitting .419 (13 for 31) in that span. His hits include the double and 4 home runs. He has 7 runs batted in during those games, and is slugging .839 in those contests. A .173 hitter last year, O’Neill is currently third on the team in batting average, hitting a cool .270. The longer he keeps this up, the harder it becomes not to get excited by it.
Although held hitless on Sunday, Tommy Edman had another strong series in Pittsburgh. He was 5 for 13 during the three games, and has now hit in 7 of his last 9, hitting .324 (12 for 37) in those games.
Tommy reached base in 4 of his 7 plate appearances with no one out, over the weekend – something that he’s been very good at this year. In 61 plate appearances with no one out, Tommy holds a .410 on base percentage.
Paul DeJong – in addition to his walk on Sunday – hit an important home run in the Saturday game. He still hasn’t flipped the switch though. Paul was 2-for-12 against Pittsburgh and is hitting .121 over his last 9 games (4 for 33).
The 22 runs scored in the series were the most scored by the Cards in any series so far this year. While losing two-of-three in Cincinnati to open the season, they scored 18 runs.
The seven-run margin of victory in the Saturday game was their most since they beat Washington by that same 12-5 score on April 19. None of the games in between were decided by more than four runs.
At 3:43, the Saturday contest was the longest since the 9-4 win in Philadelphia on April 17. That game took 3:54 to finish.
The average attendance for the series in Pittsburgh – 6,875.7 – was the lowest since the Cards played before average crowds of 4,943.7 in Miami.
My Designated Hitter Rant
Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter. Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH. While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it. So, I have re-written it here. The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks. I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.