Tag Archives: DeJong

Killing Them Softly

It’s the kind of game plan that usually gets pitchers in trouble, and should have come with some kind of warning for those watching at home: Warning, this is a trained professional – Do Not Try This At Home.

As young pitchers graduate from the minors and get set to face major leaguers for the first time, almost always their pitching coaches give then counsel similar to this:

“Go get ‘em kid.  Go right after them, and trust your stuff.  It’s what got you here.  Whatever you do, don’t nibble”.

On what turned out to be St Louis’ last game before the All-Star Break, Kwang Hyun Kim gave the fading Cardinals a much needed dominant effort.  He muffled the Cubs with no runs on just 5 hits (all singles) and 1 walk through the first 6 innings of Saturday night’s 6-0 conquest of the Northsiders (box score).  He struck out 7 along the way.

That win – coupled with a couple of Cincinnati wins over Milwaukee – served to keep the Cardinals just barely on the periphery of the pennant race.  They hit the All-Star Break at 44-46, and 8 games behind with 72 left to play.  They are 13 games out of the final wild card spot, so it looks right now like it’s the division title or bust.

But as effective as Kim was on Saturday night – and as important as the win was – I almost hope that all of the Cardinals’ young pitchers weren’t watching, because trying to duplicate what Kwang Hyun did will most likely lead to trouble for them.

You see, in navigating past that dangerous first strike, Kim nibbled.  From the very first pitch of the game, Kwang Hyun populated the outside shell of the strike zone with a variety of soft tosses.

The night before, a similar game plan resulted mostly in disaster.  Forty six Cubs came to the plate on Friday night, and only 9 of them found a first pitch to their liking.  As 8 Cardinal pitchers struggled to throw a strike – but not too good a strike – the Chicago team drew 7 walks and 3 hit batsmen to go along with 12 hits.  It all lead to a 10-5 victory that was easier than the score suggests (box sore).

But in the hands of Kwang Hyun Kim – Professional Nibbler – the concept took a whole different shape.  Only 5 of the 23 batters that Kwang Hyun faced could be tempted to chase after his first pitch, and of the 18 that took Kwang Hyun’s first pitch, only 8 started off the at bat 0-1.

But, of the 10 batters that started off 1-0 against Kim, only 2 reached 2-0 against him (Javier Baez in the first and Kris Bryant in the sixth).  He came back to retire both – Baez on a double-play grounder and Bryant on a fly ball.  He didn’t fall behind anyone 3-0, and only reached ball three on two of the 23 batters he faced.

It took him 35 pitches to throw the first strike to the 23 batters he faced, and his surprising weapon of choice was his four-seam fastball.  Of those 35 pitches, 21 were fastballs.  They averaged just 89.05 miles-per-hour, with none faster than 91.1.  Obviously, it wasn’t a fastball to challenge the Cub hitters with.  It was a frustrating fastball that Kwang Hyun chose for command purposes.  Soft as it was, it was a fastball he could repeatedly spot either on the edge of the strike zone, or close enough that it would tempt a swing.

Along the way, Kwang Hyun floated three more curveballs and a slider in at less than 70 miles per hour.  In so doing, Kim stretched his lead over Adam Wainwright to 71-11 in pitches thrown at less than 70 miles per hour this year.  Wainwright, though, has still thrown the softest pitch (64.1 on June 20 to Freddie Freeman) and softest strike (65.1 to Mike Yastrzemski on July 6).  Kim’s softest pitch is close at 64.5 (to Nick Ahmed on June 30).  His softest strike of the season was thrown in the second inning Saturday night to Patrick Wisdom – a curve at 66.8 mph.

Once Kwan Hyun pushed the Cubs into two-strike counts (and 14 of the 23 batters to face him ended up in two strike counts) the mixture changed.  He threw 31 two-strike pitches: 1 curve, 6 change-ups, 10 fastballs, and 14 sliders. The slider ended up getting 4 of the 7 strikeouts (the change got 2 others and Nico Hoerner struck out on a fastball that was so far inside he ended up on first).  Batters in two-strike counts rarely prosper – and these 14 didn’t.  In addition to the 7 strikeouts, they managed 1 walk and 2 infield singles.

But getting to two strikes is always the challenge.  The Cardinal pitching staff is blessed with a number of flame-throwers who can smoke their way to two strike counts.  In Kim, they also have one who can nibble his way there.

More Kim

Kwang Hyun goes into the Break with his stock definitely on the rise.  He is unscored on in 13 innings over his last 2 starts, and holds a 3-1 record, 3 quality starts, and a 1.95 ERA over his last 6 games.  Over his last 32.1 innings, Kim has given 1 home run, gotten ground balls on 53% of the in-play contact against him, and held the last 130 batters to face him to a .209 batting average and a .243 slugging percentage.

Cabrera

One of the three trusted arms at the back of the bullpen, Genesis Cabrera has stumbled profoundly during the early days of July.  The Friday game – which was a 3-2 game when Genesis entered – really got out of hand on his watch.  Three of the four batters he faced reached base (2 walks and a hit batsman) and all scored.  That’s now 7 runs on 6 hits (including a home run) and 5 walks in just 3.2 innings this month.  The 23 batters that have faced him this month carry a .353/.522/.647 batting line.

Genesis did come back to toss a scoreless inning on Saturday, but still served up a double to Hoerner on a 1-0 pitch.  Cabrera struggles as much as anyone on the staff to get past strike one.  Batters hitting the first strike against Genesis this year are now 11 for 24, the hits including 5 doubles and a home run.  He has also issued 6 four-pitch walks (1 intentional) and hit two other batters who were still waiting for strike one, so the total batting line against him this year in zero-strike counts is .458/.594/.792 through 36 plate appearances.

DeJong

Over their last two series, the Cardinals have shown faint signs of offensive life.  They have scored 24 runs in those games, while hitting .271 against San Francisco and Chicago.

None of these stirrings is more encouraging than the recent noise coming from the long-dormant bat of Paul DeJong.  He went 3-for-5 in the Cub series with 2 home runs (yes, one was in garbage time in the first game), and heads into the Break 4 for his last 12 (.333) with 3 of the hits going for extra bases (he’s also had a double).  Paul is slugging .917 over his last 5 games.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt’s revival is under full steam.  It’s almost a shame that the All-Star Break has to interrupt it.  With two hits in both games against the Cubs, Goldy’s hitting streak has reached 10 games, with Paul getting multiple hits in 5 of them.  He is hitting .400 for the streak (16 for 40) and slugging .625 (3 doubles and 2 home runs) during those games.  He is hitting .371 and slugging .571 during the early part of July.

NoteBook

Friday’s game took 3:57, the longest Cardinal game since the May 14 affair in San Diego took 4:08 to conclude (that was just a 9-inning, 5-4 game).

The entire series (both games of it) averaged 3:44.5 – the highest of the season.  The San Diego series (a 3-game set) averaged 3:43.7 per game.

The Friday loss was the first five-run defeat administered to the Cards since they were beaten 7-2 by Pittsburgh on June 27.  That was a home game.  They hadn’t been beaten that badly on the road since Detroit pounded them 8-2 on June 22.  The 8 run deficit they faced going into the ninth inning was the furthest they’d been behind in a game since they were beaten by Atlanta 9-1 on June 18.

Conversely, on Saturday they took a six-run lead into the seventh inning, their biggest lead at that point of a game since they beat Atlanta 9-1 in the first game of the June 20 double-header.

For the only time in my memory, the Cardinals’ average road attendance (19,286) has surpassed the average home attendance (18,757.5).

Although they didn’t know it at the time, on Saturday the Cards were facing a sweep at the hands of the Cubs.  It’s the fifth road series this season that St Louis went into the final game in danger of being swept.  They have now avoided that sweep twice.

Over the weekend, Luis Garcia became the newest member of the Cardinal bullpen.  (He hit the first batter he faced in the head, proving that he will fit right in).  He becomes the third member of the Cardinal bullpen (joining Cabrera and Junior Fernandez) to hail from Santo Doming in the Dominican Republic.

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.

Pitching Duels on Tap in Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s starting pitching was all but untouchable as they hosted their division rivals from St Louis for a three-game mid-week series that ended yesterday.  Freddy Peralta joined co-aces Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes to make life generally miserable for a Cardinal offense that was feeling pretty good about themselves as they got off the plane.

Fresh off a convincing sweep of the Colorado Rockies, the Cards ran into a buzz-saw in Milwaukee.  For 19.2 innings, that trio dominated the St Louis hitters, allowing just 2 runs on 9 hits (8 singles and a home run).  While they walked 3 (and hit another), those guys struck out 27 St Louis batters, backing their 0.92 aggregate ERA with a .134/.183/.179 batting line against.

That being said, none of the Brewer starters earned a victory in the series, and Burnes – who allowed 1 run in 5 innings – was tagged with a loss.  As St Louis heads to San Diego to open a three-game series there, they do so having taken two of the three in Milwaukee (6-1 in 11 innings, 1-4 and 2-0) because their starting pitching was just a shade better.

While not as flashy (they only managed 16 strikeouts), the Cardinal trio of Kwang Hyun Kim, John Gant and Jack Flaherty threw 16.1 innings against the Brewers giving just 1 earned run – an 0.55 ERA.

Two playoff teams from last year who are currently sitting first and second in their division, these are two teams who believe that their pitching staffs are equal to any occasion.  If pitching duels are not your thing, perhaps you should skip the rest of the games between these teams this year.  The first game went 1-1 into the eleventh.  The second game went 1-1 into the bottom of the eighth.  The finale was a 1-0 game going into the ninth.  The series, perhaps, should have come with a warning: for purists only.

These two teams have now split their first six games, with each winning a series in enemy territory.  St Louis’ current three-game lead aside, this is shaping up to be a very tight (and probably low-scoring) race to the end.

Cards Press On

Of greatest encouragement to Cardinal fans is the pitching staff’s ability to sustain these high-level performances.  They hold a 2.83 team ERA during the month of May.  They have allowed only 4 home runs all month, and the .197 batting average against them is augmented by a .282 slugging percentage.

Over the last 22 games, Cardinal starters hold a 2.19 ERA.  Batters are hitting just .202 against them.

Best With the Bases Loaded

The lone real drag on the pitching staff is its propensity to walk (and hit) batters.  What opposing offenses can’t manage by hitting the ball against them, St Louis pitchers are inclined to do to themselves with free passes.  In 105 innings this month, Cardinal pitchers have walked 54 and hit 6 others.

One of the outcomes of all of this is a league-leading number of bases-loaded situations.  In 38 games, Cardinal pitchers have dealt with 61 bases-loaded situations – nearly two a game.  That figure stands as the most in the National League.  In the eleventh inning of the first game, Alex Reyes faced Jackie Bradley Jr. and Billy McKinney with the bases loaded.  Both struck out

For all of the struggles that put them into these situations, the St Louis pitching staff has responded in enviable fashion.  Opposing batters are hitting just .111 (5-for-45) in those at bats (the lowest average in the league).  Not only are they one of just 4 teams not to allow a grand slam so far this year, they have surrendered just 2 extra-base hits (both doubles) with the bases loaded – a .156 slugging percentage, which, along with their .418 OPS with the sacks jammed, is also the best figure in the league.

The total picture, of course, isn’t complete perfection.  While hits in these moments have been few and far between, St Louis pitchers have also issued 8 bases-loaded walks (also most in the league), hit 3 others, allowed 5 sacrifice flies, uncorked 3 wild pitches – and even committed a balk.

In a way, it’s kind of been a microcosm of the Cardinal season.

Gant

Johnny Gant has kind of been the poster boy for the Cardinal pitching staff.  In matters of contact and runs allowed, Gant has had an exemplary season – especially recently.  Over his last 4 starts, Gant has an 0.89 ERA with a .197 batting average against.  Yet – even though he has been in the rotation the entire season and hasn’t missed a start, John hasn’t pitched enough innings to be a qualifying pitcher (and his season-long 1.83 ERA would have him in the top 5 in the league right now).

His nemesis has been walks.  He walked 3 more in 5 innings on Wednesday, and has walked 16 in his last 20.1 innings.  Gant has authored 26 unintentional walks in 34.1 innings – 6.82 per game.  Consequently Gant has completed six innings just once this year, leaving a lot of innings for the bullpen.

For the season, Gant has pitched with the bases empty only 49.0% of the time – and those batters have a .395 on base percentage against him.

Flaherty

While I’ve seen him sharper, Jack Flaherty completed his second consecutive scoreless outing (he had thrown seven scoreless against Colorado in his previous effort).  Jack now has 4 consecutive quality starts as part of a seven-game winning streak.  In 43 innings over his last 7 games, Jack has been touched for just one home run while compiling a 1.47 ERA and a .174 batting average against.

Cabrera

His struggles against Philadelphia now well behind him, Genesis Cabrera is starting to settle in again.  His last five appearances (covering 6 innings) have been scoreless, and he’s allowed 1 single to the last 22 batters to face him.  Even so, he also continues to invite trouble, as he has walked 4 of those batters and only 52 of his last 90 pitches (58%) have been strikes.

Reyes

Alex Reyes faced 14 batters in 3 busy innings against Milwaukee.  When Manny Pina led off against him in the bottom of the ninth Thursday afternoon, he became the only one of the 14 to bat against Alex with the bases empty.  He drew a lead-off walk.  Even taking into account the 7 runners he’s inherited across his various appearances, and the fact that both extra innings he started began with a runner on base, Alex has pitched to only 32 of his 84 batters faced with the bases empty – just 38.1%.

Home Run Dependency

The 9 runs that St Louis scored in the series were the fewest they have scored in any series so far this year.  (The 5 they allowed were the second fewest.  In an early season sweep in Miami they allowed just 3 runs).  Six of the nine runs scored on home runs.

For the season, 86 of St Louis’ 170 runs have come via the home run – 50.6%.  The National League average is 41.7%.  This over-reliance on the home run is a contributing factor to St Louis’ inconsistencies on offense.

Arenado

When Nolan Arenado’s eight-game hitting streak ended on Wednesday, he responded with 3 hits – including the game’s only run batted in – to start another yesterday.  Nolan is 16 for 46 in May (.348) with a .609 slugging percentage (4 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs.

DeJong

Paul DeJong went 0-for-6 in Milwaukee before his rib injury sidelined him.  He has hit in only one of his last 6 games, going 2-for-20 (.100) in those games.  His average for the month of May has dipped to .205 (8-for-39).

Bullpen Home Run Watch Ends

Coming within a few days of a full month without issuing a home run, the Cardinal bullpen (in the person of Ryan Helsley) was finally taken deep (by Milwaukee’s Avisail Garcia) in Wednesday’s eighth inning.

The bullpen homer-less streak reached its twenty-fourth team game (23 with a bullpen appearance) and ended after 72.2 innings, 253 at bats, 305 plate appearances and 1252 pitches.

Up until that point, Helsley – who has been much praised in this space – had not allowed an extra-base hit all season before serving up a double and the home run on back-to-back pitches.

A Sidenote: Four innings earlier, Garcia demonstrably disagreed with a third strike call – throwing both arms in the air and engaging in an extended debate with home plate umpire John Libka.  I have seen players tossed for less.  It would be interesting to know how close Avisail came to getting ejected four inning before he would become one of the game’s heroes.

NoteBook

St Louis is now 1-and-5 in rubber games.

The series averaged 3:31 even per game – exactly what the last game took.  Considering the low scoring nature of the games, it’s a little surprising that this series was the longest by average time of any series so far this season.

The Cards are now 5-3-1 in series when they win the first game.

San Diego – who took two-of-three from Colorado – will be the fourth consecutive Cardinal opponent to have won its previous series.

Arenado’s single re-gained him the team lead in game-winning-hits.  He pulls back in front of Paul Goldschmidt, 6-5.

Thursday’s shutout was the fourth authored by the Cards in their last 11 games.

St Louis had just one at bat with the bases loaded in Milwaukee, and now have just 3 in the month of May.  They had 20 bases loaded at bats in April.

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.

RISP Woes Stymie the Brewers

The game had a promising beginning for the Milwaukee Brewers.  When Kolten Wong led off the game with a double, the Brewers had a golden opportunity to take an early lead.  Instead, it was the beginning of another frustrating evening for the Milwaukee offense.  Wong didn’t move as Cardinal starter Kwang Hyun Kim retired the next three hitters (Lorenzo Cain, Tyrone Taylor and Travis Shaw) on two strikeouts and a pop fly.

More than three hours later – the game well decided at this point – Milwaukee’s Billy McKinney (batting with the bases loaded) waved helplessly at Alex Reyes’ 0-2 slider to bring an end to the proceedings.  The final score of 6-1 was more than a bit deceiving (box score).  Milwaukee held a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning, and the game went into extra-innings tied at one run each.  Milwaukee had myriad opportunities to bury St Louis, but McKinney’s strikeout concluded a 1-for-15 effort on Milwaukee’s part with runners in scoring position (RISP).

This has been much the norm for the Brew-Crew this year.  Their .209 team RISP batting average is the National League’s worst.  The Brewers and Cardinals have now split their first four contests of the new season, with both St Louis wins looking eerily similar.

St Louis hosted Milwaukee to open their home season on April 8.  On that evening, Brewer ace Corbin Burnes simply dominated for 6 innings, shutting out the Cards on just 1 hit, walking none, and striking out 9.  But he left with just a 1-0 lead.  St Louis would come back to tie the game in the seventh, and win it on a two-run home run off the bat of Nolan Arenado in the eighth.

Milwaukee was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on that evening.

Now fast-forward to last night.  This time it is Freddy Peralta dominating the Cards.  He throws seven innings of one-hit shutout ball against them – but also leaves with just a 1-0 lead.  This time the Cards scratched out the tying run in the eighth, and the game-winning, two-run homer came off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt in the eleventh.

No one expects Milwaukee to remain at the bottom of the league stats in this category all season.  Not helping them, though, is their present matchup against a pitching staff that has been very hot – especially in RISP situations.

With the win, St Louis is now 8-2 in May, and 14-4 over their last 18 games.  Over their last 20 games, the St Louis pitching staff holds a 2.75 ERA and a collective .191 batting average against them.  The last 722 batters to face them over the last 177 innings have just 38 extra-base hits (28 doubles, 1 triple, and just 9 home runs) for an aggregate slugging percentage of just .281.

Opposing hitters are just 27-for-148 (.182) against this staff over their last 20 games with runners in scoring position.  If Milwaukee is going to shed this monkey on their back during this series, they will have to do so against a tough opponent.

Kim

Kwang Hyun still doesn’t have a quality start on the season, in spite of the fact that that he has a 1.80 ERA over his last 4 starts, never allowing more than one run in any of them.  But completing that sixth inning has proven elusive for Kim – his longest outing of the year so far lasting just 5.2 innings.

St Louis has, nonetheless, won all five of his starts.

Milwaukee was 4-for-14 against Kwang Hyun, with 3 doubles, when they hit against him without a runner in scoring position.  One of the reasons Kim has had trouble getting deep into games is that clean innings are a rarity for him.  The league is 22-for-68 (.324) against him this season when there are no runners in scoring position.  Once he finds himself in trouble, Kwang Hyun has been much more effective.

The double from Travis Shaw that drove home Lorenzo Cain from second with Milwaukee’s lone run broke an 0-for-21 that the league had against Kim with runners in scoring position.  For the season, they are 2-for-23 (.087) in their RISP at bats against Kwang Hyun.

During his stay in St Louis, batters are 8 for 57 (.140) against Kim with runners in scoring position.  Shaw’s double was the first extra-base hit Kwang Hyun has surrendered as a Cardinal in RISP situations.

More Good Work from Helsley

Ryan Helsley relieved Kim in the sixth, extinguishing the threat.  Ryan has now authored 9 consecutive scoreless outings (7.1 innings with just one hit allowed) and over his last 13.2 innings has yielded just 1 run on 5 hits – an 0.66 ERA with a .116 batting average against.  Ryan still hasn’t allowed an extra base hit this year.

Ryan has allowed only 1 of 10 inherited runners to score.

Reyes

All 9 of the batters Alex Reyes faced last night came to the plate with at least one runner in scoring position (remembering that all extra-innings this year begin with a man at second).  Those batters were 0-for-6 with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts.  This year, batters are 1-for-29 against Reyes with the ducks on the pond.  They are just 13 for 106 (.123) against him in those situations during Alex’ career.

Carlson

One of the casualties of the evening was Dylan Carlson’s hitting streak.  Although he drove in a critical run with a sacrifice fly, Dylan finished the evening 0-for-3, ending his hitting streak at seven games.  Carlson batted .476 (10-for-21) during the streak.

DeJong

Paul DeJong just can’t turn the corner.  After a scuffling start, Paul has looked on several occasions like he was about to find his stride.  But it hasn’t taken just yet.  Recently, he put together a five-game hitting streak.  In the five games since the last of those games, Paul is 2 for 18 (.111).  In spite of the hitting streak, DeJong is hitting .216 (8 for 37) for the month.

Production with runners in scoring position has been a special focus for DeJong this year.  He was 0-for-1 in RISP opportunities last night, and he is 7 for 39 (.179) in those situations for the year.

Bullpen Home Run Watch

Although it certainly seemed like they trying their best to serve up a home run last night, the Cardinal bullpen made it through another evening without allowing the long-ball.  Going back to the seventh inning on April 16, when J.T. Realmuto took Kodi Whitley deep, the bullpen has gone 23 total games (22 in which the bullpen made an appearance), 70 innings, 244 at bats, 295 plate appearances and 1214 pitches without allowing a home run.

NoteBook

At 3:55 (understandably enough, since the game took 11 innings to decide), last night’s game was the Cards longest of the season so far.

St Louis has now won the opening game of four straight series, and 6 of the last 7.

Goldschmidt’s game-winning, two-run homer ties him with Nolan Arenado for the team lead in game-winning hits.  They both have 5.

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.

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.