Tag Archives: DeJong

Everything Goes Right in Sweep of Pirates

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.

Martinez

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.

Flaherty

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).

O’Neill

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.

Edman

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.

DeJong

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).

NoteBook

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.

Winning Pitcher: Carlos Martinez

Due, of course, to the COVID cautions that dominate our current society, the 12,895 assembled at the ball-park were many fewer than Carlos is used to seeing at Busch Stadium.  Still, it had to give him chills as they all rose as one to stand and applaud for him as he left the mound.  Approaching the three-year mark since his last victory as a starter, Carlos Martinez had pitched into the eighth-inning, leaving with a 5-2 lead.  Sensing the weight of the moment and the significance of the event for the Cardinal’s veteran starter, what crowd there was rose to shower the embattled right-hander with love.

Drama-free support from Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes confirmed shortly after what the crowd had anticipated when Carlos left – a Cardinal victory (box score), their fourth in the last five games.

More importantly, Martinez’ effort became the latest in a continuing streak of dominance from the Cardinal starting rotation.  Had Kwang Hyun Kim managed one more out in his last start, St Louis would be riding a streak of 7 consecutive quality starts.  But “quality” doesn’t begin to describe the starters over the last 7 games.

The rotation has contributed 48 innings over those last seven games (almost 7 per) with a sparkling 1.31 ERA.  They have surrendered just 28 hits over those innings (holding those opponents to a .169 batting average) while walking just 6 (and hitting 2 others) for a .206 on base percentage.

The Cardinal plan for 2021 relies heavily on excellence from that rotation.  Over the last week or so, those arms are starting to reward that confidence.

More Martinez

Bitten a bit by the home run ball over the last few season’s Carlos has allowed just 2 this year, and has thrown 19 innings since surrendering his most recent (to Milwaukee’s Avisail Garcia in the fifth inning of the April tenth game).

Also important for Martinez – run support.  In his first four starts, the sometimes squeamish Cardinal offense had scored a total of one support run for Carlos.

Carlos has made two of these last seven starts, giving just 2 earned runs over 13.1 innings.  Martinez is no longer one of the high octane arms on the staff.  His fastball usually sits in the 94 mph range, bumping up to a high of about 96.  But Carlos couples that fastball with a really good slider that has nasty late bite.  With two strikes on you, it’s nearly impossible to lay off of that pitch.

If Carlos can consistently be the pitcher that he’s been over his last two starts, it will be hard to move him out of the rotation.

No One Wants Alex’ First Pitch

Closer Alex Reyes finished off the ninth, facing four batters.  All of them took his first pitch.  It’s an understandable strategy against a hard throwing pitcher who is frequently out of the strike zone.  Reyes has faced 47 batters so far this season.  Only 7 have offered at his first pitch.

Edman

Tommy Edman delivered the game winning runs with a double in the second inning.  He jumped on a first-pitch, hanging changeup from Zach Eflin.  The Cardinal leadoff man isn’t interested in the first pitch very often – he has swung at just 20 of the 102 thrown to him this year – but in the at bats in which he does decide to swing, he has been very proficient.  He has 7 hits in 19 at bats (with a walk) in those plate appearances – a .368 batting average.

While Edman remains very choosy of his first pitches, there is a teeny, tiny body of evidence (I’m talking all of six pitches) that suggest that maybe this year he won’t let pitchers get away with get-me-ahead breaking balls over the middle of the plate – as he has in the first two years of his career.

Carlson

With two more hits last night, Dylan Carlson pushed his season average back over .300 (.303).  Carlson has hit safely in 14 of his last 18 starts, going 22 for 65 (.338) over that span.  Eight of those hits have been for extra-bases, giving him a .554 slugging percentage in those games.

Dylan is also selective about swinging at that first pitch.  He took all four first pitches last night, and is taking 82% (73 of 89) so far for the year.  That is the highest percentage of any regular.

DeJong

After looking like he was about to turn the corner, Paul DeJong has started to fade again.  He hit two home runs on April 19 against Washington, and followed that up with 2 more hits two days later.  But in the five games since then, Paul is 2 for 18 (both singles) with 1 walk – a .111/.158/.111 slash line.

NoteBook

Speaking of Edman, the run he scored last night was the one hundredth of his career.  Tommy also currently ranks as the second hardest National League played to strike out.  Edman has one strikeout for every 9.4 at bats.  Only Pittsburgh’s Kevin Newman – who goes 15.0 at bats per strikeout – is tougher.

One evening after the game day temperature of 75 degrees set the season high, that mark was reset when last night’s game was played in 78 degree weather.  This number will still get much higher before the season is quite over.

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.

Just One Hit

For all of that, there was only one hit in the inning.

Playing in their first one-run game of the season, the Cardinals carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning on a balmy evening in Washington DC, only to see the Nationals cobble together a two-run rally consisting of 3 walks, one hit batsman – and just one hit.

This is rapidly becoming one of the repeated story lines of the young season.  The Cards absorbed their seventh loss in their last ten games by a 3-2 score (box score), and free baserunners have been a critical element in almost every loss.

Perhaps in reaction to the stress of their high-inning workload, the bullpen is especially starting to fray.  Although only asked for one inning last night, the Cardinal bullpen has nonetheless, thrown 39.2 over the last ten games.  They have walked 29 batters (1 intentionally) in those innings and hit 2 others.

Both runs that scored in last night’s eighth inning reached base freely – a walk and a hit batsman.

Of the 55 runs allowed by the Cardinals over these last ten games, 19 have been scored by batters who didn’t have to hit their way safely on base.  The walk to Yan Gomes that drove home the game-winning run was the third bases-loaded walk served up by the Cards in those ten games.  They also hit a batter with the bases loaded and brought home another run with a wild pitch.

Much has been written – including by me – about the up-and-down offense (which managed just 2 runs last night after hitting five home runs and scoring 12 runs in the first game of the series).  But, while everyone focusses on the offense, the walks by the pitching staff are starting to mount.

Entering play tonight, St Louis pitchers have walked 77 batters – the second highest total in the National League (the Cubs have passed 80).  Additionally, Cardinal pitchers lead the league in hit batsmen (15) and wild pitches (13).

In general, the staff has great stuff.  Cardinal pitching has rarely been just battered (although that has happened a few times).  But, far and away, the most damage done to them has been self-inflicted.  Their mostly unimpressive 4.86 team ERA includes a gift of about two runs a game.  It’s a lot to overcome on a nearly nightly basis.

The First One-Run Game

On the same day that the Post-Dispatch noted that St Louis was the only team not to have played a one-run game this season, the Cards proceeded to play (and lose) that first one-runner last night.

The franchise has now played 959 one-run games in this century – going 486-473 (.507) in those games.  But that number doesn’t really paint the full one-run picture.

From 2001-2012, the Cards were annually among baseball’s worst one-run teams.  They had two seasons (2001 and 2003) in which they lost more than 60% of those contests, and were 263-289 (.476) over those twelve years.

Since then, they have had only one losing season in one-run games (24-29 in 2017), and are 195-167 (.539).  From 2001-2012, they averaged 3.83 runs per game in those contests, and allowed 3.88.  Since then, they are scoring just 3.59 runs per game in one-run games, but are allowing  just 3.51 per.

If that number means anything, it emphasizes the importance of the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – in winning one-run games.  The bullpen is where we lost last night’s contest.

Molina

Offensive highlights were few last night, but Yadier Molina’s hot streak isn’t quite over yet.  Yadi singled and doubled in the loss, and has now hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games – with 4 multiple hit games sprinkled in.  He is 19 for 54 during the streak (.352) with 4 doubles and 4 home runs.  Over these last 15 games, Yadi has 11 runs batted in and a .648 slugging percentage.

DeJong

On the heels of his 2 home run – 5 RBI evening, Paul DeJong saw his hitting streak snapped after six games with last night’s 0-for-4.  Paul was 7 for 22 during the streak (.318) with 3 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a .727 slugging percentage.

Wainwright

Last night was the ninetieth start of Adam Wainwright’s career that ended as a one-run game.  It was the fifty-sixth time in those starts that Waino has delivered a quality start – and the eleventh time that he left one of those games with a lead that was later lost by the bullpen.  His record in those games is 25-23 with a 3.31 ERA.

NoteBook

At 73 degrees, last night’s game was the second warmest of the young season.  On their Sunday game in Miami (April 7) they played in 74 degree weather.

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.

Just Like a Box of Chocolates

A week in the season of the St Louis Cardinals. 

Last Monday, the Washington Nationals paid a visit to Cardinal Nation and took the first game of a three-game set by a 5-2 score.  The loss was St Louis’ third in a row, and the two runs that they did score brought their run total to just 10 for the three games. 

They answered that game with a 14-3 battering of Stephen Strasburg and several relievers.  In scoring more runs than in their previous four games combined, the Cards slashed out 15 hits (including three home runs).

The next day, of course, they were shutout by Joe Ross and company, 6-0.  They finished with four hits – two singles and two doubles.

That loss sent them on the road to Philadelphia, where they were muffled by Zach Eflin by a 9-2 score.  They finished that game with 6 hits and no walks.

That loss was answered with a 9-4 pounding of the Phillies – a game that featured 8 walks, 2 doubles and four home runs.

So, naturally, the next night they were almost no hit, as Aaron Nola never broke a sweat.  He threw a 2-hit complete game in a 2-0 win.  In addition to no extra-base hits, the Cards also failed to draw a walk or take an at bat with a runner in scoring position.

Last night they journeyed up to Washington to re-visit the Nationals, and, of course, pelted the same Joe Ross who had befuddled them just one week prior.  The Cards drove Ross from the mound in the fifth inning on their way to the 12-5 win (box score).  Their 12 hits included 2 doubles, a triple and 5 more home runs.

I wonder what happens tonight.  They are slated to face embattled left-hander Patrick Corbin, who brings an 0-2 record and a 21.32 ERA into the contest.  Honestly, if Corbin throws a no-hitter against the Cards I would a hard time working up any surprise.

The famous line from Forrest Gump couldn’t fit the Cardinal season any tighter.

Most teams in most seasons go through almost rhythmic ups and downs – alternately waning and cresting as though affected by an enormous unseen tide.  It’s rarely difficult to tell whether your team is playing well or not at any particular junction.

For the Cardinals, the shift from smoking to slumping and back again generally happens on a daily basis.  They have scored at least 5 runs in 7 different games so far this season.  They are averaging 2.17 runs per game in their next contest.  They have scored less than 4 runs 7 other times this season.  They are averaging 6.86 runs in the next game.

Eventually, of course, the turbulence will end and eventually this St Louis team will define itself.  For the moment, though, it’s almost impossible to guess what is beneath the chocolate coating.

Goldschmidt

The eventual consistency of the attack may rest – as much as anywhere else – on the shoulders of Paul Goldschmidt.  Shortly after he missed a game due to back stiffness, Paul tumbled into a small 2-for-17 slump that added to the struggles of the on-again-off-again offense.  Lately, though, Goldschmidt is showing signs of coming out of it.  With three hits last night, Paul has hit safely in 3 of his last 4 games, getting multiple hits in two of them.  He is now 6 for his last 17 (a .353 average).

Edman

One game after his 12-game hitting streak came to an end, Tommy Edman was seriously starting another with two extra-base hits in last night’s game.  Tommy is hitting .322 (19 for 59) over his last 14 games.

Edman is also leading the team in batting in games after a loss.  He has started all 8, and is 11-for-33 when the Cards have lost the previous games.  His hits include a double and 2 home runs – a .545 slugging percentage to go with his .333 batting average in those games. 

DeJong

Paul DeJong had the explosive evening – he hit two home runs, including a grand slam.  His current hitting streak has now reached six games – with this being the first in which he had multiple hits.  Paul is now 7 for his last 22 (.318).  Three of the hits have been home runs.  He has 6 runs batted in during the streak, with a .727 slugging percentage.

Williams

With Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader progressing toward a return to action, Justin Williams isn’t looking like he will go quietly back to the bench.  Justin singled and homered last night.  After suffering through a 1-for-17 start to his 2021, Williams has hit in 6 of his last 8, hitting .364 over that spell (8-for-22).  With two of those hits being home runs, Justin carries a .636 slugging percentage over those games.

Justin has played in all 8 games after a Cardinal loss this season, starting 6.  In 24 plate appearances in those games, Justin has 6 singles, 2 home runs and 4 walks (2 intentional).  When the Birds have lost their previous game, Williams has a .400/.500/.700 batting line.

Flaherty

Jack Flaherty was on his way to a dominant outing against Washington until he stumbled a bit in his final inning.  The three runs were unearned as the inning was prolonged by an error, but the frame featured two doubles and an RBI single that were all hard hit.  Even so, Jack has started to warm to the new season.

After a disappointing opening game where he was staked to 11 runs but couldn’t finish the fifth, Jack has won all of his last three starts with a 1.59 ERA and a .167 batting average against.  In his last 17 innings, the only extra base hits he’s allowed are 4 doubles (3 of them last night).  The last 68 batters to face him are slugging just .233.

NoteBook

St Louis is only 3-6 over their last 9 games, but all three wins have been by 5 runs or more.

Last night’s victory was only the second time in the last ten games that the Cards never trailed in the contest.

The 12 runs scored last night were more than the Cards scored in separate, entire three game series against Milwaukee and Philadelphia.  In those earlier three-game sets against the Brewers and Philles, St Louis managed a total of just 11 runs.

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.

Flexing a Bit Against Lefties

On May 11, 2018, San Diego starter Eric Lauer lasted just 2.1 innings against the Cardinals.  While the Birds might well have wanted Eric to stick around a little longer, the Padres – for their part – had seen too much.

Paul DeJong initiated the scoring that day with a three-run home run in the second.  Going back out to start the third, Eric only lasted four more batters.  He retired one, and served up home runs to the other three (Harrison Bader, Marcell Ozuna and Jedd Gyorko) – the last two, back to back.

Staked to that 6-0 lead, the Cards would hang on for a 9-5 victory (box score).

This was not the Cards last four-home run game before they similarly battered Philadelphia on Saturday (box score of that 9-4 victory).  Four home run games aren’t as rare in St Louis as might be supposed – in this century, they have accomplished the feat 112 times so far.

But it was the last time that they managed the feat against left-handed pitching (something they have now done only twice since 2012).

St Louis’ history against left-handed pitching is complicated.  Truthfully, it isn’t nearly as dire as I sometimes make it sound.  The Cards began the season having gone 493-450 when a lefthander starts against them this century (a .523 winning percentage) and scoring a solid 4.71 per game in those contests.  After Saturday, they are 2-1 this year with 16 runs scored in games started by lefties.

That being said, production against lefthanders has been a source of recent concern.  In the abbreviated 2020 season, the Cards slashed a humble .223/.311/.375 against southpaws, and were just 4-7 in games started by lefties.

The addition of Nolan Arenado over the winter should have provided additional firepower against these guys – but in the early days of the season there was no apparent improvement.

In spite of the fact that St Louis began the season 4-2, they did so without any real production against lefthanded pitching – carrying a .156/.282/.313 slash line against them in 32 at bats.

But as soon as they returned to Busch – playing in front of (some) fans for the first time in over a year – they quickly re-wrote the narrative.  With Saturday’s battering of Matt Moore (4-for-12 with a double and 2 home runs) and reliever JoJo Romero (3-for-5 with 2 home runs), Cardinal hitters are 21 for their last 54 (.389) with 6 extra-base hits (2 doubles to go with the 4 homers) for a .648 slugging percentage when matched against a left-hander.

The production has especially ticked up against the lefthanders in the bullpens of Milwaukee, Washington and Philadelphia.  The Cards are an impressive 12 for 23 against those pitchers – including both doubles and the two homers they hit off of Romero – a .522 batting average coupled with a .783 slugging percentage.

The Cardinals journey to Washington tonight to begin their final series against them for the year (already).  As they do, they carry a .302/.411/.523 team slash line against lefthanders.

It should be quickly pointed out that the list of the lefties they have faced so far this young season isn’t chock-full of All-Stars.  In fact, the list doesn’t even include Milwaukee’s Josh Hader – who didn’t appear in any of the Brewers’ first three games against the Cards.

In fact, the southpaw success St Louis has enjoyed so far this season has come almost entirely against three pitchers – the two from Philadelphia that they pushed around on Saturday, and Washington’s Luis Avilan – who took the brunt of St Louis’ 9-run fifth inning in the National’s only loss to the Cards so far this season.  St Louis was 6-for-7 with 2 walks against Luis while he was in the game.

So, this is a story that’s far from being written.  To this point, it can only be considered a promising beginning.

Molina

Yadier Molina floated a pitch over the Philadelphia infield to lead off the second inning – one of only two hits the Birds were able to manage against the untouchable Aaron Nola in Sunday’s 2-0 loss (box score).  After seeing his 10-game hitting streak snapped in the opening game, Yadi finished the series with four hits over the last two games.  Molina is hitting .370 (17 for 46) over his last 13 games with 7 extra-base hits and a .696 slugging percentage.

Carlson

Silenced with most of the rest of the team on Sunday, Dylan Carlson, nonetheless, had a strong series, going 3 for 10 against Philly with 2 doubles.  Dylan has hit in 3 of his last 5 games, going 6-for-14 (.429).  He also drew 3 walks.

DeJong

Paul – who, as noted, contributed the last time St Louis hit 4 home runs off a lefty – added one of the four on Saturday.  He also collected the team’s second and final hit on Sunday – a line drive to left that was almost caught.  DeJong finished 3-for-10 against Philly, and – after enduring an 0-for-26 stumble earlier this season – has now fashioned together a baby five-game hitting streak.  It isn’t the loudest streak of the season – Paul has one hit in each game, and is just 5-for-18 (.278) overall during the streak.  It, nonetheless, represents a step toward the consistency that both he and the club have been looking for.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s ugly season marches on unabated.  An 0-for-12 start was interrupted by a bunt single and a home run 3 at bats later.  Since then, he is 0-for-13.  He finished an 0-for-7 visit to the City of Brotherly Love by striking out all three times up on Sunday – all on knuckle-curves, none of which was thrown harder than 78.9 mph.  Carp has now struck out in his last 4 at bats, and 6 times in his last 13 at bats.  For the season, Matt is 2 for 29 with 12 strikeouts.

Struggling Starters

Sunday’s loss was St Louis’ sixth in their last eight games.  While Sunday’s starter John Gant pitched well enough to win (he gave 2 runs in 5 innings), solid starts have been the exception rather than the norm.  The Cards first two starters in the series (Carlos Martinez and Kwang Hyun Kim) combined to pitch just 8 innings, giving 9 runs on 10 hits – a 10.13 ERA with a .303 batting average against.

Over the last 8 games, Cardinal starters have managed only 34.1 innings.  Their collective ERA sits at 7.34 with a .313 batting average against.  The bullpen has thrown one more inning (35.2) that the starters during this spell.  It’s not a formula for success.

Webb

Tyler Webb tossed a scoreless eighth on Sunday, retiring both left-handers he faced in the inning (Didi Gregorius and Mickey Moniak).  Through his first three seasons in St Louis, lefties were only 28-for-174 (.161) against Tyler.  He got off to a shaky start against them this year – the first 7 to face him were 3-for-6 with a sacrifice fly.  Since then, they are just 1 for 9 against him.

NoteBook

The Cards head to Washington having scored first just once in their last 9 games.

With two of the games against the Phillies clocking in at less than three hours, the just concluded Philadelphia series was the Cardinals’ shortest by average time so far this young season.  The three games averaged 3:00.7.  Prior to Philadelphia, St Louis’ quickest series was the three-game set against Milwaukee, which averaged 3:17.3.

St Louis has now lost three consecutive series, and four out of five for the season.  Since scoring their final run in the fourth inning of Saturday’s game, St Louis is riding a fifteen inning scoreless streak.

The 2020 season, of course, was significantly truncated.  Still, it is worth noting a couple of Cardinal hitters that are already reaching or exceeding their production from last year – one expected, and one a pleasant surprise.

The expected would be outfielder Dylan Carlson.  In his initial tour through the National League, St. Louis’ rookie-of-the-year candidate struggled with more breaking pitches than he expected.  When he was returned to the minor league camp after September 4, he carried with him a .162/.215/.243 batting mark.  His strong start this year was foreshadowed by his numbers after he returned to the big club on September 18.

Over his last 12 games of 2020, Dylan hit a much more convincing .278/.325/.611.  He finished that season hitting .333/.571/.444 batting fourth in his first playoff series.  It was widely expected that 2021 would see the emergence of the talent that was so evident during his rise through the minors.  The early results suggest that that is happening.

In 119 plate appearances last year, Dylan scored 11 runs, hit 3 home runs, drove in 16 runs and walked 8 times while forging a .200/.252/.364 batting line and 40 total bases.  In just 56 plate appearances so far this year, Carlson already has scored 9 runs, hit 3 home runs, driven in 10 and drawn 7 walks while batting .255/.357/.511 with 24 total bases.

The pleasant surprise has been the Cards great veteran catcher Yadier Molina.  Thirty-eight years old, and playing in his eighteenth season wearing the Birds-on-the-Bat, Yadi is having an offensive renaissance befitting a player ten years younger.

Last year, in 156 plate appearances, Yadi scored 12 runs while accounting for just 6 extra base hits (2 doubles and 4 home runs).  He drove in 16 runs with just 52 total bases.  He faded at the plate as the season wound its way through September.  Over his last 72 plate appearances, Yadi hit just .212/.278/.318.

Yadi’s 2021 season is only 55 plate appearances old, but already Molina has accounted for 10 runs scored and 7 extra base hits (3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He has driven in 12 runs, walked 4 times, and piled up 31 total bases.  If sustained (and that, of course, is the rub), Yadi’s batting line of .340/.382/.640 would constitute the best offensive season of his career.

That, I think, is a bit much to hope for.  He will still have to sustain through the dog days of September.  But there is little doubt that Molina is a different hitter this year.  I highly suspect that his offseason training regimen was more intense.  Ironically, I think the fact that the 2020 was greatly abbreviated may have helped him this year.  After catching over 1000 innings in 12 of the previous 14 years, Molina was behind the plate for only 337.1 in 2020 – for him, almost like taking a year off.

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.

In the Playoffs, You ride Your Bullpen

Kwang Hyun wasn’t terribly pleased with his outing.

A revelation during the season, Korean legend Kwang Hyun Kim struggled all afternoon to find that inside corner against the right handers that San Diego slotted in against him.  When, with two out in the fourth inning, Kwang Hyun walked Trent Grisham, bringing up San Diego’s wunderkind Fernando Tatis Jr., Kwang Hyun’s afternoon was over – in spite of the fact that St Louis still had a 3-run lead when Kim left.

Whether it was nerves, the mound, the strike zone, an unfamiliar opponent – or just one of those days that befall all pitchers from time to time, Kim’s inaugural major league playoff appearance yielded a disappointing line of 3.2 innings, 3 runs on 5 hits (including a triple that could have been caught) and 2 walks.  Only 44 of his 76 pitches found the strike zone (57.9%).  Until such a time as he gets another opportunity (whether it’s this year or some other time), Kwang Hyun’s playoff ERA will sit a 7.36.

It certainly could have been worse.  Spacious Petco yielded 2 sacrifice flies, but no big flies – not to the Padres at least.

Had this been an April or May game (of course, no one was playing baseball in April and May), Mike Shildt would almost certainly have given him a longer leash to let him find himself – especially a decorated veteran with a three-run lead.  But now, suddenly, it’s the playoffs.  And in the playoffs, you ride your bullpen.

Of course, we remember (those of us who have been around a while) Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson for Arizona in 2001 – and, for that matter Chris Carpenter in 2011, pitching a complete game shutout against Philadelphia and firing six excellent innings against Texas in Game Seven of that year’s World Series.  But that is, by far, the exception.

Even in St Louis’ 2011 championship year, the bullpen was the unsung hero.  Eight times in 18 playoff games, the Cardinal starter failed to last 5 innings.  Toss out Carpenter’s starts, and 7 of the other 12 starters left the bulk of the game to the pen.  For the playoffs that year, Cardinal starters accounted for 92 innings.  The bullpen threw 68.  Chris Carpenter notwithstanding, the bullpen covered 42.5% of the playoff innings.

Like it or not, in the playoffs you live or die with your relief corps.

That being the case, the St Louis bullpen took their first step forward yesterday afternoon as they covered the last 5.1 innings of St Louis’ 7-4 Game One victory (boxscore).  They allowed 1 run (unearned) on just 3 hits.  The hard-hitting Padres only hit .176 against the Cardinal bullpen – although that number comes with a few caveats.

First – as has been their pattern – the Cardinal bullpen came out throwing the ball very, very hard, but with varying degrees of control.  In their 5.1 innings they walked 2 and hit 2 others.  Putting runners on base in front of the Padre’s big bats is a concerning trend – which brings me to the other caveat.

The Padres can hit the fastball.  Alex Reyes picked up the save in his very first playoff game, retiring all 4 batters he faced.  But all four jumped on his high octane fastballs and returned them with more exit velocity than they came in with.  They were all hit at someone, but they were all well hit.

As to the bullpen, yesterday’s victory brought the reliever’s ERA down to 1.58 in 40 innings over their last 13 games.  The Cards have won 9 of the 13.

A Bit of Déjà vu

And with that, St Louis begins its latest playoff journey with a 1-0 record.  I am not even beginning to predict that this team will “go all the way.”  But I will acknowledge that this whole scenario has a very familiar feel.

The sneaking into the playoffs on the very last day evokes warm memories of both the 2006 and 2011 teams – champions both who were listed (as this team is listed) as underdogs in every series.  In 2006 St Louis lost its primary closer (Jason Isringhausen) to a hip problem in September.  Into the breach stepped Adam Wainwright (then just a rookie prospect) to stabilize the closer’s role – beginning in San Diego that year.  The 2011 team sifted through several closers before deciding on Jason Motte – a hard-throwing setup guy, who had all of 3 career saves through his first 3 seasons and 136 appearances.  This year, the closer spot has been a revolving door, again.  But – as of the last day of the regular season – it looks like the ninth-inning will belong to Reyes.  Both Reyes and Wainwright earned their first playoff saves in San Diego.

The unique adversity faced by this year’s team is reminiscent of the hardships thrust upon the 2011 team – not just the injuries, slumps, bad luck and a seemingly insurmountable 10-game deficit of the early part of the season, either.  People often forget that 2011 was the year that manager Tony LaRussa suffered through a nearly disabling bout with shingles.  It was also the year that Jeannie Duncan – pitching coach Dave Duncan’s wife – was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  Few teams have overcome so much.  Truly a season of triumph and tragedy.

If the tragedies are fewer for this team, the struggles and hardships have a familiar ring to them.  This franchise has been in this exact position before, eking its way into the playoffs where they will be facing an array of teams that they aren’t supposed to beat.  Not to make any bold predictions, but team history suggests that anything can happen.

Helsley

Taking over for Kim in the fourth, Ryan Helsley got out of trouble in that inning, and then tossed a 1-2-3 fifth.  Sent out again to start the sixth, Ryan surrendered the double to Tommy Pham that led to the unearned run.  It was the first hit off of Helsley in his last 6 innings.

Two of the 5 batters that Ryan faced found themselves in two-strike counts.  Manny Machado popped out on a 2-2 pitch and Wil Myers struck out on a 2-2.  Over his last 6 games, Ryan has backed 15 batters into two-strike counts.  They are 0-for-13 with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts.

During the season, batters are just 2 for 23 (.087) when Helsley puts them in two-strike counts.

Gallegos

It’s quite a small sample size (20 batters faced) but since Giovanny Gallegos has returned to the team after recovering from his groin strain, he has been plenty sharp.  He walked 1 of the 5 batters he faced yesterday, but otherwise had no issues, striking out 2.  Three of the batters found themselves in two-strike counts.  Tatis and Eric Hosmer both fanned, and Pham grounded out.

Batters are always in two-strike counts against Gio.  The two yesterday make 13 of the 20 he’s faced since he’s been back (65%).  Those batters are 0-12 with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts.  For the season, 68.4% of the batters that face Gallegos (39 of 57) find themselves in two-strike counts.

Reyes

Alex gave up some line drives, but finished another fine outing.  He appeared 8 times in September (11.1 innings), picking up a win and a save while posting a 2.38 ERA and a .209 batting average against.  Alex allowed just 1 extra-base hit (a double) to the 49 batters he faced in September.

Kim

Kwang Hyun continues a recent pattern of struggles from the rotation.  Even while St Louis has won 9 of 13, the starters have only a 4.16 ERA in those games.  Kim has made 3 of the starts, lasting just 14 innings with a 5.14 ERA and a .291 batting average against.

Over those games, Kim has suddenly developed difficulty in putting hitters away.  San Diego was 4-for-7 against Kwang Hyun when they had two strikes on them.  Over those last three games, batters in two-strike counts are hitting .343 (12 for 35) against Kim.

Molina

If its playoff time, that must mean that Yadier Molina is heating up.  Yadi had 3 hits yesterday, and is hitting .381 (8 for 21) over his last 6 games.

Yadi helped put the finishing touches on Padre starter Chris Paddack when he slapped a 2-2 pitch down the left-field line for a double.  When Yadi is hot he is just as dangerous with two-strikes on him as he is with none.  Over his last 11 games, Molina is 6 for 20 (.300) with a home run to go along with that double (.500 slugging percentage) in two-strike counts.

For the season, Yadi is a .221 hitter with two strikes on him – well above the major league average of .167.

Carlson

Rookie outfielder Dylan Carlson has been a vital part of the turn-around.  After his 2-for-3 with a double and 2 walk performance yesterday, Carlson is hitting .308 over the last 13 games.  He is slugging .641 in those games with 8 extra-base hit (5 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs), and has driven in 11 runs.

Dylan saw 24 pitches during his 5 plate appearances yesterday – more than anyone else on the team – and ended the day in two-strike counts in every at bat.  With his two hits, Carlson is 6 for 23 (.261) with two strikes on him over the last 13 games.

DeJong

After a seemingly endless slump, Paul DeJong is turning the corner.  With his 2 hits last night, DeJong has now hit safely in 5 of his last 6, hitting .333 (6 for 18) over that span.  He also walked twice and was hit by a pitch yesterday, bringing his on base percentage to .455 over those games.

Fowler

With his fifth-inning single, Dexter Fowler snapped an 0-for-15 skid.  He went on to add another single that drove in a run in the ninth.

Dexter’s two hits came on a 0-0 pitch from Pierce Johnson and a 2-1 pitch from Trevor Rosenthal.  Fowler hit .406 (13 for 32) during the regular season when hitting before strike two.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s two-run first inning home run marked the sixth time in the last 9 games that the Cardinals had scored the first run of the game.

Partially as a result, they have not trailed in 5 of their last 8 games.

At 3:53, the first playoff game was the longest game played by the Cardinals since their 12-inning loss to Cleveland on August 29.  It was the longest 9-inning game since August 18 when they lost a 4:09 game in Chicago.

At 91 degrees, this was also the warmest game played by the Cardinals since August 24, when they beat Kansas City 9-3 in 95 degree heat.  The hottest road game played by the Cards this season was against the White Sox on August 15.  The first game of that doubleheader was played in 86 degree heat.

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.

Is This the End of the Road?

To be a “glass half full” guy, you could say that – all things considered – it wasn’t that bad.  Over the course of the just concluded, season-long, ten-day, 13-game, three-city road trip, the Cardinals were outscored 63-41 and were outhit .230/.318/.414 to .201/.279/.293.  Yes, on the road trip, the Cards couldn’t even keep their slugging percentage over the .300 mark.

They hit 7 home runs over the last week-and-a-half.  There were 16 hit against them.

So, with those numbers as a back drop, you could convince yourself that you are grateful to return home having gone 7-6 on that trip.

The reality, though, is that the Cardinals missed a serious opportunity.

Ten days ago, St Louis held a 20-20 record.  They were 4 games behind the 28-20 Cubs, 2 games ahead of the 20-24 Brewers, and 2.5 games up on the 21-26 Reds.  The trip would take them through Milwaukee, Pittsburgh (14-30) and Kansas City (20-28).

At the start of the series, the Brewers ranked fourteenth in the 15-team National League in runs scored (180) and were thirteenth in OPS (.698).  Their pitching was sixth with a 4.54 ERA.  The Pirates were last in runs scored in the league (173) and in team OPS (.625).  At 5.10, their team ERA was twelfth.  When they arrived in Kansas City, St Louis found a Royals team that was fourteenth in the American League in runs scored (215), and twelfth in OPS (.702).  Their team ERA sat at 4.46, ranking ninth in the AL.

All these teams had lost their previous series.  The Brewers had lost 5 of their previous 7 games (including being no hit by the Cubs); the Pirates came into the series riding an eight-game losing streak; and the Royals had lost their previous three games and four out of five.

Slice it however you like, these were vulnerable teams.  In the thick of the playoff chase, these were teams that the Cards needed to find some way to push past if they were going to write their own ticket.  Meaning no disrespect to the Brewers, Pirates or Royals – all of whom, I believe, are better teams than their records showed – this final stretch of the season was a gift to the Cardinals.  A waiting opportunity for them to move the needle on their season.

While the Cards were going 7-6 on the road trip, the Cubs were scuffling to a 4-4 mark, the Brewers went 7-4 (including winning three of five from the Cards), and the Reds managed an 8-2 mark.

Even a 9-4 trip would have kept them marginally ahead of the Reds (2 games) and would have them 1.5 games behind the Cubs for the division lead.  As it is, catching the Cubs is now very unlikely, and the Cards are locked into a scrum for that second wildcard spot.

The question at the top of the column, though, is more literal than figurative.  A wildly successful trip could have positioned the team to claim a playoff spot without having to play one or two more games in Detroit after the season is ostensibly over.  Now – even if they win four or five from Milwaukee (which will be challenging enough) – they will still need some help from Minnesota to avoid a final roadtrip and a final doubleheader.

So, among the many questions to be answered over the next four days is, is this, in fact, the end of the road?  Stay tuned.

Martinez

To be very clear about this, there have been many thousands of people who have had a worse 2020 than Carlos Martinez.  Yes, he did contract the virus, and got pretty sick over it.  But he did recover and hasn’t lost his job or felt any significant financial impact from any of the disasters that have swirled around this year.  Lots of people are much, much worse off than Carlos.

That being said, Martinez’ season is a kind of sports metaphor for the way things have been going on a world-wide basis.  In spite of his very best efforts – and Carlos has worked extremely hard to position himself to return to the rotation – nothing has worked out for him at all.

The talented Martinez made 5 starts this season – all of them bad.  The back twinge that ended his night, probably ended his season.  Even if he is deemed healthy enough to start, I can’t imagine the Cardinals giving him another opportunity, either in what’s left of the regular season or in the playoffs.

Barring an improbable further opportunity, Carlos’ final 2020 line will read 0-3 with a 9.90 ERA.  Batters hit .348 against him this year, with a .609 slugging percentage against him.

It’s difficult to imagine someone with Martinez’ stuff ever getting batted around like that – but 2020 has been like that.  Even beyond the strangeness of the schedule, the vile rule changes, the visiting team batting as the home team, and the playing of 11 doubleheaders in about a month’s time, we have seen stuff happen in games that almost never happen.  For example:

Elledge

It is actually a fairly rare thing for a pitcher to be replaced due to injury in the middle of an inning.  In a normal season, I would estimate that this kind of thing happens about twice every three years.

When Seth Elledge came out of the pen to replace the injured Martinez, he became the fifth Cardinal reliever tasked with that challenge in about a week and a half.  As with most of the others, perhaps – in spite of being given all the time he needed to loosen up – he didn’t quite take long enough.

Over his first 11 appearances of the season, Seth registered a 2.53 ERA with a .194 batting average against.  In short order, after relieving Carlos, Seth was tagged for a homer, a walk and three doubles (not necessarily in that order).  By the time he left, an already daunting 6-1 deficit had turned into an 11-1 deficit.

When I wrote about this earlier (here, I think is the post) I detailed the previous instances of this rarity and suggested that if this is going to keep happening to us, then the Cards are going to have to start preparing somehow for this eventuality.

Molina

Yadier Molina has only hit safely in 4 of his last 6 games, but 3 of the 4 have been multi-hit efforts after he went 2-for-3 last night.  Yadi is hitting .350 (7 for 20) over his last 6 games – hits that include a home run and last night’s double – bringing his slugging percentage to .550 over that span.  His run scored last night was his fifth over the six games.

DeJong

After getting what I thought was a much needed day off (he had made 30 consecutive starts at shortstop), Paul DeJong returned to the lineup with another 0-for-4.  Paul is now 0 for his last 15, and 2 for his last 30 (.067), both singles.

During the month of September, Paul is hitting .205 (17 for 83) with just 2 extra-base hits.

DeJong finished the road trip hitting .171 (7 for 41) with no extra-base hits.  For the season, he hit .208 away from Busch (16 for 77) with 2 home runs – a .286 slugging percentage.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill still lists among the strugglers.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Tyler is now 2 for his last 22 (.091).  He is 13 for 68 (.191) this month.

NoteBook

When the Cardinals renew acquaintances with Milwaukee this evening, the Brewers will be St Louis’ fifth consecutive opponent to have lost its previous series.  The Cards have not fared well in these matchups, losing 3 of the 4 previous series.

In fact, if you are on a bit of a losing stretch, St Louis is a team you would be relieved to see on your schedule.  To date, St Louis has matched up against 7 teams that had lost the series before.  Five of those teams reversed their slide with series wins against the Cardinals.  St Louis is 12-14 in the games of those series.

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.

Where Has All the “Slug” Gone?

Of course, the 1-0 fastball is not assured.  1-0 is still early enough in the count that most pitchers aren’t afraid to come back with a breaking pitch.  That being said, if you’re a pitcher who has a mid-nineties fast ball and you’re behind in the count 1-0, you’re probably a little more likely to come back with that fastball.  If you opt for the curve or the change, then it’s possible that you might try to be a little too perfect with it, trying not to go behind 2-0.

Whatever the approach, the 1-0 pitch is one of those that major league hitters generally look forward to.  Across all of baseball (numbers found in baseball reference), batters are hitting .352/.357/.641/.998 on that 1-0 pitch.

Would it surprise you to learn that of all major league teams, your St Louis Cardinals have baseball’s worst OPS on this particular pitch?  If you’ve been watching this team, I suspect that this wouldn’t surprise you at all.  At .731, they are more than 200 points below the league average on this count, and 30 points behind the next-worst team (Arizona at .761).  They are also last in slugging percentage (.434) on that pitch.  Anytime a hitter is ahead in the count, the major league average slugging percentage sits at .508.  Cardinals ahead in the count slug .426 (fourth worst in the majors).

What does this mean?  Let me answer that with two pitches from last night’s game.

Leading off in the first inning, Kolten Wong took the first pitch of the game for a ball.  Kansas City starter Carlos Hernandez came back with the 1-0 fastball, up a little and over the outside part of the strike zone.  Wong took it the other way, but didn’t really drive it, hitting a looping little fly to left.

Now, it’s the eighth inning.  Paul DeJong is up with two outs.  This time the count is 2-1, but the concept is the same.  A fastball count, and looking – one might assume – for something to drive.  Jesse Hahn – now on the mound for the Royals – gives Paul the fastball at about 94 mph on the upper, outside corner of the zone.  DeJong also goes the other way, but with no authority, his lazy fly ball to right closing out the inning.

It’s a trend you almost can’t help but notice.  As a team, these guys can turn reasonably well on the inside fastball.  But that outside fastball – especially in a fastball count – has been repeatedly frustrating.

Addressing the media after last night’s 4-1 loss (boxscore), manager Mike Shildt talked about the offense and it’s missing “slug.”  As of this morning, St Louis’ season-long slugging percentage sits at .374, the fourth worst in baseball.  Only Pittsburgh’s 46 home runs are fewer than St Louis’ 48.

As far as approach goes, there’s nothing wrong with the opposite field strategy.  Baseball’s elite sluggers can effectively pull the outside fastball, but even they will – more often than not – take it the other way – and to good effect.

Across all of baseball, batters hitting the ball to the opposite field are slashing .318/.314/.501/.815.  When the Cardinals hit the ball the other way, they slash .253/.243/.398/.640.  They have 4 opposite field home runs all year.

I hope you are understanding that I don’t present this as “the answer.”  The season-long hitting issues that have plagued this team are a complex question involving a lot of moving parts.

But if you’re wondering where the “slug” has gone, this is one place that it is definitely missing.

Fading Offense

After finishing with just 6 hits last night, the Cardinal team batting average sinks to .229 for the month of September.

Molina

Yadier Molina was the only Cardinal with multiple hits last night – he had 2.  Things may be starting to turn a bit for Yadi, who has two hits in two of his last 4 games – a span in which he is 5 for 13 (.385) with a home run.

Yadi got his hits in spite of being behind in the count both times.  As the most aggressive swinger on the team, Yadi as almost always behind in the count (as he was in 3 of his 4 at bats last night).  For the season, Molina ends an at bat behind In the count 40.3% of the time – the highest of any Cardinal regular.

Wong

Kolten Wong has recently been playing through a muscle issue in his side.  How much that injury is affecting his game is difficult to divine with any accuracy, but his production at the plate has fallen off.  He is 1 for 12 (.083) over his last 4 games.

DeJong

Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul DeJong is now riding an 0-for-11 streak, part of a larger .077 streak (2 for 26) over his last 8 games.  Both hits were singles.  Back in the second inning of the September 11 game against Cincinnati, DeJong lined a double against Luis Castillo.  That was his last extra-base hit – 44 at bats ago.

Paul is now at .215 for the month (17 for 79).  He has 2 extra-base hits this month, that double and a home run (off the Cubs Colin Rea), that was 64 at bats ago.

Paul made his thirtieth consecutive start at shortstop last night – thirty games that have accrued over the last 26 days.  When you see a guy whose bat is starting to look slow, and you notice that he plays every day, it’s hard not to wonder if fatigue is part of the issue.

O’Neill

The struggles continued for left-fielder Tyler O’Neill.  Hitless in 2 at bats before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, Tyler is hitting .135 (5 for 37) over his last 15 games.  He is down to .197 (13 for 66) for the month.

Carlson

Recently returned to the big-league scene, top prospect Dylan Carlson has had some encouraging moments.  But mostly, the struggles have continued.  Dylan was 0-for-3 last night, and is 1-for-10 over the last 3 games (with 5 strikeouts).  He is 3 for 14 (.214) since his recall, and 3 for 20 (.150) this month.

Webb

Last night’s contest did feature another excellent performance from Tyler Webb, who came in with the bases loaded and extinguished that threat in the sixth.  He then added a perfect seventh.

Over his last 12 games (13 innings) Tyler has surrendered 1 run on only 11 hits (10 singles and 1 double), while walking 3 and striking out 12.  He has an 0.69 ERA over those games, with a .229/.269/.250 batting line against.  His ERA for September is down to 0.84 (10.2 innings).  He has stranded all of the last 9 runners he has inherited.

During his outing, Webb struck out Bubba Starling on an 0-2 pitch, and then retired Nicky Lopez on an 0-1 pitch.  Tyler may not seem imposing on the mound, but he is nasty to deal with if you fall behind in the count.  Twenty-four batters have now hit against him from behind.  They have two singles to show for their efforts.

Gallegos

Erstwhile closer Giovanny Gallegos came off the injured list and got roughed up for a run in his two-thirds of an inning.  It’s been a tough September for Gallegos, who has allowed, now, 6 runs in 4 innings.  The 23 batters he’s faced in September are celebrating to a .316/.435/.526 batting line.

Even though he’s been away for awhile, true to form, Giovanny did not pitch from behind.  Only one of the five batters he faced worked his way ahead in the count (Maikel Franco managed a 7-pitch walk).  For the season, Gallegos has faced 47 batters.  Only 9 have hit ahead in the count against him.

Elledge

Seth Elledge came in to retire the last batter.  Seth is up to 6.2 innings this month, with a 1.35 ERA.  Batters only have 4 hits against Seth, and are hitting .182 against him this month.

NoteBook

With another opening game loss, the Cards have lost the first game of four straight series, six of the last seven, and eight of the last ten.

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.

Waiting for that One Big Hit

When the breakthrough finally came, it came with more of a whimper than a bang.  By the time that Tyler O’Neill made it to the plate with the bases loaded in the fifth inning of yesterday’s second game, the Cards were riding a 2-for-12 streak with runners in scoring position during that long day of baseball in Milwaukee.  Inning after inning had presented its opportunities, to be met with untimely strikeouts and ineffectual pop-outs.  Along the way, St Louis had dropped the first game 2-1 (boxscore) in “extra-innings.”  Now, O’Neill was up with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth – Cards down 2-0 and down to what would have been their last 7 outs.

Salvation – when it came – came in the form of a dribbling ground ball to shortstop that Tyler beat out for an infield hit.  A run scored.  St Louis still trailed, but now only 2-1.

Later, in the seventh, Brad Miller would tie the game with a bouncing, shift-beating single just to the shortstop side of second base.  When Paul DeJong came to the plate in the ninth inning with a runner at third and two out, the Cards were riding another 0-for-8 stretch with runners in scoring position.  In the Cards’ twentieth at bat just of the nightcap with runners in scoring position, DeJong jumped on a 2-0 fastball up in the zone, lining the single to left that would give the Cards a 3-2 win (boxscore) and a much needed split.

For the entire 17 innings yesterday, St Louis finished 6 for 25 (.240) with runners in scoring position (RISP).

But the real story yesterday came from the other side.  As frustrating as most of the afternoon must have been for the Cardinals, it was even worse for the Brewers.  After having 11 RISP opportunities in the first game, they found themselves with 12 more in the second game.  From all those opportunities, Milwaukee drew 6 walks (1 intentional), had a batter hit by a pitch, and even looped the sacrifice fly that won the first game.

But, in 15 official such at bats, they managed one lonely hit – in the eighth inning of the first game, Ryan Braun golfed a low fastball from Ryan Helsley off the center field wall to put the winning run at third.  Other than that, the Cardinal pitchers were impenetrable.

This has been the general pattern all year, but especially the last month.  For the season, opposing hitters are struggling along at .204 in RISP opportunities against St Louis.  Over the last two series, the Reds went 3 for 18 before the Brewers experienced their struggles yesterday.

The flame-throwing youngsters of the Cardinals invite all kinds of trouble.  Over the last two series, they have walked 10 and hit 2 more of the 46 batters who have faced them with ducks on the pond.  But they rarely give that hit – and that has made all the difference.

Starters Leading a Resurgence

After scuffling early in the homestand against Minnesota and Detroit, the starters have re-emerged against the Reds, and now in the beginning of the road-trip against Milwaukee.  Over the last 5 games, Cardinal starters have accounted for 4 quality starts, and have thrown 29 innings – posting a 2.79 ERA in those games with a .208 batting average against.  In yesterday’s doubleheader, starters Kwang Hyun Kim and Daniel Ponce de Leon combined to throw 13 of the 16.2 innings with a 1.38 ERA and a .152 batting average against.

Kim

On August 17, in his first game coming out of quarantine, KK made his first National League start in Chicago against the Cubs.  Leading off the fourth inning, Ian Happ jumped on a high 2-1 pitch and lofted it the other way for a home run.

That was the last earned run that Kim has allowed.  As he lasted two more batters that inning before hitting his pitch count, Kwang Hyun’s streak of not allowing an earned run (after he delivered 7 scoreless against the Brewers) has now reached 24.2 innings.  Kim has delivered 3 quality starts in his last 4 outings, while holding hitters to a .145 average.

The Brewers were 0-for-5 against him with runners in scoring position.  For the season, opposing hitters are 2-for-21 (.095) against Kwang Hyun in RISP situations.

Ponce de Leon

With two out in the third inning of the second game, and runners on first and second, Daniel Ponce de Leon – in a terrific bounce-back effort – blew an 0-2 fastball right past Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura to end the inning and the threat.  Almost stunningly, during his six-plus innings, Hiura was the only Brewer to face Daniel with runners in scoring position.  The huge difference here was that Ponce de Leon – who has been beset with walks the whole season – walked only one batter.

With Hiura’s strikeout, and in spite of all his other struggles, batters are now just 1 for 10 with 5 strikeouts against Ponce de Leon with runners in scoring position this year.  Over his first two partial seasons, batters had hit .310 (18 for 58) against him in those situations.

DeJong

Paul DeJong’s 4-for-7 performance in the doubleheader included going 2-for-4 with runners in scoring position.  This has been a point of emphasis for DeJong this year.  Through his first three seasons, Paul was only a .241 hitter (82-for-340) in these situations.  He is now hitting .385 (5 for 13) in RISP at bats this month, and is up to .391 (9 for 23) on the season – the best RISP batting average of any Cardinal regular.

Thomas

One of the outfielders the Cards are hoping will come through is Lane Thomas – who at the moment isn’t making the most of his opportunity.  He was 0-for-5 yesterday, and now – after hitting his only home run of the season in St Louis’ only win in the recent Cincinnati series – is hitless in his last 10 at bats, including 4 strikeouts.  In his 12 games this month, Thomas is hitting .125 (4 for 32).

His struggles included going 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position.  He is now 1-for-12 this season in those opportunities.  Last year, he was 5-for-10.

NoteBook

The games in the dome in Milwaukee checked in with temperatures of 66 and 63 degrees – the Cardinals’ coolest games of the season, so far.  A couple of games in Chicago were played in 72 degrees – the previous low.

The first-game loss means St Louis has lost the first game in 6 of their last 8 series.

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.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

It was 25 days ago that the Cardinals came out of isolation to resume their abbreviated season.  With 23 (or so) games left in the season – and after playing 30 games over the previous 25 days – the COVID hangover still lingers over this team.  In the last two games St Louis played before the outburst, they started Carlos Martinez and Daniel Ponce de Leon against the Twins.  Both lost their games.

On July 28, Martinez served 2 home runs, giving 6 runs on 7 hits through 3.2 innings of a 6-3 Minnesota win.  The next day, Ponce de Leon took the ball.  He also managed just 3.2 innings, although with less damage (1 home run, 3 runs on 2 hits).  That game ended a 3-0 victory for the Twins.

Fast-forward about a month and a half to yesterday.  Minnesota paid a visit to St Louis to conclude their season series with a double-header.  Again, the Cardinal pitchers would be Martinez and Ponce de Leon.  Again the results would be similar.  Martinez’ day would end after 3.2 innings, 4 runs, 7 hits and another home run.  Ponce de Leon would only make it through 3 innings (2 runs, 5 hits, another home run).  Carlos lost again, 7-3 (boxscore).  St Louis managed a fortuitous comeback to take Daniel off the hook with a 6-4 second game victory (boxscore).  Both pitchers rode different paths to their Twin-City rematches.

Ponce de Leon

Given his long sought after chance at the rotation, Daniel Ponce de Leon has had only struggles to show for his efforts.  His 3 walks in his 3.2 inning first stint against Minnesota initiated a season-long (so far) struggle with command for young Daniel.  Between his appearances against the Twins, he made three other starts, totaling just 8.2 busy innings.  The damage done included 8 runs on 8 hits – 3 of them home runs, 11 walks, and a hit batsman.  His first turn at the rotation ended unceremoniously on August 28 when he lasted less than an inning of a 14-2 loss to Cleveland.

He was on his way to Springfield the next day.  So yesterday’s appearance is a kind of re-emergence for Daniel.  Although he certainly would have hoped for better, it seems – with many, many doubleheaders still to play – that Ponce de Leon will get more opportunities.

Carlos

For Martinez, the interlude between his starts against Minnesota was more in keeping with the 2020 COVID meme.  Carlos was one of the very first to come down with the virus and seems to have suffered most from it.  It took him about three weeks before he felt healthy again.

After building up arm strength as rapidly as possible, Carlos returned to the mound yesterday for the first time since the first time he faced Minnesota.  The Twins are, of course, one of baseball’s more dangerous hitting teams – and not to take any credit away from them – but his first time back, Carlos wasn’t Carlos.  There were flashes of running mid-90s fastballs and sharp sliders.  But Martinez was over the plate way too frequently.

In a related note, Ryan Helsley pitched the seventh – serving up a two-run homer to wrap up the scoring.  Helsley is another COVID returnee who still hasn’t solidified his grip on the slider.

Here it is, nearly a month and a half after the season was interrupted, and the Cardinals are still trying to get all of their pieces a) back on the field, and b) capable of competing against teams whose seasons haven’t been disrupted.

These two short starts left more doubleheader innings for the bullpen (7.1) than the starters covered (6.2).  A solid week after the team thought the rotation was back on its feet, the starters have stumbled through the early part of the month.  Five of the 9 games so far this month have seen St Louis get fewer than 5 innings from its starter – and in four of those the starter didn’t make it through 4.  In 9 September games, St Louis has needed nearly as many innings from its bullpen (32.2) as its received from its rotation (37.2)  Carrying a 4.78 ERA through the early part of the month, the rotation has also recently left significant deficits for the still scuffling offense to make up.

The virus thing has been a stumbling block that keeps on stumbling.  Still, showing perhaps more grit and more resilience than some may have believed they possessed, this Cardinal team keeps picking itself back up and battling on.  Their record (18-17) isn’t gaudy.  But it’s kept them competitive.  And now – with the Twins in the rear-view mirror – one can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel.

No More Winning Teams?

For good or for ill, the rest of the Cardinal schedule has no more teams on it that currently have a winning record.  Detroit came into the day just two games shy of .500 (19-21) but as I write this they are being pummeled by Milwaukee 15-0, so it will take a bit longer – at best – for them to reach that mark.  Speaking of the Brewers, the rest of our season will be very involved with Milwaukee – a division rival that we still haven’t played.  We have ten games to play against them – six of which will come in three doubleheaders.

The Brewers (and the Reds, for that matter) were expected to compete for the division crown.  Things haven’t materialized for either team – Milwaukee is 18-22, while Cincy is 18-24.  Even so, the feeling is that both clubs are better than they have shown.  So the second half (basically) of the Cardinal season may not play out as softly as it might seem.  But it looks right now like the most difficult part of the journey is behind us – although the onslaught of games (at least 23 more in the next 18 days with no more days off) will continue.

And That’s a Good Thing

Usually, performance against winning teams is a very revealing barometer.  This year, I’m not sure how much stock to put into it.  St Louis is 9-11 in 20 games against team that have won more than they’ve lost.  They were 4-3 over the last two series against the Cubs and the Twins.  Eighteen of those 20 games came in the first 30-game span after the Cards came out of quarantine – including their first 8 games back on the field, with no preparatory workouts, on the road, against the two division leaders in Chicago, with all of their starters on very limited pitch counts.

The numbers are what they are, but they were forged under as much adversity as imaginable.  Considered under the circumstances, a 9-11 mark may be more encouraging than it might appear.

Hard on the Rotation

One pattern playing through these games is the consistent struggle the rotation has had in containing these lineups.  The Twins combined to hit .375 against Martinez and Ponce de Leon, with a .656 slugging percentage against them.  Over the last two series (7 games), the starters hold a 5.46 ERA while allowing a batting average of .300 and a .517 slugging percentage.  The starters have surrendered 6 home runs in their last 28 innings.

In the 20 games against winning teams, the rotation has covered only 76.2 innings (leaving 80.1 for the pen).  They have served up 16 home runs in those innings (1.88 per 9 innings), leading to a 4.93 ERA against the higher caliber clubs.  Still, these games were the starters at their worst.  If this team somehow manages to stagger home with a playoff spot, it will be interesting to see if this number can improve in October.

Frankly, the Pitching Will Have to be Better

Offense has been a struggle in general for this team, and these struggles have been magnified against the better pitching staffs.  In 13 innings yesterday, St Louis managed just 9 hits (a .184 average) with only one extra-base hit.  Over the last two series, they’ve hit just .211.  Over the whole 20 games, the team batting average of .218 is almost 30 points lower than their season-long .246 average.  Truthfully, if the Birds hadn’t been handed 5 gift runs in the second game, they almost certainly would have lost that game as well.

The shadow of an unreliable offense still hangs over this team.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continues as the team’s most consistent offensive force.  Goldy went 3 for 7 during the doubleheader.  With hits in both games, Paul has now tied his season-long hitting streak at 5 games.  He is 7 for 18 (.389) over these last 5 games.

Paul is also one of the few Cardinals who hasn’t disappeared when facing winning teams.  He is 7 for 23 (.304) over the last two series, and in all 20 of the games against winning teams, Goldy has come through at a .308 clip (20 for 65).

B Miller

Brad Miller is one who has struggled to contribute over the last two series.  He was 1 for 6 in the double-header and is 2 for his last 19 (.105), both singles.  His last extra-base hit came in the 16-2 rout of Cincinnati on September 1.

Still Waiting for Tyler

Tyler O’Neill beat out a dribbler up the third base line in the first game yesterday.  He played both games, and that was his only hit (he finished 1 for 6).  Over his last 4 games, he is 2 for 14 (.143), both singles with no walks.  After a good start to the month, O’Neill is hitting .231 (6 for 26) in September, with a .259 on base percentage.  While Dexter Fowler is absent, Tyler will get every opportunity to show he can be a major-league regular.  It can’t happen fast enough for both Tyler and the Cards.

DeJong

Paul DeJong also played both games of the doubleheader.  He walked twice, but went 0-for-5 with 2 strikeouts and a walk.  Paul has faded a bit in September, his average dropping to .241 (7 for 29) this month.

Over the last two series, Paul is just 5 for 21 (.238), but with 4 walks his on base percentage for the last 7 games is .360.

NoteBook

As the Cards returned home, they found the heat waiting for them.  The first game of the doubleheader checked in at 88 degrees.  Four of the previous five games had been played in sub-80 degree weather.  This was the Cards highest game-time temperature since the first game here against Kansas City on August 24.  The temperature at game time for that one was a smoky 95 degrees.

The first-game loss marks the fourth time in the last five series that the Cards have lost the opening game.

When Paul Goldschmidt moved to DH for the second game, it snapped his streak of 13 consecutive starts at first base – at the time tied for the longest Cardinal streak.  The longest such streak now belongs to Paul DeJong alone, who has now made 14 consecutive starts at shortstop.

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.