Tag Archives: DeJong

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.

Same Old Story

Through the first two swings of his at bat, you could see that Matt Wieters was just trying to take Kyle Hendricks up the middle or to the opposite field.  On the fourth pitch of the at bat, Matt accomplished his goal, floating a soft single into short center.  It was Matt’s first hit of the season and it drove in the only Cardinal run against the untouchable Mr. Hendricks in a 5-1 loss (boxscore) to the Cubs yesterday that left the two teams tied at 5 wins each at the conclusion of their season series.

As usual, there was the post-game hat tipping to a pitcher that the Cardinals – genetically incapable of hitting a changeup – have rarely had anything approaching success against.  The comment that made me chuckle most came from manager Mike Shildt, who noted that Hendricks never gives into the hitter.  No, Mike, of course he won’t.  Not until the hitter makes him. But Kyle never has that issue against St Louis.  A particular batter may take that changeup out of the strike zone once.  Or maybe even twice.  But eventually he will have to hack at it.  They just can’t help themselves.

It is up in the zone.  It is slow (comparatively).  It’s about six inches outside.  And it must be destroyed.  Adding to Kyles’s ease of conquest, when the Cards do chase that change, they put their best fastball swing on it.  They refuse to do what Wieters did.  They will not go with the pitch.  The result is an endless string of easy groundballs to the infield.

After Wieter’s hit made it a 5-1 game, the Cards did have an opportunity for more.  They had runners at first and second with only one out.  But the next batter (Matt Carpenter) came out of his shoes to attack that changeup over the outside part of the plate and stroked in nicely to the second baseman for the easy inning-ending double play – one of three Hendricks got from Cardinal hitters.

It’s the same story everytime we face him.  This was, I believe, his twentieth start against this franchise and we haven’t figured anything out yet.

What really kills me about Kyle, though, is his demeanor on the mound.  He is absolutely expressionless as he mows the team down.  Don’t get me wrong.  I 100% prefer this to the showboat style.  Give me Hendricks and his stoicism any day over Carlos Zambrano and his ego-stroking.  But Kyle displays all the enthusiasm of a day clerk putting away files.  Watching him and trying to guess what’s going through his mind, I came up with two possibilities – either of which would be appropriate.

1 – Boredom.  The Cardinals are just so easy and willing to play into his hands that it’s all that Kyle can do to stay awake while he’s on the mound.  Perhaps it’s of mild interest to him to find out just how far off the plate – inside and outside – he can throw his magical changeup and still get the batters to hammer at it.  But mild interest at best.

2 – Embarrassment.  Also possible is that Kyle maybe feels a little bad about how easy this team is for him to dominate.  Possibly he’s a little embarrassed by the ease with which we submit.  In fact, in that seventh inning when St Louis did score its lone run – and this is probably my imagination – but I almost thought I saw a hint of a smile, as if to say, “Oh, that’s nice, at least they’ll have something positive to remember.”  Again, I’m sure that’s my imagination.  But I can see how Kyle might feel a bit awkward in a situation where any effort on his part – no matter how minimal – is met with overwhelming success.

Are there college lineups that would give Kyle more trouble than we do?  Probably.

Still, I maintain hope that one day we will piece this together.  Maybe Matt Wieters should do a clinic?

The Bullpen Rises

While the Sunday finale was disappointing, the Cards did, nonetheless, take three of the five games and head home just 2.5 games out.  Rising to the occasion during this series and for the early games of the month is the hard-ridden Cardinal bullpen.

During the 21 August games, it was the rotation that held things together on the pitching side.  They pulled together a 2.62 ERA, with principle contributions from Kwang Hyun Kim (0.57), Jack Flaherty (1.54), Dakota Hudson (1.66) and Adam Wainwright (2.89).

For the bullpen, August was an immense struggle.  Coming out of quarantine with the same lack of repetitions that the rotation had, the bullpen was tasked, additionally, with picking up all of the innings left by a rotation not yet able to extend deep into games.  Coming into the season, the bullpen was regarded as one of the team’s strengths.  But under the considerable abuse of the first 21 games as they averaged nearly 4 innings a game, they staggered home with a bloated 4.78 ERA.

With those days behind them, now, it’s the bullpen that has come to the fore while the rotation has taken a step backwards.  Three of the 5 starts during the series against the Cubs lasted less than 5 innings.  In their last trip into Chicago, Cardinal starters managed just 21.1 innings over the 5 games, and were pushed around a bit to the tune of a 4.64 ERA.  The Cubs hit them at a surprising .273 clip, drew 11 walks in those 21.1 innings, and hit 4 home runs against them.

To the rescue came the pen.  Over the 17.2 innings they worked this long weekend in Wrigley, they stymied the Cubs to a 1.02 ERA, a .161 batting average, and a .226 slugging percentage.  Until the first game of today’s double-header, it had been 10 games since St Louis had allowed a run in the seventh inning (when they gave up the last couple of runs in the 14-2 beating they absorbed from Cleveland on August 28).  The last earned run they surrendered in the eighth inning came two games before that on August 27 in the double header against Pittsburgh when the eighth inning was an extra-inning.  They’ve played fewer eighth innings than sevenths due to all the doubleheaders.  Still, this makes 9 straight clean eighth innings.

Assuming that the workload against the Cubs and through today’s doubleheader against Minnesota doesn’t compromise them again, the bullpen looks like it’s primed to be the weapon the team envisioned.  Now, if we can just get the rotation back on its feet.

Cabrera

As with most of the relievers, Genesis Cabrera had some difficulty with his command the first few times out, but he is among the relievers who have really started to find his groove.  He threw two scoreless innings against the Cubs – striking out 5.  Over his last 8 games, Genesis has struck out 14 batters, has an 0.90 ERA and a .091 batting average against.

Getting Them On is One Thing

During the early part of the season – including the mid-August reboot – the Cardinal offense was repeatedly hamstrung by their inability to get their leadoff batter in an inning on.  Going into September, Cardinal leadoff hitters were limping along at a .200/.293/.337 clip.  To make matters worse, St Louis was only able to chase 49% of the ones who did get on home.

Then came the 16-run game against Cincy.  In that game, Cardinal leadoff hitters were 5 for 8 with a walk and 4 runs scored.  Since then, we have done notably better getting that leadoff runner on.  In the 40 offensive innings they had against the Cubs, 15 of their leadoff hitters reached (a .375 percentage).  But only 7 scored (47%).  A case in point is Harrison Bader – who had a nice bounce-back series against the Cubs.  He led off 4 innings during the series, reaching base 3 times, a single a double and a hit-by-pitch.  He didn’t score on any of those opportunities.

Wong

One of the bright spots in an inconsistent offense (that supplied the pitching with just 18 runs during the series) was leadoff hitter Kolten Wong – a .333 hitter during the series (6 for 18).  Wong has caught fire a little bit, lately.  He has hits in 6 of his last 8 games, getting multiple hits in 5 of them.  Since the calendar turned Kolten is hitting .423 (11 for 26).

DeJong

Several days ago, I mentioned something about Paul DeJong trying to work his way into a leadoff spot.  It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the numbers suggest that this wouldn’t be a terrible plan – at least as far as getting on base is concerned.  Paul reached in 3 of the 6 innings he led off in Chicago, and for the season, Paul has a .391 on base percentage when he leads off an inning.

A significant indictment of the lower middle part of the order is that after DeJong reaches to lead off an inning, he only scores 22% of the time.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s struggles continue.  He did hit a home run in the first game (a fly ball that just found its way into the over-hanging basket), but that was his only hit of the series.  He struck out in 5 of his 8 at bats, and grounded into a double play.  And, he made a damaging throwing error in the last game.  Over his last 16 games, Carp is hitting all of .109 (5 for 46).

B Miller

Brad Miller came in hot off the end of the Cincinnati series – he was 6 for his last 9 – but was immediately cooled down by the Cubs.  He was 1-for-13 during the 5 games.

NoteBook

At 75 degrees, the Friday game broke a 14-game streak of game temperatures above 80 for the Cards.  One of the, perhaps, under-mentioned aspects of the onslaught of games the Cardinals have played since coming out of quarantine (and Thursday’s day off ended a streak of 23 games played in 19 days) is that they played them right through the blazing heat of the summer. Now that September has arrived, perhaps at least the weather will be a little kinder to them.

Saturday’s second game was even cooler.  In fact, at 72 degrees, it was the coolest game-time temperature the Cards have played in this season.  The previous coolest game temperature for the Cards occurred the last time they faced Yu Darvish.  He beat them 6-3 in 73 degree temperatures (also in Chicago) back on August 18. 

With the Sunday game also checking in at 72 degrees, the entire series averaged 75.8 degrees, nearly 2 degrees lower than their first visit into Chicago (77.6) which had been the previous coolest series by average temperature.

Yadier Molina had started at catcher for the first 17 games after he returned from COVID isolation. It was the longest current streak of starts by a Cardinal at one position until Matt Wieters started the second game of Saturday’s double-header. The new current leaders for consecutive starts at the same position are Paul Goldschmidt at first and Paul DeJong at short, both with twelve consecutive starts.

To be clear, Goldschmidt has started every game, but not all at first base.  He has served as the DH three times.

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.

Best in the Long Run?

Honestly, Mike didn’t have a whole lot of choice.

On the day that his most productive outfielder (Dexter Fowler) landed on the IL for an indeterminate amount of time, the game came down to two of the youngsters vying for that lineup spot.

The game against the Reds is tied at three in the ninth inning.  A single off the bat of Brad Miller and a walk to Paul DeJong set things in motion.  Yadier Molina then bunted the runners to second and third. 

If there were any moment in this chain of events that I would like to have back, it would be this one.  Yadi has carried one of the team’s hottest bats recently.  He had already contributed a home run earlier in the game, and was hitting .303 on the season.  Given this as a do-over, I might want to let Molina swing away.  It is, however, also true that Yadi is a profound double-play threat.  In just 76 at bats, Yadi has already bounced into 7 (nearly one third of the teams’ total for the year). So, the thinking is that rather than risk the double play taking all the starch out of the inning, a bunt could push the lead run to a position where he could score on a fly ball.  Cincinnati answered the bunt by intentionally walking Matt Carpenter, leaving the game squarely on the shoulders Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas.

At this point, there was some chatter about a pinch-hitter or two.  To his credit, manager Mike Shildt left his young prospects to face Cincy closer Raisel Iglesias and his high-ninties fastball.  It wasn’t, though, like he had a whole lot of choice.  Left on his bench was Harrison Bader (.196), Dylan Carlson (.176), the just-re-activated Rangel Ravelo (0-for-2 on the season) and backup catcher Andrew Knizner (4-for-16 on the season).

O’Neill has put up big home run numbers in the minor leagues, but has yet to overcome his strikeout problem in the majors.  When he went down on three pitches, it marked his twentieth strikeout on the season in just 73 at bats.

Then it was Thomas’ turn.  Lane burst brightly onto the scene late in 2019.  Before he broke his hand on August 27, Thomas hit .316 with 4 home runs in just 38 at bats.  He was especially good (in a short sample, of course) with two outs.  He was 6-for-16 (.375) with 2 home runs and 7 runs batted in in that circumstance.

But 2019 was a long time ago. 

Five pitches later, Thomas struck out as well, ending the threat.  He is now 1-for-12 in 2020.  Cincinnati then won the game, 4-3 (boxscore) on closer Giovanny Gallegos’ first slip up of the season.

Fowler takes a .279 batting average, 4 home runs, and a .485 slugging percentage with him to the IL.  If he plays again this season, it’s anyone’s guess whether he can pick up where he left off.  In the bigger picture, Dexter is 34 (and will be 35 next year in the last year of his contract).  For good or ill, Dexter is not the future.

And so it will be the stripling outfield – Bader, Carlson, O’Neill, Thomas, and eventually Austin Dean and Justin Williams.  There could be some struggles in the short term.  But in the long term this may be the best thing to happen for the Cards.  While none of these gentlemen is especially established in the show, all have excellent minor league pedigrees.  Save for the depth of pitching, these outfielders represent the pride of the organization.  Three of the six need to show that they can hit big-league pitching, and this opportunity coming sooner rather than later may be a blessing in disguise.

Last night, it didn’t work out that way.  But somebody will grab this opportunity.

B Miller

St Louis has now lost 5 of its last 8 games, and this in spite of Brad Miller’s best efforts to keep the team afloat.  Brad had two hits (one a home run) and a walk last night.  He now has had 35 plate appearances over the last 8 games with the following production: 3 singles, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs, and 8 walks (1 intentional) – a batting line of .333/.486/.815.  He has scored 6 times and driven in 8 during the 8 games.

Miller has been batting fourth, but might be eyeing a leadoff spot.  Both of his hits came with no one out, and over the last 8 games, he is a .455 hitter (5 for 11) and a 1.364 slugger (3 home runs and a double) batting with no one out.  For the season, Brad has a .385/.543/.885 batting line with no one out.  He is 10 for 26 with 4 of his 5 home runs.

DeJong

Another hot hitter, recently, Paul DeJong was saddled with an 0-for-2 last night, but he did draw walks in both of his plate appearances with no one out.  For the season, Paul has a .393 on base percentage when batting with no one out.

Carpenter

His ninth-inning intentional walk was the highlight of Matt Carpenter’s 0-for-3 evening.  Carpenter has played in 7 of the last 8 games, collecting 2 singles in 23 at bats (.087).  He is still walking.  Yesterday’s was his sixth in his last 7 games, and his thirteenth in his last 13 games.  Toss in 3 hit-by-pitches, and Matt carries a .370 on-base percentage over those 13 games – albeit with a .105 batting average (4 for 38).

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera walked two more batters in what, otherwise, was a spotless two innings in relief last night.  In 10.1 innings so far this year, he has walked 7 and hit 2 others.  But control notwithstanding, Genesis has started to settle in.  Over his last 6 appearances (8 innings) Cabrera has been touched for 1 earned run on 4 hits.  The last 32 hitters he’s faced are hitting just .077 against him.  And 9 have struck out.

Gomber

Austin Gomber is one of the reason why (at .173) the Cardinal pitching staff has the lowest batting average against them with two outs.  Batters are now 1 for 15 (.067) against Austin with two outs after he struck out Matt Davidson to end the eighth inning last night.

NoteBook

Aided by the blowout win in the second game, the Cards scored their most runs in any series so far this year with 26.  The previous high had been the 21 they scored in the first series against the Cubs.  That – of course – was a five-game series.  The previous high in a three-game series was the 19 they scored against Kansas City.

Brad Miller connected on his third home run in two games last night.  He also drew a walk – his sixteenth of the season.  All of last year, in 79 games and 170 plate appearances, Brad only walked 15 times.

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.

Early Damage

OK, so what adjectives describe the Cardinal offense?

Recently, I’ve used words like “scuffling” and “struggling.” And with good reason.  They recently endured a 1-for-26 stretch with runners in scoring position.  “Inconsistent” comes up frequently.  This team that has scored 30 runs over their last 3 games had scored a total of 6 over the 4 games that just preceded the outburst.

After careful thought, “patient” might be the most consistently applicable descriptor.  Especially recently.  They have managed at least 5 walks in 13 of their last 17 games.  In the 21 August games they played after coming out of quarantine, they drew 91 walks (4.33 per game) and had 17 other batters hit by pitches (0.81 per game).  Even though they only hit .245 through those 21 games, they did so with a .351 on base percentage.

A “patient” team isn’t often regarded as “aggressive.”  Those would seem to be mutually exclusive adjectives.  As this team invaded the Great American Smallpark for their three-game mid-week series with the Reds, perhaps Cincinnati was anticipating the “patient” Cardinals.  What they have gotten is aggression.  Whatever their press clipping might indicate, the team in the gray road uniforms has come out of the dugout swinging.

As they ambushed Sonny Gray last night, they didn’t wait for him to work himself into trouble.  Four of the first 8 he faced hit either the first or second pitch thrown.  These included the first two hits to bring home runs.  Brad Miller’s two-run double came on the first pitch thrown him.  Four batters later, Dexter Fowler jumped on the second pitch thrown to him for a two-run single that made it 4-0.

The rout was on from there.  The swinging Cardinals ended with six in the first, added two more in the second, and kept adding.  The final tallies showed 16 runs on 23 hits in a 16-2 conquest (boxscore).

Over the course of the season, Cardinal hitters hit the first pitch thrown them just 9.2% of the time, and jump one of the first two pitches only 23.9% of the time.  Last night they hit that first pitch 9 times (more than in any game this season) and 12 others hit the second pitch thrown – a combined 37.5% of plate appearances.

They picked good pitches to hit, too, going 13 for 21 (a .619 average).  Nine of the 16 runs scored were driven in on one of the first two pitches of the at bat.

It was certainly a good night – and a lot of batting averages look a lot better in the paper this morning.  But I caution against trying to read any deep meaning into this.  The main story line is that one of baseball’s best pitchers couldn’t command his breaking pitches – especially a usually devastating curve ball that kept bouncing in the dirt.

Credit the Cardinals, of course, for not doing much chasing – and for jumping on Gray’s mistakes instead of just fouling them off.  But this was just one game.

Until further notice, this remains a “patient” offense.  At least, that’s what we want the Reds and the other teams set to face the Cards to keep believing.

Wong

Leadoff hitter Kolten Wong has certainly flipped the switch.  After beginning the road trip with a groundout – extending his hitless streak to 15 at bats – he is 6 for his last 8 with 5 runs scored.

B Miller

If you make an early mistake with Brad Miller at the plate, you will likely pay for it.  He was 3 for 4, including his double and one of his two home runs on the first two pitches of the at bat.  So far, when Brad hits one of the first two pitches thrown to him he is 10 for 17 (.588), including 4 doubles and 2 home runs (a 1.176 slugging percentage).

The Cards have only hit 3 first-pitch home runs this season.  Miller has 2, with Harrison Bader connecting for the other.

Edman

With three more hits last night, Tommy Edman now has multiple hits in three straight games (he is 7 for 16 in those games).  He has hits in 5 of his last 6 games – including 4 multi-hit games.  Tommy is hitting .385 (10 for 26) during this streak.

Edman is right with Miller in punishing early mistakes.  He was 2-for-2 when hitting the first or second pitch last night, and is 13 for 25 (.520) on those pitches during the season.

Molina

Yadier Molina contributed 3 hits last night.  He is 5 for 14 (.357) during the three-game winning streak.  He finished August with a .306 average (15 for 49).  Still no hint that age or work-load is slowing Yadi down.  He has caught all 14 games since he has rejoined the roster.

Yadi had a characteristically aggressive night.  Up six times he hit one of the first two pitches in 4 of those at bats.  This year, Molina is hitting the first pitch thrown to him 18.2% of the time – nearly doubling the major league average, and 39% of his plate appearances last two pitches or less.

Knizner

Into the game late, Andrew Knizner finished with two hits.  He had two hits in his very first game of the year, and then went 0-for-11 until the sixth inning last night.

DeJong

Paul DeJong added two more hits last night – his third straight multi-hit game.  He has hit in 7 of his last 9 games – 5 of them multi-hit games.  Paul is 15 for his last 38 (.395).

Paul was 1 for 2 on the early pitches – and is now 11 for 21(.524) when hitting one of the first two pitches in his at bat.

Kim

While the hitters were feasting, Kwang Hyun Kim was adding yet another strong starting effort.  KK has now allowed no earned runs over his last 3 starts – 17 innings after shutting out the Reds on 3 hits over 5 innings.  The last 62 batters to face Kim have managed just 7 singles, 2 doubles and 3 walks – a .153/.194/.186 batting line.

The starters finished August with a 2.62 ERA for the month and a .166 batting average against.  Kwang Hyun has started them off on the same foot in September.

Elledge

Seth Elledge finished up the game, giving a ninth inning run, but no more damage.  None of the 5 batters he faced hit his first pitch.  And in fact, none of the 23 batters he has faced so far in his major league career have hit his first pitch.

NoteBook

Four days after the Cards surrendered their most runs of the season in their most lopsided loss of the season (the 14-2 shellacking administered by the Indians on August 28), the Cards landed on the Reds for their biggest offensive uprising (and most lopsided victory) of the season.

With is 7 runs batted in, Brad Miller is now up to 18 for the season.  He drove in just 25 last year and 29 the year before, even though his plate appearances were higher than he’s likely to get this year – 170 in 2019 and 254 in 2018.

Kolten Wong passed the 1000 total base threshold last night.  His 5 bring him to 1002 for his career.

The offensive explosion aided the team batting average notably as well.  They started the evening hitting an unimpressive .239 for the season.  The team batting average now sits at .252 – up 13 points on yesterday’s hitting alone.  More than 10% of their hits for the season (23 of 213) came in that game.

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.

Masters of the Two-Strike Count

Joey Votto took Dakota Hudson’s first three pitches of the game.  Dak got strikes on the first two before missing with the slider.  With the count now 1-2, Hudson came back with a fastball.  This pitch would serve him well on this evening, but this particular fastball was up and out over the plate.  Joey chopped it over the mound and over the second base bag.  Shortstop Paul DeJong got to it, but had no play – infield hit for Votto.

By game’s end, this would be a mere footnote in the Cards 7-5 victory (boxscore), but in a sense, they almost should have stopped the game and given Joey the ball.  That hit snapped an 0-for-27 streak that batters had against Hudson when in two-strike counts.  The streak stretched back to the first inning of the August 16 game against the White Sox when Tim Anderson bounced a 3-2 pitch through into right for a single.

Votto’s single would also be the last two-strike hit the Reds would get last night.  Thirteen more would go down against Hudson, and six more against the bullpen.

During his two-strike no-hitter (of sorts), Dak struck out 12 of the 27.  Ten others grounded out.  Of the five that managed to get the ball in the air against Dakota, two were infield pop-outs.  The last 13 Cincy batters to face Hudson with two strikes on them either struck out (7) or grounded out (6).

Clearly two-strikes is a bad place to be with Hudson on the mound.  Especially since the season re-started for the Cardinals, Dakota has employed that slider/heavy sinker combination to deadly effect.  Over his last 4 starts, batters are 2 for 42 (.048) against him in two-strike counts.

The Cardinal pitchers, who (at .133) have baseball’s third lowest batting average once they get to two strikes (according to baseball reference), have four other prominent pitchers holding batters under .100 in these counts.  Hudson’s is the lowest – the others being Alex Reyes (.063), Giovanny Gallegos (.067), Kwang Hyun Kim (.080), and Jack Flaherty (.091). 

For their part, the offense was only 3 for 19 (.158) with two strikes on them.  Yet two of those were two of the most important hits of the game – both coming with two outs as well.

With the game tied at one in the second inning, Kolten Wong fell behind Cincinnati starter Anthony DeSclafani 0-2 with runners on first and third (and two outs).  Kolten poked a fastball the other way through the left side for the single that gave the team the lead it never relinquished.

Two innings later, St. Louis loaded the bases (with two outs) for DeJong.  Paul capped a six-pitch at bat by jumping on a 3-2 slider that hung down the middle of the plate, launching it over the centerfield wall for his first career grand slam.

Few things in baseball are more deflating than surrendering important hits with two strikes and two outs.

Starters Still Flexing

For the evening, Hudson finished 7 innings allowing just 1 earned run on only 4 hits.  Hudson has tossed consecutive quality starts, and over his last 4 starts, Dak holds a 1.66 ERA.  He has surrendered just 10 hits over those innings, only 2 for extra-bases.  Opposing batters are hitting just .137 against Hudson with a .192 slugging percentage since the re-start.

Over their last 21 games, Cardinal starters hold a 2.62 ERA with a .166 batting average against.

Gallegos

Picking up where he left off last year, Giovanny Gallegos picked up last night’s save.  He has allowed no runs so far through 8 innings, and barely any hits.  Both batters Giovanny faced last night were quickly forced into two-strike counts and both struck out.  So far Gallegos has faced 24 batters this season – with 16 facing a two-strike count.  His ratio of 66.7% is the highest of any Cardinal pitcher who has faced at least 20 batters.  Of those, nearly two-third (10) strike out.  That percentage (62.5) is the highest on the staff of any pitcher who has faced at least 10 batters.

He may prove difficult to remove from the closer’s role – even after Jordan Hicks comes back next year.

Goldy

While the big hit and the due accolades will go to the other Paul in the lineup, Paul Goldschmidt was 3-3 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch last night, picking up where he left off at the end of the homestand.  Goldy is now 6 for his last 12, and is hitting .359 (23 for 64) since the team came out of quarantine.

Goldy drove in a first inning run with a double on an 0-1 pitch.  The count on him was 2-1 leading off the third when he was hit by a pitch.  He walked on a 3-1 pitch ahead of DeJong’s grand-slam in the fourth. The count was 2-1 in the sixth when he singled.  He finished in the eighth with an infield hit on a 1-1 pitch.

This seems to have become Goldschmidt’s comfort zone during a plate appearance.  He rarely offers at the first strike, but doesn’t want the pitcher to get the advantage that comes with that second strike.  So he is – especially after the re-start – sitting on that second strike.  He is 13 for his last 25 (.520) with a .760 slugging percentage in one-strike counts over the last 21 games.

Wong

Kolten’s RBI single snapped an 0-for-15 skid.  His average had dwindled to .202 before he finished with 2 hits in his last 4 at bats.

Edman

Tommy Edman continued his resurgence from a sluggish start to the season.  Edman had his second consecutive two-hit game last night, and has now hit safely in 7 of his last 8.  He is hitting .344 (11 for 32) in those games.

Much like Goldschmidt, Edman has been thriving on that one-strike pitch since the end of the quarantine.  Both of last night’s hit came on one-strike pitches, and Edman is 9-for-20 (.450) over the last 21 games on those pitches.

DeJong

About the same time that Edman started to figure things out, Paul DeJong, playing in his second game since the quarantine, also started to click in.  One game after he contributed three hits in the finale against the Indians, Paul slapped out two more hits (including the big home run) against the Reds.  DeJong has hits in 6 of his last 8 games – with four of those being multi-hit games.  He was 0-for-4 in his first game back on the field.  Since then, he is a .406 hitter (13-for-32).

B Miller

After settling into the everyday designated hitter role, Brad Miller has hit his first little dry spell of the season.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night (with 3 strikeouts), Brad is now 0 for his last 10.

Carpenter Draws a Walk

Matt Carpenter did, indeed, draw a walk (two, actually) and came around to score a run after one of them.  Matt has drawn at least one in 9 of his last 11 games, for a total of 11.  And while that certainly has value, actual hits off of Carpenter’s bat have been notably rare.  Over his last 7 games he is 1 for 18 (.056) and over the last 11, Carp is a .100 hitter (3 for 30) with only one extra-base hit.  Carpenter is down to .181 for the season.

But he is walking a lot.

Carlson

After a brief surge, Dylan Carlson’s average has plunged back below the .180 mark (he’s at .176).  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Carlson is now 1 for his last 12 (.083).

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s first-inning RBI double drove in the first run of the game.  The Cards had gone eight games (since their August 24 game against Kansas City) without scoring the first run of a game.

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.

O’Hearn Drives Royals to Victory

As Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright stood on the mound to begin the sixth inning, he found Kansas City’s first baseman Ryan O’Hearn standing there waiting to face him for a third time.  The first two times had gone Ryan’s way.

The game was still scoreless when Ryan led off the second inning.  Adam’s first pitch to the Royal lefty was the cutter – a pitch that misbehaved all evening.  This one took off, running well inside, but Ryan flinched on it and fell behind in the count, 0-1.  Waino tried to find the outside corner with his next two offerings – a sinker, followed by a curve – but both missed, putting O’Hearn up in the count 2-1.

During this struggling evening, 12 of the 28 batters who would face Wainwright would get into a two-ball count.  Only 4 of those would see ball three, as even on a day when he battled his command, Adam was still able to stay – mostly – out of three-ball counts.

Over the course of the season, Wainwright has been the most disciplined of the Cardinal starters in keeping out of deep counts.  Counting last night, Waino has gone to three balls only 15 times against the 40 batters who have gotten themselves into two-ball counts against him.  For the season only 15.2% of all batters make it to three balls against Adam – the lowest percentage of any of the Cardinal starters.

Ryan, batting here in the second, wouldn’t see ball three either.  Even though his command of the curve was spotty at best, Wainwright never hesitates to throw it – even in two ball counts.  That’s what O’Hearn got – a hanging curve that sat over the middle of the plate until Ryan cuffed it into right for a single.  From there, he would eventually score the first run of the game on a ground-out.

There are times when it seems that – perhaps – Adam’s pitches in two-ball counts are too inviting.  O’Hearn’s second inning single was one of 4 hits (in 8 at bats) against Adam when he was in two-ball counts.

Their paths next crossed in the third.  The score was still 1-0, KC, but the Royals had threat brewing after back-to-back, two out walks.

From the little known facts department comes this gem.  The Cardinals are baseball’s best pitching staff on the first pitch of an at bat.  For the most part, major league hitters live to hit that first pitch.  Across the league (numbers found in baseball reference), batters slash .335/.350/.589 on that first pitch.  But when it’s a Cardinal on the mound, your slash line will be much humbler at .219/.231/.406 – a .637 OPS that is nearly 100 points lower than baseball’s next lowest (the .734 posted by the Texas staff).

The bulk of that success belongs to the man that O’Hearn was facing.  Adam routinely employs his cutter or his sinker to challenge the hitter with that first pitch, knowing that his curveball is that much more challenging if he is ahead in the count.  For their part, batters are fairly willing to jump on that fastball, knowing that the curveballs will come next.  Normally, only 10.4% of batters actually hit the first pitch in a plate appearance.  Ninety-nine batters into his 2020 season, Waino already has had 16 batters hit his first pitch – a rate roughly 50% higher than normal.

Usually, though, Adam successfully spots this pitch on the fringe of the strike zone, so the contact is met with minimal success.  As O’Hearn stood in the box in this third inning, three other Royals had already hit Waino’s first pitch and had a collective 0-for-3 to show for it.  In fact, as O’Hearn stood in, the first 15 batters to hit Adam’s first pitch in 2020 were just 1-for-15.

The first pitch to Ryan was that cutter, but up and not quite far in enough.  Whether O’Hearn was intentionally trying to beat the shift, or whether he was a little tied up by the pitch is unclear.  What is clear that his somewhat inside-out swing produced a ground ball that skipped cleanly through the left side of the infield (not terribly far from where a shortstop would normally be placed) for the single that pushed the KC lead to 2-0.

In between that hit and his sixth-inning plate appearance, much had changed.  The Cardinals had an uprising of their own, knocking KC starter Matt Harvey out of the game and pushing across four runs in the bottom of the third.  The Royals had scrapped to get one of those runs back in the fifth, but the Royals still trailed 4-3 as Ryan looked to go 3-for-3 against Wainwright.

Again, Adam fell behind 2-0 as his sinker dropped too low and a changeup floated wide of the plate.  This time, however, Wainwright was unable to stay out of a three-ball count as his 2-0 curveball stayed high.  Down in the count 3-0, Waino spotted a fastball perfectly on the lower outside corner.  Now at 3-1, Adam went back to the cutter, throwing one not too much different from the one he had thrown Ryan in the third inning – this one, perhaps a bit lower and a tad more over the plate.  It came in at 84.3 miles-per-hour.  It went out quite a bit faster.  And higher.  And deeper, as Ryan soared it deep into the right-field stands to tie the game.

O’Hearn would get one more at bat in the game, but he wouldn’t be facing Wainwright.  He struck out against John Gant in the eighth.

As for Adam, even in an outing in which he struggled from the beginning he was able to guile his way through seven innings.  While the results weren’t as comely as his first three starts of the season, they weren’t terrible.  After 98 pitches, Wainwright retired for the evening having allowed 7 hits (including the home run) and 2 walks.  He left a 4-4 tie in a game that his team would have several more opportunities to scratch out a victory.  Most of the time, this team finds a way to win this kind of game.  Most of the time.

The Incredible Walking Offense

Over the last week or so, I have made repeated references to the number of batters walked and hit by the Cardinal pitching staff.  The opposite has also been true.  Last night, St Louis was on the receiving end of 6 more walks and another hit batter. Their on base percentage last night was .385.  Since the season re-boot, Cardinal pitchers have walked 56 batters and hit 7 others.  Cardinal batters have answered with 59 walks of their own, while 12 other Cardinals have been hit.

Over the last 14 games, St Louis is hitting an uninspiring .249, but with a .356 on base percentage.

Getting the runners on, though, is only part of the battle.  Getting them home has proved to be much tougher.  Last night, only 2 of the 7 free runners crossed the plate.  Royal reliever Jake Newberry began the fourth by walking the first two batters, but a double-play took the steam out of the inning.  The Cards also got back-to-back walks with two out in the seventh, but nothing came of that, either.

In the ninth, with a runner already at third, ex-Cardinal reliever Trevor Rosenthal hit Kolten Wong to put the winning run on base with one out.  Neither runner moved as Trevor ended the game with a strikeout and a ground ball.

St Louis finished 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position.  They left 8 runners and lost another at the plate.

DeJong

One of the important pieces absent from the Cardinal lineup due to the virus was starting shortstop Paul DeJong.  In one of yesterday’s most encouraging developments, Paul slapped 3 hits.  In 3 games since his return to activity, DeJong is 4 for 11 (.364).

Wong

Kolten walked in addition to getting hit in the ninth inning, but got no hits, bringing to a close a seven-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Kolten hit .360 (9-for-25) and fashioned a .467 on base percentage with 4 walks and another hit by pitch.

Another Loss for the Pen

As the season was planned out, the Cardinal bullpen was supposed to be one of the team’s great strengths.  The COVID interruption has turned that bullpen into a kind of Chinese Fire Drill.  The last week and a half has been a constant tightrope act as Mike Shildt and Mike Maddox have labored to find enough arms to cover all the innings left them by a compromised rotation.

As the starters have begun to stretch out some, and some predictability has returned to the bullpen roles, the entire organization is hopeful that something resembling normalcy will return to the pitching staff – at least until the next wave of double-headers brings the next dose of chaos.

Last night, Wainwright turned in his second consecutive seven inning start and left a tie game to a reasonably rested bullpen – that promptly lost the game.

Gant – the first man out – had been nearly flawless so far this year.  So naturally, the Royals were able to wrap a couple of groundball singles around one of those ubiquitous walks to produce the run that decided the contest, 5-4 (boxscore).  The Cards have now lost 6 games since their season re-started – 4 of the losses coming from the pen.  In 14 games, St Louis has surrendered 48 runs – 28 of them by the pen.  Much of that because the pen has pitched nearly half the innings since the quarantine ended (51 of the 112).  Over those games, the starters hold a 2.51 ERA.  The pen is now at 4.06.

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.

Hudson Stays Grounded

When Dakota Hudson walked off the mound last night, after holding Washington to 2 runs over seven innings, he continued an extraordinary run of starting pitching, both for himself, personally, and for the team here in the final month of the 2019 regular season.

Dakota has now put together quality starts in 6 of his last 7 outings, going 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA.  The last 173 batters to face him hold a batting line of .139/.244/.245.

Halfway through September, now, and the Cardinals have four starters with ERAs under 2.00 for the month – and Hudson’s is the worst of those (1.89).  With three starts each this month, Dakota trails Adam Wainwright (0.45), Jack Flaherty (1.23) and Michael Wacha (1.64).  The entire rotation sits at a 1.96 ERA 16 games into September.

It will be interesting to see how long they can keep this up.

Meanwhile, Hudson is enjoying consistent success the more he stays grounded.  In the figurative sense, of course, this refers to his pitch-to-pitch focus – something manager Mike Shildt calls “staying in the moment.”  But there is an equally important literal sense to Dakota’s staying grounded.

In his 7 innings last night, Hudson induced 13 ground balls.  That is a huge key for him.  Thirty starts into his major league career, and Dakota has induced at least 10 ground balls in 15 of them.  He has 12 quality starts in those games, going 9-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 90.2 innings.

None of the 13 grounders hit against him last night were hits, and only 4 of the last 64 groundballs he has allowed have found holes.

Dakota is pitching extremely well right now.

Tommy Edman

St Louis had only 5 hits last night, but two of them belonged to Tommy Edman – who extended his hitting streak to 6 games.  He has also hit safely in 10 of his last 11.  He is hitting .364 (8 for 22) over the six games, and .326 (14 for 43) over his last 11.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong was hitless in three at bats again last night.  Paul has been held hitless in 5 of his last 8 games, hitting .133 (4 for 30) in that span.  He is hitting .193 (11 for 57) in September, with only 3 walks (contributing to a .242 on base percentage).

NoteBook

Marcell Ozuna re-took the team lead in game-winning RBIs by driving in all four Cardinal runs last night.  Ozuna now has 14 GWH.  Paul Goldschmidt is right behind with 13.

St Louis has now scored first in six straight games and 12 of the last 14.

Cards Still Can’t Buy That Two-Out Hit

When Nolan Arenado scooped up Paul Goldschmidt’s short-hop smash to his right, his momentum carried him momentarily to the foul side of the third-base bag.  Nolan righted himself and tossed the ball to first, where Goldschmidt gained a hard-earned infield hit by sliding under Daniel Murphy’s attempted tag.

And just like that, St Louis had the tying run on first base.  It was the eighth-inning, with Colorado holding a 2-1 lead.  It was St Louis’ first two-out hit of the game.

It would also be their last.

Such a threat as the hit presented was extinguished 5 pitches later when Jairo Diaz struck out Marcell Ozuna.  One inning later, Tommy Edman’s double-play grounder ended the game – a 2-1 Rockies win (box score).

In an offensively ragged first half, the St Louis Cardinals ranked near the bottom of the majors in most offensive categories.  As the calendar has flipped to the second half, the birds have notably improved in most of those categories.  But not when it comes to hitting with two outs.  According to baseball reference, the Cards have the fourth fewest two-out runs batted in (219), the fifth fewest two-out hits (366) and two-out home runs (45), the fifth lowest two-out slugging percentage (.377), the sixth lowest two out OPS (.699), and the seventh lowest two-out batting average (.235) in all of the majors.

These situations are not improving.  Since the break, the Cards with two-outs have just 16 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and a .234/.320/.374 batting line (a .694 OPS).  The league average two-out batting line, by the way, is .244/.324/.421 for an OPS of .746.  In spite of the fact that they are 6-4 so far in September, there is still no two-out offense to speak of – a .208/.300/.321 batting line.

Most days the pitching and the runs put up before the second out is recorded are enough to get the victory.  Every so often, though, this flaw comes back to haunt.  Last night was one of those nights – particularly in the fifth when Dexter Fowler grounded out with the bases loaded, and in the seventh when Jose Martinez struck out with runners on first and third.

For the season, St Louis is hitting .216 with runners in scoring position and two outs (fourth-worst in all of baseball and second only to Miami in the National League).  Their 162 runs batted in in that circumstance is also fourth-worst in baseball and second worst (again to Miami) in the NL.

It’s not hard to see something like this costing this team in the playoffs – should they get there.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong contributed singles in successive at bats against San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner back on September 4.  Since the second of those singles, Wong – who has been the team’s offensive catalyst for most of the second half – has started to cool for the first time in a long time.  He endured his second consecutive hitless game last night, and is just 4 for his last 21.

Paul DeJong

Also in a recent slump is Kolten’s double-play partner, Paul DeJong.  Paul is also hitless over the last two games, and has 1 hit in his last 14 at bats.

Paul has hit 2 of the team’s 8 home runs this month, but among only 7 hits in 34 at bats (.206).  In addition, he has just 2 walks this month – holding him to a .243 on base percentage.

Michael Wacha

It is hard to imagine manager Mike Shildt doing this with either Jack Flaherty or Dakota Hudson, but for the second start in a row, Mike pinch-hit for starting pitcher Michael Wacha very early in the game.  Last Wednesday against San Francisco, Wacha threw 2 scoreless innings and was removed for a hitter.  Last night, he was removed after 4.  These actions suggest that Wacha doesn’t have Shildt’s total trust – and there is little reason that he should.

Since his return to the rotation seven starts ago, Wacha has been decent – but not spectacular.  He has pitched a total of 30.1 innings in those games, with an 0-3 record and a 4.45 ERA.

Getting that third out has been a sticking point for Wacha all year, but especially in the second half.  Colorado hitters were 2 for 6 with a walk with two outs against Michael last night.  Since the break, two-out batters are roughing Wacha up to the tune of .327/.403/.527.

Ryan Helsley

Ryan Helsley remains one of the intriguing arms – not just for the rest of this year, but for 2020 and beyond.  He pitched two innings of relief last night, and has worked more than one inning in 9 consecutive appearances.  Over his last 4 games, Ryan has given 1 run (unearned) on 8 hits over 9 innings, walking 2 and striking out 9.  He has a 1.04 ERA over 17.1 innings since his final recall from AAA.  In 19.1 second-half innings, Ryan has an 0.93 ERA with a .208 batting average against.  None of the last 80 batters that he has faced have managed a home run against the talented right-hander, and are slugging just .278 against him.

Ryan got a double play to end the fifth inning, so the only batter he faced with two outs last night was Sam Hilliard in the sixth.  Of all Cardinal pitchers who have faced at least 30 batters with two out in an inning, only the injured Jordan Hicks (.091) holds a lower batting average against than Helsley’s .139.  After Hilliard grounded out, those batters are 5 for 36 against Ryan.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos closed out the game with two scoreless, hitless innings.  Giovanny has scuffled a bit recently, but he still holds a 1.46 ERA over 24.2 second half innings.

NoteBook

St Louis never managed a lead in last night’s game.  At some point in each of the previous eleven games they had held at least a one-run lead.

Starting Pitching Continues Strong

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.

Miles Mikolas

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.

Bullpen Misadventures

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).

Jack Flaherty

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.

Offensive Contributions

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.

Matt Carpenter

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.

Paul DeJong

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.

Yadier Molina

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.

Dexter Fowler

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.

NoteBook

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.