Tag Archives: Flaherty

This is Why You Always Have to Put the Fish Away

Of course, from the moment Starlin Castro jumped an errant slider for his fifth-inning home run, Jack Flaherty was doomed to be the losing pitcher in the contest.  With Jordan Yamamoto starting for Miami that evening, it was understood that all the Marlins would need would be any kind of run and they would be in great shape.

For Jack, though, his effort in the 6-0 loss (box score) is a kind of microcosm of his season.  Jack ended up pitching 7 innings allowing just 4 hits while striking out 8.  For six innings, he and Yamamoto were matching up in a classic pitchers’ duel.  Through six, Miami had 1 run on 2 hits, and St Louis had no runs on 1 hit – Flaherty had provided a double for his team’s only hit.

With the one-two punch of his fastball and slider keeping the Marlins under wraps, Jack had retired the first 8 batters in the game that he had gotten ahead of in the count – striking out 5 of them.

But the game spun away from him in the seventh, when he had a couple of fish backed up in the count, but couldn’t put them away.

Garrett Cooper opened the inning falling behind 1-2 in the count.  Flaherty’s next fastball wasn’t a terrible pitch, but it didn’t quite jam him, and Cooper laced it into left-center for a double.

Flaherty promptly jumped ahead of the next batter – Brian Anderson – 0-2.  But he hung the 0-2 slider, and suddenly it was a 3-0 Marlin lead.

On other days this kind of performance (3 runs in 7 innings) will usually gain you a victory.  These days in St Louis, though, the offense – such as it is – doesn’t afford much latitude.  In spite of the fact that the team is 9-7 this month, they are hitting a distressing .218 and scoring just 3.75 runs per game.  According to baseball reference, the team’s .656 OPS so far this month ranks them as the third worst in baseball – ahead of only Kansas City and Baltimore, while their batting average is better than only Cincinnati’s (.216).

These days, if you are a starting pitcher in St Louis, it is risky business to fall behind.

Jack – who has lost 3 of his last 4 decisions – has served up 8 home runs over his last 21 innings.

TylerWebb

Although the run didn’t score while he was on the mound, Tyler Webb did serve up the double to left-hander JT Riddle that set Miami’s three-run eighth into motion.  Tyler has now given runs in 3 of his last 6 games.  Over the 4 innings he has pitched in those games, the 20 batters to face him are hitting .400/.444/.667.  Tyler’s ERA for the month of June has risen to 4.26 over 6.1 innings.

JohnBrebbia

One of the team’s great assets in April and May, John Brebbia is scuffling through June.  Most of the real damage done in that eighth inning occurred with John on the mound (he allowed the inherited runner to score, and then added two more of his own runs in just two-thirds of an inning).

John has pitched 8 times this month, and given up runs in 4 of those games.  In 7 June innings, John has been banged for 9 runs (8 earned) on 9 hits and 3 walks.  It all equates to a 10.29 ERA and a .300/.364/.500 batting line.

Offense Dominated Again

Jordan Yamamoto must be thinking the majors are a piece of cake.  He has pitched only two games in the “show” and – not only has he not allowed a run in 14 innings – he has barely been threatened.  In those innings, he has given just 5 hits and 4 walks – a 0.643 WHIP.

Of course, both of those starts have come against the offensively challenged Cardinals.  His next start, I believe, should be in Philadelphia.  He may find out then that it won’t always be this easy.

As for the Cardinals, in an ironic counterpoint to the big hits Flaherty (and Brebbia, for that matter) gave up when they had two strikes on Miami’s hitters, the Cardinal batters couldn’t even taste success when they had the advantage.  St Louis was 0-for-7 against Yamamoto when they were ahead in the count.

The list of struggling Cardinal hitters remains pretty lengthy.

MattCarpenter

Hitless again in 3 at bats last night, Matt Carpenter still looks like he’s getting closer.  He is still hitting just .245 for the month of June.

PaulDeJong

Among the casualties last night was Paul DeJong’s seven-game hitting streak.  During the streak, DeJong hit .367 (11 for 30) and slugged .700.

PaulGoldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt endured another 0-for-4 at the plate.  He has 1 hit over his last 6 games (20 at bats).  For the month of June, Paul’s average has slipped to .179 (10 for 56).

MarcellOzuna

After a torrid start to the month, Marcell Ozuna is also starting to fade.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Marcell is just 3 for his last 17 (.176) with no extra-base hits.  Marcell’s last extra-base hit was the ninth-inning home run he hit against Miami’s Adam Conley in the blow-out win back on June 11 (23 at bats ago).

YadierMolina

Yadier Molina was 0-for-3 last night.  Over his last 7 games, Yadi is just 4 for 26, with 3 singles and a double.  He has drawn 1 walk, driven in 1 run, and struck out 7 times over that span, giving him a batting line of .154/.185/.192.

Yadi was behind in the count for all 3 plate appearances last night.  Since his return from injury, Yadi has found himself behind in the count on 46.9% of his plate appearances.

HarrisonBader

Harrison Bader’s hitless streak reached 5 games and 16 at bats after his 0-for-3 last night.  Bader is 9 for 50 (.180) for the month of June.

Bader had one of the at bats against Yamamoto where he was ahead in the count.  In the fifth inning he came up with a runner at first and two outs – the game was still 1-0 at that point.  After taking a ball, Harrison jumped on a fastball down and in and bounced to third.

All season, Bader has been unable to take advantage of being ahead in the count.  He is 2 for 12 this month when ahead in the count (.167) – both singles.  For the season, he is 9 for 42 (.214) when he has the advantage at the plate.  The hits are 7 singles (2 of them of the infield variety), 1 double, and 1 home run – a .310 slugging percentage.

If you don’t make hay when you’re ahead in the count, you will struggle to sustain a decent batting average – one reason Harrison’s has fallen to .220.

NoteBook

Here’s how the recent games have gone.  Last night’s game broke a streak of 5 straight games in which St Louis held the lead at some point.  It was also the sixth of the last seven games that the Cards had trailed in at some point.

Starters Rise to Occasion in Sweep of Cubs

So, it was another minimal offensive series for your St Louis Cardinals.  Granted, they faced three quality arms, but as the Sunday game ended, the Cards had scored just 11 runs during the three games, hitting .233 on just 21 hits.

Oh, did I mention that St Louis won all three games?  By scores of 2-1 in 10 innings (box score), 7-4 (box score) and 2-1 again (box score).

If this team is going to be special this year, it will be because of their pitching.  For the first fifty or so games, the rotation showed inconsistent flashes of potential.  For three games as May faded into June, and against their divisional rival from up North, the Cardinal starters were very special.

The Cards got 20 innings from their starters in this series – and might well have had a couple more, had Jack Flaherty’s Saturday start not been interrupted after five innings by rain.  For those 20 innings the Cubs dented St Louis’ starters for just 3 runs on 12 hits – a 1.35 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Yes, there was a bit of luck involved.  Especially on Sunday, when Chicago hit Adam Wainwright harder than the results showed.  Still, the club couldn’t have asked for more from the starters.

The bullpen was nearly as good, although hiccups from Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia threatened two of the games.

In fact, that might be the most satisfying element of the series.  Each game was tightly contested, and Chicago could very easily have swept the home team.  These were, in fact, the type of games that the Cards have repeatedly lost to Chicago over the last few years – the character games.  For one weekend at least, it was St Louis coming through with the clutch hit and the big defensive play.

To keep things in perspective, there is still a lot of baseball to be played – and many more contests against Chicago.  This was just one chapter in a very long novel.  But it was not insignificant.  Much like their season series against their other primary division competitor.  After losing 5 of the first 7 against Milwaukee, they came back to sweep the Brewers the last time they played them to even that series.  This sweep, though, does more than just answer the Cubs earlier sweep of the Cards.  Getting off the deck and answering these two teams provided a significant confidence boost.

And confidence, by the way, is not in short supply.  I don’t think I ever remember a more confident two-games-over team.

The rest of the summer will tell whether that confidence is warranted or just bravado.  One thing to remember, though.  Both of St Louis’ answering sweeps were at home.  If they have true designs on the division title, this team will have to find some way of coping with Miller Park and Wrigley Field – Wrigley as soon as this Friday.

Fifty-eight games into the 2019 season, this team is still a mystery.

Miles Mikolas

Three starts ago, Miles Mikolas endured a nightmare start in Texas – he gave 7 runs (and 2 home runs) in less than 2 innings.  That disaster stands in sharp contrast to Miles three starts before and his two starts since.  In those other 5 games, Miles has pitched at least 6 innings in all of them, (and 7 in the other 4) without giving up more than three runs in any of them.  In fact, he gave up as many as 3 runs in only one of those games.

Over the 34 innings that surround that Texas game, Miles has allowed as many runs (7) and home runs (2) as he did in that Texas game.  He holds a 1.85 ERA in those other games, holding those teams to a .213 batting average, while walking just 4.

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty followed Mikolas’ 7 strong innings (1 run on 6 hits) with a strong effort of his own.  After allowing solo home runs in the first two innings, Jack settled down and kept Chicago off the scoreboard till the rains came in the fifth.

The rain interrupted a streak of three consecutive quality starts from the young right-hander.  Over his last 4 starts, Jack has a 2.74 ERA over 23 innings with 26 strikeouts.  His last 4 opponents are hitting .182 against him.

Through the month of May, the 30 batters that swung at Flaherty’s first pitch ended up hitting .320.  On Saturday the 6 Cubs who chased after Jack’s first pitch finished 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts.

In fact, in that Saturday game Chicago’s hitters combined to go 0 for 11 when they swung at the first pitch.  For the series, the Cubs were just 3 for 32 (.094) in at bats where they swung at the first pitch (the major league average when swinging at the first pitch is .268).

John Gant

One of the bullpen heroes of the series, John Gant pitched in two of the games, winning the Saturday game and saving Sunday’s contest.  He allowed a walk, but retired the other five batters he faced.

John is on another streak of scoreless outings, as he has allowed no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks over his last 7 innings over 6 games.

Johnny has been much better than anyone could have expected.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks was the winner in the Friday game, pitching two innings.  He was brought back to save the Sunday game, but faltered.  Manager Mike Shildt says he isn’t concerned, but maybe he should be at least a little.

Hicks has now given runs in 3 of his last 6 games.  Over his last 5.2 innings, Jordan has given 6 runs on 7 hits and 5 walks.  The 29 batters he has faced over those appearances are hitting .292 against him – far too high for a kid who throws 104+.  With the walks, the recent on base percentage against him is .414.

Offensive Struggles

I began by referencing the recent offensive brown-out.  Even though the pitching (and defense, by the way) made what little offense they got stand up, the Cards have been a less than stellar offensive machine for quite a while now.

Over their last 16 games, this team is averaging 3.94 runs per game with a distressing .217 team batting average.

Kolten Wong

When Kolten Wong rolled to second in the second inning of the Friday game, he extended his current hitless streak to 22 at bats.

From that moment on, Wong owned the series as much as any non-pitcher could.  He got 6 hits in his last 9 at bats (two hits in each game), stole two bases, scored twice, drove in two – including the important first run in the Sunday game – and made the defensive play of the series to end the eighth inning of the Sunday game (you have probably seen the highlight of Wong racing almost into mid right-field and going full extension to gather in Anthony Rizzo’s soft liner.

Wong had himself a series.  Historically, Kolten is either icy-ice cold or broiling hot.  No one in this clubhouse would complain if Wong went on a substantial tear.

For the series, Wong was 2 for 4 in at bats where he swung at the first pitch.  For the season, that is when he is at his best.  He is still hitting .316 (18 for 57) when swinging at the first pitch.

Marcell Ozuna

Left fielder Marcell Ozuna didn’t get a hit in 3 at bats in the Sunday game, breaking a short but very loud five-game hitting streak.  During those previous 5 games, Marcell went 9 for 19 (.474).  He hit 2 home runs, drove in 6, and slugged .842.

Matt Carpenter

For much of the early season – for whatever reason – Matt Carpenter has been noticeably more aggressive on the first pitch.  In April, he chased the first pitch thrown him 22.4% of the time.  In May, it was 24.1%.  In all of this, the results weren’t much.

Lately, he has returned to the Matt Carpenter we remember, and his numbers have been steadily rising.  He had 10 plate appearances in the Cub series and took the first pitch 9 times.  He finished the series 3 for 9 with a walk.  Over his last 16 games, Matt has taken the first pitch thrown 81.7% of the time – and is slashing .310/.408/.548 when he does.

You would think this would make him all the more dangerous when he does swing at the first pitch, but that hasn’t materialized yet.  Over those same 16 games, Matt is slashing .200/.273/.500 in the plate appearances in which he chases that first pitch.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader hit a home run late in the Saturday game.  It was his only hit in the last two series (1 for 19 – .053).

Paul DeJong

And Paul DeJong’s tailspin continues.  He did get a late single in the Sunday game, but that represents only his second hit in his last 11 games (and 36 at bats).  Over the 16 games that the Cards have scuffled for runs, Paul is hitting .145 (8 for 55) with just 1 home run.

Paul swung at the first pitch only twice in his 11 plate appearances in the series.  In his red hot April, DeJong swung at the first pitch 24.3% of the time, and with devastating effect – a line of .438/.455/.719.

In May, he took the first pitch 86% of the time.  Over the last 16 games he has watched the first pitch 89.4% of the time – more frequently than Carpenter.

The numbers suggest a more timid approach at the plate, but that’s not what I see from him.  After his blazing April, pitchers seem much less anxious to challenge Paul early in the count.  He sees a great many first pitches just off the plate or just low – occasionally, these pitches cross the corners of the strike zone.

After they establish the outside, many pitchers are then able to jam DeJong later in the at bat.  They have had some success doing that.

Mostly, though, Paul appears to still be taking disciplined at bats.  I don’t see him chasing many pitches at all.  But he is missing his pitch when he gets it – or fouling it off.  Timing just a little off.  Or, when he does get into one, someone makes a great play on it – like Albert Almora did in the Saturday game.

DeJong, I think is close.  One thing he won’t have to worry about is opportunity.  As with Wong and Carpenter and all the other starters who went through extended slumps, he can depend that Shildt will continue to write his name on the lineup card even if he goes 2 for his next 50.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards did score first yesterday.  They have scored the first run in 5 of their last 7.

The Cardinals have won only 7 series all year, but 4 of them have now been by sweep.  Of the 5 series that St Louis was in position to sweep, only Washington – who faced a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cards – was able to avoid the redbird brooms.

The Cub series was also just the eighth series this year in which the Cards won the first game.  They are 5-3 in series when they win that first game.

With his 8 innings on Sunday, Adam Wainwright now has 66.1 on the season.  He pitched only 40.1 innings all last year.  He also now has 1,998.1 for his career – leaving him just 5 outs shy of 2000.

Cards Unable to Salvage Home Stand; Fall Back to .500

For a few hours on Sunday evening, it looked like the home stand might be salvaged.

Part of the early season Cardinal success was built on a terrific start at home.  After struggling a bit with San Diego in their season-opening series, St Louis won 11 of its next 13 home games.  As the wheels began to come off in May, though, they began to struggle at home as well.  A seven-game home stand against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh resulted in five losses.  This week, the Cardinals’ most recent home stand started to go south as well, as they lost two of the first three games.

Then, on Saturday evening, just as another loss seemed inevitable, the Cardinals suddenly put together a four-run eighth-inning rally – capped by Jedd Gyorko’s first home run of the season – to pull out a rousing 6-3 victory (box score).

And then, on Sunday evening, it looked for a while like it just might carry over.  A great start from Jack Flaherty and excellent bullpen work from John Gant and Carlos Martinez left the Cards one inning away from a 3-0 victory that would give them consecutive wins for the first time this month, their first series victory in nearly a month, and break a string of 5 consecutive losses in the third games of a series.

But, victory again proved elusive, and the talented young Atlanta team answered the Cardinals’ Saturday miracle with one of their own, earning a 4-3, 10-inning victory (box score).

In the aftermath, the bullpen found itself the focus of the discussion – and with good reason.  The pen worked just 8.2 innings during the series, but gave 7 runs on 13 hits and 8 walks, their 7.27 ERA accompanied by a .361/.477/.528 batting line against.

The less frequently told story, though, was the continued offensive decline.  In the Sunday finale, the Braves and their starter Julio Teheran repeatedly invited the Cards to blow the game open.  Julio and his four relievers walked 6 batters, hit two more, and allowed a wild pitch and three stolen bases while their defense added a couple of errors behind them.

St Louis put runners in scoring position in 5 of the first 7 innings.  At the end of the day, though, they managed just 3 hits – all singles – ending with just the three runs.

The fading Cardinal offense finished the three games against the Braves with a .192 team batting average and just 3 extra-base hits – scoring just 11 runs in the three games.

For the five-game home stand (in which they finished 2-3) they hit just .216.  From the start of the losing trend, this team is hitting .233 – just .226 in the last 12 home games.

Matt Carpenter

The Brave series wasn’t devoid of good news.  One of the more interesting developments was the re-positioning of Matt Carpenter deeper in the lineup (he hit fifth during the series).  This is not the first time something like this has been contemplated.  Carpenter has batted lower before, but always without any tangible results.

This time, though, Matt responded quite well over the weekend, going 6 for 12 with a home run and 3 runs batted in against Atlanta.

Paul Goldschmidt

The Paul Goldschmidt eruption that everyone has been waiting for has not yet occurred.  Paul had no extra-base hits, and drove in just 1 run during the recent home stand.  But, Paul did have seven hits in the 5 games, including a 5-for-11 performance (.455) against the Braves.

While the last 12 home games have not gone well for the Cards, Goldschmidt s hitting .354 (17 for 48) in his home games this month.  Again, though, the extra-base hits and runs batted in have been conspicuously missing.  His 17 home hits include 1 double and 1 home run.  He has driven in 5 runs in 12 home games this month.

Harrison Bader

Of the Cardinals’ four “starting” outfielders, the only one hitting the ball right now is Harrison Bader.  He went 3 for 9 against the Braves.  Harrison has started 6 times over his last 8 games, hitting .440 (11 for 25) over that period. He is hitting .306 this month (15 for 49), and .322 (19 for 59) in the 26 games since he returned from a hamstring issue.

Marcell Ozuna

After a great start to the home stand against Kansas City, Marcell Ozuna was one of many Cardinals to dry up against Atlanta.  He finished the series with 1 single in 11 at bats (.091).  During the 6-16 slide, Ozuna has started every game, batting fourth and playing left field.  He is hitting .172 (15 for 87) in those games.

Marcell hit well enough at Busch during his first season as a Cardinal (.299 with 13 home runs).  He has been less comfortable at home this year.  In his 12 home games this month, Marcell is hitting .149 (7 for 47) with just 1 home run.  For the season, he is a .196 hitter at home (19 for 97), although 12 of those hits are for extra-bases, including 6 home runs.

Hitless Against Atlanta

In the detritus of the Brave series are a trio of regulars who failed to get a hit.  Newly promoted to the leadoff spot, Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch in each game – the only times he reached base in the series.  Otherwise, he was 0-for-10 with 5 strikeouts.

Number three hitter Paul DeJong was also 0-for-10, and eighth-place hitter Kolten Wong never reached base (except by error) in his 13 plate appearances.  Toss in Jose Martinez – who made one start and went 0-for-4, and these four Cardinals combined for an 0-for-37 series.

By contrast, Yairo Munoz – who is hitting .342 (albeit in very part time play – watched every at bat of the series from the bench.

Fowler

Fowler’s has been one of the missing bats this month.  He is still reaching base – he’s had 13 walks and now 4 hit-by-pitches this month, but is hitting just .193 (11 for 57) in May.

Dexter is 6 for 32 (.188) at home.

DeJong

With his 0-for-10 series against Atlanta, Paul DeJong finished off a hitless home stand (0-for-15).  His overall hitless streak has now reached 18 at bats since a two-run, first-inning double against Texas lefty Drew Smyly on the nineteenth.  Paul has slipped below .300 for the season, and is now hitting .224 (17 for 76) in May.

Paul is 5 for 37 (.135) with 1 home run and 4 runs batted in in 12 home games this month.

Wong

Kolten is now down to .226 for the season, and .171 (13 for 76) for the month.  He is hitless in six of his last seven games.

The upcoming road trip – brief though it is – may be a blessing for Kolten.  He has had a great season on the road (.312/.418/.558), but has done nothing but struggle at Busch, where he is 14 of 91 (.154) with only 5 extra-base hits (4 doubles and a home run).

Cheers for the Rotation

If the bullpen and the offense came up measurably short over the weekend, the efforts of the starters in those games deserves recognition.  Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty each tossed quality starts at the Braves, while they combined to pitch 19.1 innings allowing only 5 runs on 15 hits and just 2 walks.  The starters limited a dangerous Atlanta lineup to a 2.33 ERA and a .217 batting average.

Cardinal starters now have 9 quality starts in the last 14 games.

All season, the starters have been much more solid at home than on the road.  They now have a 3.56 ERA in 28 starts in their own ballpark, against a 5.88 ERA in 24 road starts.

Mikolas

Few pitchers personify the radical home/road splits of the starting rotation more graphically than Mikolas.  Miles has pitched at home 3 times this month, throwing quality starts in each occasion.   He has walked just 1 batter in 21 innings at home in May, while posting a 2.14 ERA and a .178 batting average against.

For the season at home, Miles had quality starts in 5 of 6 starts, a 3-3 record, a 3.15 ERA and a .196 batting average against.  He has walked 5 batters in 40 home innings.

On the road this year, Mikolas has had a tougher time of things, with 1 quality starts in his 5 road efforts leading to a 1-2 record, a 7.66 ERA, and a .350/.387/.650 batting line against.  In 22.1 road innings, Miles has been spanked for 35 hits, including 7 home runs.

Hudson

Dakota Hudson has been one of the most encouraging stories of the month.  Dakota approaches his last start this month riding a streak of three consecutive quality starts.  He has 4 quality starts in 5 games this month, where he holds a 3.07 ERA.  Dakota has allowed just one home run in his last 6 games (35 innings) – a span during which opposing hitters are hitting the ball on the ground 64 % of the time.

Hudson also has significant home/road splits.  He is 2-1 with a 3.58 ERA in 6 home starts, and 1-2 with a 5.23 ERA in 5 road games (4 starts), but that number has been modifying this month.  His first two road starts in May were both impressive.  He lost 2-1 in Washington on May 2, but gave the team 6 innings, allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits.  He got the only win in the Texas series on May 18, going 6.1 more innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits.

Flaherty

Jack Flaherty also has now thrown three consecutive quality starts of increasing dominance.  On Sunday night against the Braves, Jack threw six innings of 3-hit, shutout ball, walking no one and striking out 7.  Flaherty has a 2.50 ERA and a .172 batting average against over his last 3 starts.

Flaherty – whose next start will be at home against the Cubs – is 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 6 home starts.  He is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in 5 road starts.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller eventually surrendered the tying run Sunday night.  It was almost impossible not to.  He came in with the tying run at third and no one out.  He got the first strikeout, but couldn’t get the second.  Ozzie Albies won a ten-pitch duel with Miller by poking a game-tying single into right.

Miller, was, however, the winning pitcher on Saturday night, and has been steadily getting better.  In 10 innings over his last 11 games, Andrew holds a 1.80 ERA and a .188/.235/.281 batting line against.  He has also struck out 12 in those 10 innings.

Jordan Hicks

After picking up his first save of the month on Saturday, Jordan Hicks was back to the mound in the ninth inning Sunday night.  It was the first time he pitched on consecutive days this month.  He retired none of the four batters he faced.  Jordan was also the losing pitcher in the last game of the Texas series, when he allowed 2 runs in 1.1 innings.

Over his last three games, Hicks has now allowed 5 runs on 6 hits in 2.1 innings.  The last 15 batters to face him are hitting .462.  On the last 23 swings taken against the kid with the 102 mph fastball, there has only been one swing-and-miss.

NoteBook

Friday’s loser, Miles Mikolas – although he pitched quite well – absorbed his fifth defeat of the season, tying his career high.  He lost only 4 times in all of 2018.  He also allowed 2 more home runs, bringing him to 12 already this season in just 62.1 innings.  He served up 16 all of last year in 200.2 innings.

Also, in the Friday game, Matt Carpenter launched a ninth-inning home run that accounted for the five-hundredth run batted in of his career – just the fifteenth of this season.  Carpenter has hit at least 21 home runs a year for the last 4 years, but (because he has mostly hit leadoff) has never driven in more than 84 runs a year.  This year, he is on pace to finish with 49 runs batted in.  It would be his lowest total since driving in 46 back in 2012.

Sunday’s loss ended up taking 4:07 to finally unravel.  It was the Cardinal’s second four hour game this season, and their longest game at home.   On April 1 in Pittsburgh it took them 4:50 and 11 innings to finally subdue the Pirates 6-5.

Next up are the Phillies, who – in spite of their loss on Sunday – took two of three from Milwaukee.  Over the Cardinals’ last 8 series, Philadelphia will be the sixth team that they have faced that won its previous series.

Cards Ride Another Big RISP Night to a Win in Atlanta

It was last Thursday that your St Louis Cardinals put on one of the most impressive displays of batsmanship with runners in scoring position (RISP) in their recent history.  Finishing the game with 25 at bats with runners in scoring position, the Cards slapped out 11 hits (none of them home runs).  They ground the Pittsburgh Pirates that evening to the tune of 17-4.

Last night in Atlanta, it looked like a similar team taking the field.  They rode a 6-for-10 RISP performance to a 14-3 win.

The Cards are now hitting .292/.397/.491 this month with runners in scoring position, and rank second in the National League and fifth in all of baseball, hitting .278 on the season in these situations.

The Cardinals have now had 13 games this season with at least 10 RISP at bats, hitting over .400 in those at bats in three of them (they were also 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position in a 13-5 battering of Milwaukee on April 22).

It’s a great skill to have – getting that hit with the ducks on the pond (as they say).  But this number also shows the all-or-nothing nature of the Cardinal offense of late.  In the three games after the bludgeoning of Pittsburgh (all losses to the Pirates) St Louis was just 3-for-21 (.143) with runners in scoring position.

Yadier Molina

Among the offensive heroes of the night – as usual these days – was catcher Yadier Molina.  He finished with a double and a three-run home run (one of three, three-run homers hit by St Louis on the night).  Especially lately, I’m not sure that there is anyone that I would rather have at the plate than Yadi.  He has now hit safely in 6 of his last 8 games, going 11-for-30 (.367).  Five of those 11 hits have been for extra bases, and he has driven home 7 runs in the 8 games while slugging .667.

Yadi is up to .333 for the month (15-for-45) with 10 runs batted in in 13 games (12 starts).

Molina’s home run came on his only plate appearance of the game with runners in scoring position.  He is now 6 for 13 (.462) this month in RISP opportunities.  For the season, Molina is hitting .395 (17 for 43) with runners in scoring position.

Dexter Fowler

In mid-April manager Mike Shildt moved Dexter Fowler from sixth to seventh in the lineup, and Fowler has thrived there.  He singled, homered, and walked twice last night, and is now hitting .368 (25 for 68) in the 22 games since the move.  He has also drawn 13 walks and has been hit by pitches twice – leading to a .482 on base percentage.

Jack Flaherty

Gradually but surely, the Cardinal starters are serving up fewer home runs.  In April, the starters served up 34 home runs in 151 innings – 2.03 per nine innings.  The April batting average against the St Louis rotation was .264 – unexpectedly high against a good-stuff rotation.

Thus far in May, only 6 home runs have been hit against Cardinal starters in 76.1 innings – just 0.71 per nine innings.  The batting average against these starters has also fallen to a more expected .241.

Jack Flaherty has been prominent in both trends.  Jack allowed only 3 hits and no home runs over his six innings.  He has now allowed just 1 home run over his last 4 starts (23.2 innings), while holding opposing batters to a .185 batting average.  Walks have been a problem for him recently, though.  He walked 5 last night and has walked 12 over his last 16.2 innings.

While Cardinal batsmen have done well – mostly – in RISP situations, of late the Cardinal pitchers have not been so fortunate.  One of the numbers underpinning the 4-9 start to the month of May has been a general inability to get people out with runners in scoring position.

Atlanta scored 3 runs last night on only 3 hits because they were 2-for-4 against Flaherty in RISP situations.  Thus far in May, opposing hitters are 5 for 12 (.417) against Flaherty with runners in scoring position, and 28 for 81 (.346) against the entire staff in those situations.

NoteBook

Marcell Ozuna’s first-inning home run held up as the game-winning-hit – his sixth this season.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.

With his 3-run homer in the ninth, Kolten Wong now has 22 runs batted in this year.  He had 38 all of last year.  His career high is just the 61 he drove in in 2015.

Kolten has also already drawn 20 walks this year.  Last year he walked only 31 times, and has never walked more than 41 times in a season.

Third Inning Woes Bedevil Flaherty and the Cards

The tone for the weekend was set on Friday afternoon.  To be precise in the third inning.

Jack Flaherty drew the assignment for the first game of the series, and through two innings it looked like the Cubs might be in trouble.  Jack struck out a couple in the first, stranding a runner, and then struck out the first two batters in the second.  After Kyle Schwarber walked, a harmless ground ball off the bat of Jason Heyward ended the inning.  Game scoreless after two.

All season so far, the thorn in the Cardinal side has been the starting pitching.  And the usually critical inning has been that third inning as the top of the order gets its second look at the pitcher.  That happened again to St Louis on Friday afternoon.

After Flaherty struck out opposing pitcher Kyle Hendricks, he walked Daniel Descalso – albeit, yes, one of those balls should have been called a strike.  After a passed ball, another walk put two runners on base for Anthony Rizzo.

Two pitches later, Rizzo was trotting around the bases, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead and would never look back in the game (which they would win 4-0 – box score) and the series (which they would sweep in three games).

Beyond the damaging third, Jack would pitch well.  He would even strike out 9 over his 5.2 innings.  The walks that preceded the home run would also be a theme throughout the series, as Cardinal pitchers would walk 14 Cub batters (2 intentionally) in 24 innings.  It all made for a less-than-competitive series.

The Dangerous Third and Fourth Innings

Throughout recent baseball history, the most dangerous inning has typically been the sixth.  That is the inning that a starter may suddenly tire, and the inning before the back-of-the-bullpen arms usually come into play.  To an extent, that is true again this season.  The league ERA in the sixth is a fairly high 4.63 (according to baseball reference), and the major league batting line in the sixth sits at .248/.326/.432.  By season’s end, the sixth may regain its position as the most offensive inning.

For the moment, though, it only ranks as the third most offensive inning behind the third (4.79 ERA) and the fourth (4.73) as all over baseball offenses are beginning to adjust to that starter the second time through the order.

In few places has the carnage of the third inning been felt more than in St Louis, where Cardinal starters have now served up 11 home runs and 28 runs.  Their season ERA in that inning – after 34 games – is an unsettling 7.15, and the batting line against is an equally distasteful .281/.389/.578.

Most of the Cardinal issue of playing from behind too early in games springs from distinct third-inning difficulties.  In Flaherty’s case, half of his 8 home runs allowed have come in that inning, where he carries a 14.85 ERA.  He has yet to allow a run in either of the first two innings this season.  In those 14 innings (7 first innings and 7 second innings), Jack has surrendered just 10 hits – all singles – while striking out 14.  From the fourth inning on, Jack does well enough, with a 3.38 ERA, a .233 batting average against, and a .266 on base percentage against.  He has struck out 19 in the 16 innings represented by his efforts in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

If we could just figure out a way to get him through that nettlesome third.

Questions of Character

Obviously, it is easy enough to make way too much of three games in early May.  In many ways, this situation is not unlike the early season matchups with the Brewers.  As Milwaukee won 5 of the first 7, it would have been easy to say that the Brewers were clearly the better team.  St Louis won the last three games between those teams, and has since evened the series.  A similar thing could happen down the line with the Cubs.

Here’s the thing, though.  Beginning with the playoff series between these teams after the 2015 season, the Cubs have dominated this matchup (see accompanying chart) to the tune of a .609 winning percentage. 

Year Cubs Cards Pct
2015 3 1 .750
2016 10 9 .526
2017 14 5 .737
2018 9 10 .474
2019 3 0 1.000
       
  39 25 .609

This decided advantage has less to do with the talent differential between these two teams than it is a matter of character.  The last 64 games between these two franchises has left the indelible impression that the Cubs are tougher mentally than their St Louis counterparts.  Nowhere was that more evident than in the big September showdown in 2017.

There were 12 games left in the season, and St Louis went into Chicago trailing by just three.  Seven of those final 12 would be between the Cards and the Cubs (the last 4 at home), effectively affording St Louis every opportunity to claim the division.

The Cubs swept the first three in Chicago.  By the time the series returned to St Louis, the Cards were already pretty much out of contention – trailing by 6 with 7 to play.  But Chicago won 3 of those 4 anyway.

The organization has spent the last three off-seasons lusting after that “impact” bat.  But there is no evidence, yet, that they have at all answered the character gap that exists between them and their rivals from the North.

After the Cards were dominated in the opener of this series, President John Mozeliak was quoted as saying, “The good news for baseball is that the Cubs and the Cardinals are good.  That’s good for the game.”

The Cubs clearly are good.  The Cardinals still have a lot to prove in that regard – at least if “good” means good enough to actually compete with the Cubs.  For anyone who saw the Sunday night debacle (box score), it make take a while to convince them of St Louis’ legitimacy.

John Gant

John Gant allowed his first inherited runner of the season to score in the Sunday blowout.  He also struck out another batter, and fanned 4 in his 2 innings over the weekend.  Gant has struck out 9 over his last 5 innings.

Dominic Leone

As it was last Friday against Cincinnati, so it was Sunday night against the Cubs.  It was Dominic Leone on the mound when the game spun out of control.  He surrendered 6 ninth-inning runs to the Reds, to pad a 12-1 loss.  The Cubs stuck him with 6 more in their eighth inning to turn a 7-2 game into a 13-2 laugher.

Through his first 11 games, Dominic held a 1.64 ERA and a .111 opponent’s batting average.  Over his last 4.2 innings he has been bashed to the tune of 14 runs on 14 hits – a 27.00 ERA.  The last 32 batters he has faced hold a .500/.563/.929 batting line against him.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler lost some starts recently to a bout with an illness, but he continues to hit.  He came off the bench to deliver a single on Friday, and added another hit Sunday afternoon.  Over his last 19 games, Dexter is hitting .383 (23 for 60).

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt managed two quiet singles in the Sunday blow-out.  They were his only hits in the series. Paul has not yet reached his comfort level at the plate for his new team.  After a 2-for-13 series in Chicago, Goldschmidt is hitting .211 (4-for-19) for the early part of May.  All his hits have been singles, and he has no walks to go with 8 strikeouts, so his whole batting line for the month so far is .211/.211/.211 (with a double play and a caught stealing).

His hits Sunday came in his first two at bats, in the first and third innings.  For the series, from the fourth inning on, Paul was 0-for-8 with 4 strikeouts.  Paul has not yet been much of a late-inning presence for the Cards.  From the seventh-inning on this season, Goldschmidt is 7 for 40 (.175).

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong’s tailspin continues.  Hitless in 4 at bats yesterday, Wong has dropped to .248 for the season.  He was 1-for-9 against the Cubs, and is 2-for-17 (.118) this month so far.

Conquest of Reds Closes Out 7-2 Home Stand

Home has not always been where the heart is for the St Louis Cardinals over recent seasons.  In fact, during their three-year playoff absence, one of the galling factors has been their struggles at home.

Through the first 16 years of this century (2000-2015), the Cardinals were 835-519 (.617) at home (counting playoffs).  During that same span (including playoffs) they were only 694-668 (.510) on the road.

Over the last three seasons, though, that home field advantage has all but completely disappeared.  Between 2016 and 2018, your Cardinals have played just .514 ball at home (125-118).  This number includes the only season in this century when the Cards finished with a losing record at home (38-43 in 2016).  During those same seasons, they are 132-111 (.543) on the road.

The most apparent reason for the home issues seems to be the largeness of the ballpark.  Busch has always played large – especially as far as getting baseballs to sail over the wall.  As the Cardinals have become more and more reliant on the home run ball over the last few years, they have – at times – seemed out of place in their own ballpark.

From 2000-2015, St Louis averaged 4.75 runs per game at home and 4.73 runs per game on the road.  Home runs still came easier on the road (1 for every 31.93 at bats, vs 1 per 34.11 at bats at home), but a more diversified Cardinal offense was capable of finding other ways to score.  Over those 16 seasons, they hit 173 more home runs on the road (1492) than at home (1319) – an average of 10.8 more home runs on the road than at home per season.

Since 2015, The Cards have averaged 4.38 runs per game at home, against 5.08 runs per game on the road.  While they have improved to 1 home run per 28.92 at bats at home, those blasts are still significantly easier away from Busch – where St Louis managed a home run every 24.37 at bats.  Over the last three years they hit 72 more home runs on the road (349) than they did at home (243) – an average of 24 more road homers than home runs in their home park each year.

So, one of the most encouraging notes of the very early season has been the Cardinals prowess at home.  Sunday’s 5-2 conquest of Cincinnati (box score) concluded a 7-2 home stand that pushed the Cards to 12-4 at home so far this season.

The early results shows no more success hitting the ball out of their home park than in any past season.  In fact – if anything – the home runs at home have regressed a bit so far in 2019.  In the first 16 home games, the Cards have managed just 16 home runs – 1 every 32.44 at bats.  They have been home run machines on the road.  In 11 road games they have driven 23 balls over the wall – 1 every 17.17 at bats.

But – as a team – the Cards are hitting .277 at home, scoring 5.69 runs per game.  During the just-completed home stand, St Louis collected 90 hits and scored 54 runs while hitting just 9 home runs during the 9 games.  But they managed 6 runs per game on the strength of their .302 team batting average.

In spite of the home runs, St. Louis is hitting just .258 on the road, scoring a still-impressive 5.27 runs per game.

Yes, the season is still very, very young, and this is a trend that could completely disappear as the season rolls on.  The early read on this team is that they will certainly hit their share of home runs.  But this edition of the Cardinals may not be as dependent on the long ball as some of their predecessors.  That would be a huge step in the right direction for this franchise.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter – bedeviled for most of the season by the shifts that he has been trying to hit against – has picked up a few hits to the other side in recent games – some on bunts and some on floaters into short left.  This part remains a work in progress (Carpenter doesn’t have an extra-base hit in his last 7 games).  But the on-base part of his game is definitely coming back.  He has drawn 6 walks (and scored 6 runs) over his last 5 games – a span during which he holds a .455 on base percentage.  He was 2 for 5 against the Reds with 3 walks – reaching base in 5 of his 8 plate appearances.

In his first 61 plate appearances at home, Matt holds a .393 on base percentage.  All of his first three home runs this season have come on the road.

Dexter Fowler

The Dexter Fowler resurgence continued over the weekend against the Reds.  Dexter went 3 for 8 with 3 walks – a .583 on base percentage during the series.  Dexter basically tore things up during the home stand.  In his 32 plate appearances, Fowler contributed 7 singles, 3 doubles, 1 home run, 5 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, 5 walks and a hit-by-pitch.  This translates to a .423/.531/.654 batting line – a 1.185 OPS.

Dexter has hit in 13 of his last 15 games, batting .396 (21 for 53) with 6 multi-hit games.  He is also now hitting .333 at home (15 for 45) so far this year.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez wrapped up a 3-for-9 series against Cincinnati with 2 hits and the game-winning RBI on Sunday.  Finding his way back into the starting lineup, Jose has now started 11 consecutive games, and is hitting .400 (16 for 40) in that span.  In the 9 games of the home stand, Jose hit .438 (14 for 32).

Martinez is now the Cardinals’ leading hitter at home.  He is a .435 hitter (20 for 46) at his home ballpark.  Up next for Jose is a road trip into Washington and Chicago.  His early season struggles mostly came on the road.  In his first 24 road plate appearances, Jose has managed just 3 singles and 1 double, while striking out 9 times and grounding into 2 double plays.  Martinez carries 3 runs batted in and a road batting line of .167/.167/.208 into tonight’s contest against the Nationals.

Paul DeJong

Going 4 for 12 against the Reds, Paul DeJong has now pushed his hitting streak to 8 games.  Paul is hitting .382 (13 for 34) during the streak, with 6 of those hits going for extra-bases (5 doubles and a home run) – a .618 slugging percentage.

DeJong now carries a .397 batting average at home (25 of 63) with 13 extra-base hits (10 doubles, 1 triple and 2 home runs) – a .683 slugging percentage.  In just 48 road at bats, DeJong has 3 road home runs.

Kolten Wong

Not everyone prospered during the Cincinnati series.  After a very hot start, Kolten Wong continued to regress to his norms.  Wong finished the series just 2 for 11.  It has been 9 games since his last multi-hit game.  In that span, Kolten is hitting just .167 (5 for 30).  Only one of those hits (yesterday’s double) was for extra-bases.

Wong might be one of the few Cardinals looking forward to the road trip.  Almost all of his early success came away from Busch.  After this last home stand, Wong is now a .154 hitter in his home park (8 for 52).  His 8 hits include only 2 for extra-bases (both doubles), for a .192 slugging percentage.

On the road (through 11 games) it has been a different story for Kolten.  In his 44 plate appearances away from home, Wong has achieved 8 singles, 2 doubles, 1 triple, all 4 of his home runs, 7 walks (1 intentional) 2 hit-by-pitches, and 3 stolen bases.  Kolten has driven in 10 runs while grounding into no double plays in his 11 road games.  His batting line there is an impressive .429/.545/.886.

Pitching Better than the Numbers Suggest

In the conquest of the Reds, the Cardinal pitching numbers continued to suffer.  Cincinnati finished the set hitting 5 more home runs and scoring 17 runs – leaving the Birds with a 5.67 team ERA for the series.  The numbers – of course – are skewed by the beating the team took on Friday night – a 12-1 shellacking (box score) that featured all five of the home runs Cincy hit this weekend. 

In truth, the series showcased some of the finest Cardinal pitching to date.  Subtract three pitchers who struggled (Miles Mikolas, Dominic Leone and Tyler Webb) and the rest of the pitching staff posted a 1.33 ERA over 20.1 innings.

The 73 batters who faced the rest of the staff managed just 12 singles, 1 double, 3 walks, 1 sacrifice hit and 1 sacrifice fly – a .188/.219/.203 batting line.

Over the course of the home stand, the starters (3.73 ERA) out-performed the bullpen (4.75 ERA) for one of the few times this season.  During the upcoming road trip, the starters will be very much under the microscope.  In the early days of the season, they have been very much Jekyll and Hyde.  They are 9-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a .240 opponent batting average at home.  They are 1-4 on the road (for a 5-6 Cardinal road team).  They have served up 17 home runs in 52 road innings while struggling to a 6.58 ERA, a .307 batting average against, and a .628 slugging percentage against.

This will be a big opportunity for them.

Jack Flaherty

The clear pitching highlight for the weekend was the effort of Sunday’s starter – right-hander Jack Flaherty.  A revelation last year, Jack has been as inconsistent as most of the Cardinal rotation.  But on Sunday he shut out Cincinnati on 4 hits over his 7 innings, walking just 1.

Flaherty is now 3-0 at home with a 1.88 ERA.  He has walked just 4 batters in his 24 home innings, holding the rest to a .184 batting average.

Jordan Hicks

Closer Jordan Hicks came in to a 2-0 game in the eighth inning – ostensibly to record a four-out save.  After St Louis added three runs in the bottom of the eighth, Hicks was removed – as the game seemed well under control (it would get more interesting at the end).

Nonetheless, Jordan finished the series pitching in both the Saturday and Sunday games, retiring all four batters faced (with two strikeouts) and claiming a save (on Saturday) and a hold (on Sunday).  Hicks has been good all year long – but especially at home where he is 6-for-6 in save opportunities and has surrendered just one run in 6 innings.  Batters are hitting just .105 against him at home.

Dominic Leone

Dominic Leone, with a second chance to make a first impression, was really having a terrific year.  Having lost almost his entire first season in St Louis to injury, Dominic’s first 11 appearances of 2019 hinted at the pitcher the Cardinals believed they were signing.  After 11 innings, Leone held a 1.64 ERA and a .111 batting average against.

He appeared in two of the weekend games against the Reds and was batted around.  He entered the ninth inning of the first game, trailing 6-1.  Thirty-four pitches later, he left the mound trailing 12-1 with still only two outs in the inning.

He returned for Sunday’s ninth inning, this time holding a 5-0 lead.  Again, he couldn’t finish the inning as he gave hits to 3 of the 5 batters he faced and turned the game over to John Gant with the Cards still holding a 5-2 lead.  In all, he faced 14 batters over the two games who hit .692 against him and slugged 1.154.

It is hoped that these two nights against Cincinnati were a blip.  But his next trip out of the pen will certainly be worth noting.

Finished Birds Show Much Promise

The bottom – when it fell out – fell quickly.  A sensation in August (winning 22 of 28 games), the now very young St Louis Cardinals unraveled in September.  Entering the month, they sported the National League’s second best record, and sat just 3.5 games behind the Cubs for the league’s best mark.  At that point, they were a half-game ahead of Milwaukee for the first wildcard spot, and 3 games ahead of the Dodgers for the last playoff spot.

But at the first hint of September in the air, the delicate flower began to fold.  After winning two of three in early September from Washington, they were still third in the league (and the division) and still had a two-game grip on the last playoff spot.  As they began their last home stand, they still had control of their own destiny – holding that last spot, still, by 1.5 games.

As Milwaukee came into town – with six games left in the season – St Louis sat 87-69, not only still 1.5 games ahead for the second wildcard, but just two behind those Brewers for first wildcard, and just 4.5 behind the Cubs (who they would end the season against) for the potential division title.

The remarkable August had offered them no shortfall of opportunities.

All of these finally wound to an end in the pre-October chill of Wrigley Field as the too young Cardinals were exposed again by the Cubs, 10-5 (box score).  The loss finished a string where the baby birds lost 5 of their last 6 (and that on the heels of a three-game winning streak), 12 of the last 22 following the Washington series, and 15 of the 27 games in September.  Needless to point out, they will not be one of the clubs who will be playing in October.

It is easy, at the end, to be disappointed – and even easier to see where this club needs to get better.  And in future posts, we will look at all of this.  But I think, if we can take a step back and look at this little run in totality, I think we would have to admit that this not-quite-ready-for-prime-time team did more than hold its own.

Remember that of those 16 critical end-of-season games, only 3 were played against a team (San Francisco) that did not make the playoffs.  Of their 27 September games, 19 were against teams that finished with winning records.  Of the 68 games they played after the All-Star Break, fully 50 were against teams that finished the season over .500.  They were 29-21 in those games.  For the season, they lined up 93 times against teams that won more than they lost this year.  Through myriad injuries and significant upheaval, the 2018 St Louis Cardinals fought their way to a 50-43 record against these opponents.

Yes, at the end of the day, the youngsters – the pitchers especially – were not up to the September challenge.  But there was certainly enough promise on display to paint a very hopeful picture for much winning in 2019 and beyond.

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty’s tremendous rookie season ended with something of a thud.  He lasted just 2.2 innings during the finale, serving up 4 runs on 4 hits.  His September ended with just 1 quality start in his last six, an 0-3 record, 18 walks and 2 hit batsmen in his 28.2 innings, and a 5.34 ERA.  There are better things ahead for young Mr Flaherty.  In spite of his shaky September, Jack started 19 games this season against teams that would win more than they lose.  His record in those games was only 5-7, but with a 3.35 ERA and a .198 batting average against.  He struck out 124 in 102 innings – 10.94 per nine innings against winning teams.

Jack is an arm to keep an eye on for next year.

As for his recent struggles, they pretty much mirrored the entire rotation this month.  Cardinal starters finished the month with a 4.60 ERA and just 7 quality starts among their 27 games.

Bullpen Sputters to the End.

The game was still close when Mike Shildt went to get Flaherty.  It was just 3-2 Chicago at the time.  So one last time, for 2018 anyway, Shildt entrusted the game to his bullpen.  The results were consistent with the performance through the rest of this month.  Five-and-a-third innings later, Chicago – in addition to scoring one of the runners that Flaherty had left on base – had scored 6 additional runs (4 earned) on 8 hits – including 3 doubles and a home run – and 3 walks.  Even though the offense eventually scrapped its way to 5 runs of their own, they were never really in it once the pen took over.

The September numbers tell the story.  In 104.1 innings (almost 4 a game), the Cardinal bullpen gave 71 runs (58 earned) on 111 hits including 15 home runs.  They also walked 68 batters.  They finished the month with a 5.00 ERA, a .275 batting average against, and a .376 on base percentage against.

In the 19 games against winning teams that St Louis played last month, the bullpen vulnerability was even more pronounced.  In their 72.2 innings against the Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers, Braves, Brewers and Cubs, St Louis relievers gave 61 runs (49 earned) on 88 hits (including 12 home runs) and 53 walks.  Their 6.07 ERA in those contests was accompanied by a .299/.403/.510 batting line against – a cool .913 OPS.

The bullpen was a concern going into last off-season.  It will be again.

Austin Gomber

Austin Gomber’s trajectory – and season’s end, for that matter – closely mirror that of Flaherty.  Another of the August revelations, Gomber served up 4 runs of his own in two relief innings in the finale.  His damage included allowing his fourth home run in his last 10.2 innings.  Austin ended September with a 9.15 ERA in 19.2 innings that included a batting line against of .356/.408/.578.

TylerWebb

The season’s last two runs allowed were charged to Tyler Webb.  They were both unearned.  All of the last 5 runs that Tyler allowed this year were unearned.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson did finally get the last out of the sixth inning – but not until after he had allowed both inherited runs to score.  Ten of the last 13 runners that Hudson (a starter in the minors) has inherited have scored.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez finished his first season as an April-September (mostly) every-day player with two more hits and a walk.  Martinez came down the stretch with hits in 9 of his last 11 games, getting two hits in six of them.  In those critical games against Atlanta, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Chicago, Jose hit .357 (15 for 42).

Martinez is another interesting decision that the front office will have to make this offseason.  He is no spring chicken (Jose is 30), his power is good but not great (he hit 17 home runs), and he is a shaky defender – although much better in the outfield than at first base.  There is talk of moving him to an American League team where he can DH, but he doesn’t hit for enough power to truly profile as the DH type.

That would also leave right field open, so the Cards would open the season with either Tyler O’Neill, Dexter Fowler, or some combination of both in right.  Unless, of course, they could sign Bryce Harper – something I would have to see to believe.

One thing to keep in mind with Jose.  He led the team in batting average after the All-Star break, as he hit 318 (69 for 217).  He hit .333 after the break last year (49 for 147) which would have led the team if he had gotten a regular’s at bats.

Moreover, he hit .344 (52 of 151) in his 46 second half games against winning teams.  At this point, I’m not convinced that the Cards are a better team without him.

Paul DeJong

Wading through a difficult season, Paul DeJong did, at least, end on a high note.  With his two hits in the finale, Paul ended his season with hits in 4 straight games, and in 12 of his last 13.  For the streak, he hit .302 (16 for 53) with 6 doubles and a couple of home runs.  He drove in 11 runs and slugged .528 over those last 13 games.

Patrick Wisdom

A little too old, perhaps, to be considered a true prospect, Patrick Wisdom (now 27) turned some heads with his bat over the last few weeks of the season.  Whether he has an organizational fit or not makes for a good question, but he certainly took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves.  With his two hits yesterday, Wisdom finished 7 of his last 18 (.389). 

Also intriguing about Wisdom is that his production went up against the better teams.  It’s a decidedly small sample size, but in his 24 games against winning teams, Wisdom hit .323 (10 of 31) with a double and 3 home runs.  He drove in 8 runs in those 31 at bats and slugged .645 against the league’s better teams.

Wisdom is yet another intriguing piece of the Cardinal future.  That last week of the season confirmed that the future isn’t quite now for this team.  But August wasn’t a complete mirage.

The future here is soon.

NoteBook

From the point where they removed the “interim” label from Shildt’s job title, St Louis went 15-16.

Offense, Bullpen Continue to Fade

It was, in many way, the kind of game that Mike Matheny would have felt right at home in.  It was, in fact, a microcosm of the season’s first half.  The blueprint went like this: a more than credible effort from the starting pitcher, undermined by an overmatched offense that spent the game waving at breaking pitches out of the strike zone, with any hope of victory dashed at the end by bullpen shenanigans.

In particular, Jack Flaherty gave the Cardinals – struggling to cling to a playoff spot – all that the team could ask for.  After six excellent innings, Jack left the game having allowed just one run.

It would be more than his offense would manage all night – and almost more hits that his offense would garner in the game.  The close game then slipped away as two more runs scored over the last three innings, and the Dodgers finished erasing St Louis’ wildcard lead with a 3-0 victory (box score).  The game featured two Cardinal singles and 10 Cardinal strikeouts.

Throughout the amazing month of August (during which the bullpen posted a 2.82 ERA and a .214 batting average against), Cardinal relievers worked a total of 92.2 innings, allowing a total of 30 runs and 6 home runs.  The two runs allowed by the pen last night, bring their September total to 31 runs allowed, and the home run launched by Yasiel Puig off of Tyler Webb was the eighth allowed already by the bullpen this month in just 50.1 innings.

The St Louis bullpen now boasts an ERA of 5.01 in September, with a .289/.374/.489 slash line  If you are looking for the biggest difference between the 22-6 Cardinals of August and the 5-8 Cardinals of early September, the bullpen would be where you would start.

Flaherty

The inadequacies of the team, though, cannot dim another excellent performance by young Jack Flaherty.  Not quite to his 23rd birthday, Flaherty, at least, has come down the stretch pitching like a champion.  With 6 more innings of 4-hit, 8-strikeout ball, Jack has reduced his second half ERA to 2.42 over 63.1 innings in 11 starts.  Opponents have hit .167 against him since the break, while he has piled up 81 strikeouts – 11.51 per 9 innings.  While the Cardinals seem to be fading fast, the future is still very bright for this organization – and nowhere more bright than the right arm and competitive nature of Jack Flaherty.

With those strikeouts, it should come as no surprise that Jack has the team’s best swing-and-miss ratio.  Last night, the Dodgers missed on 18 of the 47 swings they took against him (38.3%).  Since the All-Star break, batters miss 32.8% of the time that they swing against him, and 30.3% of the time this season.

A point of improvement for the young right-hander could certainly be pitch efficiency.  As good as Jack has been, he has managed quality starts only 10 times in his 25 starts, mostly because his pitch counts haven’t allowed him to work past the fifth inning in many of these games.  Even as Flaherty finished six last night, he did it at the cost of 103 pitches – a hefty 4.48 per batter faced.  For the season, Jack is throwing 4.22 pitches per batter.  Of Cardinal pitchers who have faced at least 100 batters, only Daniel Poncedeleon (4.37) throws more.  The team average is just 3.88 pitches per batter.

Dominic Leone

When Dominic Leone walked Justin Turner with one out in the eighth inning, Manny Machado came to the plate in a double-play opportunity.  It was the twenty-third time this season that Leone faced a batter with an opportunity to get a double play.  He is still looking for his first – although this one was close.  Dominic got the ground ball he needed, but could only get the out at first.

Leone also threw first-pitch strikes to all four batters he faced – in spite of the fact that he walked two of them.  Walks are a rarity from Dominic, who has walked just 7 (3 intentional) in 21 innings this year.  A lot of this is due to the fact that Leone isn’t afraid to throw strike one.  Since his return from the DL, 63.2% of the batters Dominic has faced have seen first-pitch strikes.

In general, batters have been willing to play along with Leone.  Last night, 2 of the 4 he faced offered at that first pitch.  For the season, 37.6% of the batters that Leone has faced have chased after that first pitch.  It is the highest ratio of any pitcher on the team that has faced at least 50 batters.

Bud Norris

Bud Norris was called on in the eighth to face Yasmani Grandal with a couple runners on.  His first pitch was a fastball – up but just a bit away.  Grandal took it (for a strike).  Increasingly, batters are not offering at Bud’s first pitch.  During the season’s first half, 35.5% of the batters to face Norris chased after his first pitch.  Since the break, that ratio has dropped to 27.4%.

Of the 5 swings he took, Grandal only missed once.  This has been another notable drop-off for Norris as the season has worn along.  In the first half, batters missed connections on 30.4% of their swings.  That number is down to 17.8% swung-and-missed since then. (Only 15.6% in September, as Bud has only 5 swinging strikes all month.)  Since the break – among Cardinal pitchers who have faced at least 20 batters – only Tyson Ross (16.3%) has missed fewer bats.

Tyler Webb

The first 29 batters that Tyler Webb faced as a Cardinal saw 19 first-pitch strikes (65.5%).  This includes 11 who swung at the pitch (37.9%).  Last night, none of the 5 Dodgers he faced offered at his first pitch, and only 2 of the 5 were called strikes.  Through the month of September, so far, Webb has now faced 22 batters, throwing only 10 first-pitch strikes (45.5%) and having only 4 batters swing at them (18.2%).

Did I Mention the Cards Had Only Two Hits?

After pushing all year to get the team batting average up to .250, the Cardinals are working hard to get it to fall from there.  They are still hitting .250 as a team (.249503 to be precise, which is about as narrow as you can still be hitting .250), but have put that mark in jeopardy hitting just .229 (99 for 433) this month.

Matt Carpenter

The league’s leading home run hitter, Matt Carpenter is fighting through a harsh September.  After 4 hitless at bats (during which he struck out 3 times), Carpenter is hitting .208 for the month (10 of 48).  He has just 2 doubles and is still trying for his first September home run.  Carpenter has 2 home runs over his last 29 games.

Matt Adams

In his second tour wearing the birds on the bat, Matt Adams has had some nice moments – most recently a big home run against Pittsburgh.  Overall, though, Matt has been less than torrid in his return.  With his 0-for-4 last night, Adams is hitting .167 (8 for 48) as a Cardinal.

Marcell Ozuna

One of the casualties of last night’s loss was the end of Marcell Ozuna’s impressive 9-game hitting streak.  While this has not been the season envisioned, in Marcell’s previous 9 games he was every bit the offensive force the Cardinals were hoping for.  He had multiple hits in 5 of the 9, hitting .410 (16 for 39) during the streak.  It wasn’t a quiet .410 either, as Ozuna’s 16 hits included 2 doubles and 5 home runs.  He drove in 13 runs during the streak, while slugging .846.

Kolten Wong

Amidst the recent offensive struggles, Kolten Wong has returned to the lineup from the disabled list.  He has yet to re-discover his stroke.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Wong is hitting .211 (4 for 19) since his return with 1 run batted in and 1 extra-base hit.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina’s September has been interrupted by an elbow injury, and he has yet to find the range either this month.  He was hitless in 3 at bats last night, falling to .235 (4 for 17) for the month.

Lost Opportunity

As I was finishing this up, the Dodgers were wrapping up the Saturday afternoon contest against the Cardinals with a message-sending, 17-4 humiliation of the home-town team.

While starting pitcher John Gant didn’t deliver his best game, the game (once again) got away when manager Mike Shildt went to the bullpen.  St Louis actually held a 4-3 lead at that point (one out in the fifth), but LA had the bases loaded, and Gant was scuffling – having made 75 pitches already.  So Mike played the bullpen card.

In addition to allowing all 3 of Gant’s inherited runners to score, the bullpen outdid themselves the rest of the afternoon, finishing their 4.2 inning adventure allowing 11 runs of their own (7 earned) on 10 hits – including 3 home runs.

September’s bullpen line now reads 11 home runs allowed in 55 innings, a 5.73 ERA, accompanied by a .305/.394/.531 batting line.

This tumble (and the Cards have now lost 4 straight – tying their longest losing streak of the season) represents a sizeable lost opportunity.

Back on September 5, the Cards had just overcome Washington by a 7-6 score.  At that point, they were 78-62.  They were a manageable 4.5 games behind Chicago for the division lead (considering there were 22 games to go).  They held the second wild-card spot over the Dodgers by 2 games, and were only a half-game behind Milwaukee for the top spot.

And the 22 games before them couldn’t set up any better.  They started with 3 in Detroit against a Tiger team that had already lost 83 games and sat 22.5 game out in their division.  Following that, the Cards would play 13 of their next 16 at home, ending the season with 3 in Chicago against the Cubs.  If during the preceding 19 games they could manage to strike a couple of games off the Cubs’ lead, those last three might well be for the division title.

To this point, the Cards have done their best to waste that opportunity.  Including today’s loss, the Cards have lost 6 of the first 9 of those games.  They have lost their entire lead over LA –and in fact now trail them – also losing 2 games to Chicago, and 4 games (at the moment, pending the result of their game) to the Brewers.

Since management removed the “interim” tag from Shidt’s title, the Cards are 8-10 and fading fast – being dragged down by the same flaw that doomed Matheny – an ineffective bullpen.

Wither Jose Martinez

It was the bottom of first inning of last night’s game – still scoreless.  Matt Carpenter had reached on an infield hit, and had advanced himself to third on a wild pitch and a groundout.  Now Jose Martinez was up.  Pittsburgh starter Ivan Nova buried a fastball down and in – well off the plate.  It’s the kind of pitch that a pitcher hopes the batter will swing at.  The kind of pitch that will usually tie up a batter, resulting in weak contact – if, indeed, the batter even makes contact.

In that regard, I suppose you could say that Nova got his wish.  Jose did swing at the pitch.  The result, though, was somewhat less than Ivan might have hoped for, as Martinez sent the pitch soaring into the Pirate bullpen just beyond the left-field wall.  Up quickly 2-0, the Cardinals were on their way to a 5-2 victory (box score).  The win was their fourth in a row, their twentieth in 25 August games, their twenty-third in the last 30 games, and their twenty-sixth in 38 second half games.

The Cardinals are playing hot baseball – with no one hotter than Jose Martinez.

With two more hits last night, Martinez has now hit safely in 15 of his last 17 games, and it hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak.

Jose is hitting .400 (26 for 65) in those games, getting multiple hits in 8 of them.  The hits include 4 doubles and 3 home runs.  He has driven in 12 runs over his last 17 games, while slugging .600.

This hot streak has carried him to the top of the team’s batting chart for the month – and for the second half.  Martinez is now hitting .372 (32 for 86) in August and .342 (39 for 114) since the All-Star Break.

What a lucky thing he is still in the lineup.

Back in the beginning, the plan was that Jose would be the everyday first baseman.  While his offense was pretty much all that they had hoped for (Jose is hitting .309 overall on the season), his defense – and, remember, Martinez was learning to play first at the major league level – was untenable.

This put then-manager Mike Matheny in quite a bind.  One of his most potent offensive players couldn’t play his position.  Being a National League team, Matheny didn’t have a designated hitter option available (at least not on a regular basis), so Jose spent some games coming off the bench and sometimes working into right-field in place of the struggling Dexter Fowler.

This led to consistent chatter regarding a trade of Martinez to an American League team.  This picked up steam after Mike Shildt replaced Matheny as manager.  Although Fowler was scuffling along with a batting average in the .170s, Shildt committed the team to giving him everyday at bats as the right fielder.  This worked out about as well as it had all season.  Fowler played in all of the first 17 games of the Shildt regime – starting 15.  Dexter hit .204 in those games, and the team went 9-8.

Fowler might still be in right field, except that his seventeenth game under Shildt would be his last for awhile – he was sidelined after breaking his foot.  It opened an outfield spot for Jose, who hasn’t stopped hitting since.  And the team hasn’t stopped winning.

The future is still a little murky for one of the Cardinals’ driving offensive forces.  At some point – probably before the 2019 season starts – a decision is going to have to be made about the future of Fowler.  In Dexter’s defense, his career suggests that he is a much better player than he has shown this year.  Furthermore, I always remind people that at the end of last year – in those important September games – Fowler was one of the few Cardinals still getting big hits in high-leverage situations.

Still, the thought of St Louis parting ways with Martinez (whose outfield defense is more than passable) in favor of Fowler doesn’t sit terribly well with me.

With his first-inning home run, Jose drove in Carpenter who had reached third with less than two outs.  Martinez has now delivered that runner (runner on third with less than two outs) in 4 of 5 opportunities this month, in 6 of 8 such chances in the second half, and, now, 63% of the time this year (15 of 24).

Jose did strikeout last night – his seventy-fifth strikeout of the season.  Of course, he went down swinging.  Martinez has only taken a called third strike 12 times this season.  With just 16% of his strikeouts being called third strikes, Martinez has the lowest such percentage of any Cardinal with at least 100 plate appearances.

Of the seven swings he took last night, that strikeout was his only miss.  For a guy whose swing is quite healthy – and produces notable power – Martinez rarely swings and misses.  While the entire team is missing on 22.3% of their swings this month, Martinez is missing on just 16.5%.  For the season, the team as a whole is missing on 23.7% of their swings, while Jose misses just 18.8% of the time.

Jose was the only Cardinal hitter last night that didn’t take at least one called strike during the course of the game.

More Good Offense

A battling overall offense, that ended the game fouling off 30 pitches and forcing 152 pitches (4.11 per plate appearance) from the Pirate staff ended up with 5 more runs on 10 hits.  They have now scored at least 5 runs in 16 of their 25 games this month – averaging 5.24 runs per game – while hitting .275 as a team in August.

Matt Carpenter

On the heels of his 4 double game in Colorado, Matt Carpenter added two more hits last night.  Carpenter is hitting .299 (43 for 144) in the second half.

When Matt came to the plate in the third after Jack Flaherty led off the inning with a single, it was the seventy-fifth time this season that Carpenter was up in a double play situation.  He has yet to ground into one – Carpenter lined out to center.

As always, Matt is very discriminating in the batter’s box.  Of the 24 pitches he saw last night, he took 10 of them for balls.  So far this month, 42.9% of the pitches thrown to Carpenter have been taken for balls.  His season percentage of 41.7% balls leads all Cardinal regulars.  Fowler is next at 40.4%.

This patience allows Carpenter to see more pitches than any other Cardinal.  With 24 pitches in 5 plate appearances last night, Matt is up to a team-leading 4.21 per plate appearance.  Young Harrison Bader is actually right behind at 4.20.

Paul DeJong

Amid the team’s offensive resurgence, Paul DeJong is still stuck in neutral.  He went hitless in three at bats last night – with two strikeouts.  Over his last 7 games, Paul is just 3 for 27 (.111) with 15 strikeouts.  In the season’s second half, DeJong is hitting just .196 (27 for 138).

Along with the decrease in his average, Paul has experienced an increase in his foul balls.  He fouled the ball off on 3 of his 6 swings last night.  Throughout the season’s first half, DeJong only hit foul balls with 32.9% of his swings.  Since the break, 43.0% of his swings have resulted in fouls.

The obvious tangent to this is fewer balls hit into play.  From his 6 swings last night, DeJong only managed 1 ball put into play.  Over the last 30 games, Paul is getting the ball into play with only 31.4% of his swings.

His recent struggles seem to be more of a timing issue.

While it is commonly thought that Matt Carpenter is the Cardinal least likely to swing at the first pitch of an at bat, that is actually no longer true.  Paul DeJong has taken that title from him.  Paul took all four first pitches thrown to him last night, and for the season is swinging at that pitch only 15.6% of the time.  Carpenter swings at the first pitch 18% of the time.  Perhaps this is too much passivity, as 3 of those 4 first pitches he took last night were strikes.

If tentative to swing at the first pitch, Paul shows little inhibition toward swinging at the last pitch.  On both of his strikeouts, he went down swinging.

Over the last 30 team games, Paul has struck out 34 times – 28 of them swinging.  Previous to that, 19 of his first 60 strikeouts (31.7%) had come on called third strikes.

Jack Flaherty

With each start, Jack Flaherty solidifies his place in this rotation now and for years to come.  With 7 terrific innings last night – during which he allowed just 1 run on 4 hits (3 singles and a double) and no walks, Jack wrapped up a dominating month. 

Entering the month not having thrown a quality start in any of his previous 7 starts – during which he lasted as many as 6 innings only once – Jack exploded through August.  He tossed 5 consecutive quality starts, finishing 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA over 32 innings.  He allowed only 14 hits in those innings, and only 5 of those for extra-bases (2 home runs and 3 doubles).  His batting average against for the month was a microscopic .136 and his slugging percentage against just .223.

Not too many pitchers of any age and experience cobbled together a better month than that.

As part of this new-found dominance, opposing teams have lost the ability to create complicated innings against Jack.  Through the season’s first four months, Jack pitched to 4.13 batters per inning.  After facing just 23 batters in his seven innings last night, Flaherty finished the month facing just 3.56 batters per inning.  No one else in the rotation faced fewer than Miles Mikolas’ 4.07 batters per inning.

Jack has also enjoyed enviable run support recently.  His 5 runs of support last night reduced his second-half average to just 6.27 runs per 9 innings.

Rotation Still Flying High

With the outing, Flaherty sustained the recent run of excellent starting pitching.  The rotation’s August ERA is now down to 2.79, and since the break, opposing hitters are batting just .237 in over 200 innings against the Cardinal starters.

Overall, the team ERA for the month is an enviable 2.80, with a .227 batting average against.

Control Issues from the Pen

So solid for most of the month, the bullpen flinched a little last night, allowing a run in a complicated eighth.  As per usual, when the bullpen leaks a bit there are control issues behind it.  Last night, Cardinal relievers walked 2 and hit another batter in just two innings.  In 83.1 innings this month, Cardinal relievers have walked 43 batters.  Even though 2 of those walks were intentional, that still makes 4.43 unintentional walks for every 9 innings.

There are an awful lot of very young relievers out there, so this might just take some time.

On the other hand, while the bullpen has allowed walks, extra-base hits have been exceedingly rare against this group.  After allowing none last night, the Cardinal bullpen has been touched for just 5 home runs and 12 doubles over their 83.1 August innings – a .299 slugging percentage.

Jordan Hicks

In the middle of the one ugly inning the bullpen endured last night was outstanding rookie Jordan Hicks.  Throwing his sixty-sixth inning of the year already (at this pace the 22-year-old will pitch 81 innings this year) Jordan gave the run on 2 hits and 2 walks, leaving a 2-on, 2-out situation to Dakota Hudson.  Over his last 5 appearances, Jordan has made it through just 4.2 innings, walking 7 and giving 7 hits.

The walks have been a recurring issue with Jordan, but the hits are unusual.  The last 27 batters he has faced are hitting .350 against him, with a .519 on base percentage.  He has thrown 111 pitches over those 4.2 innings – with only 57% of them going for strikes.  After throwing just 6 strikes last night, Hicks is down to 59.2% strikes for the second half.

The workload for Jordan may be a concern.

As the season reaches August, Jordan’s innings are becoming increasingly complicated.  Through his first 54.2 innings this year, he faced an average of 4.19 batters per inning – not bad considering he has always had a propensity for walks.  In his 11.1 August innings, he is facing a very high 4.85 batters per inning.  His pitches per inning have also risen from 15.2 throughout the season’s first 4 months to 18.79 in August.  His two-thirds of an inning last night cost him 15 pitches.

Still, for all of this, Hicks almost never gives up an extra base hit.  He has allowed just 7 all season, and none since serving up a triple to the White Sox’ Yoan Moncada back on July 11 – 95 batters ago.

Always a predominant ground-ball pitcher, Jordan got groundball from all 3 batters who put the ball in play against him.  In the season’s second half, he gets that groundball 64.8% of the time.

Dakota Hudson

Presented with a dangerous situation in the eighth, Hudson diffused the inning, getting Adam Frazier to ground out to end it.  Over his brief 14.2 inning career, the first 60 batters to face him are hitting just .173 and slugging only .212.  He has allowed just 2 doubles to those batters.

Dakota has also been a little bit of a good-luck charm for the offense.  When they scored in the bottom of the eighth for him, it was Hudson’s ninth support run in 12.2 innings this month – one reason why the rookie already has 4 relief wins.

Hudson may be the only pitcher on the staff more ground oriented than Hicks.  After getting Frazier to ground out, Dakota is getting 72.5% of the batters who have hit the ball against him this month to hit it on the ground.

That ground ball came on Hudson’s fourth and final pitch.  One thing about groundball pitchers – they keep their pitch count low.  In spite of the fact that he walks a few batters, too, Hudson is throwing just 14.45 pitches per inning.  Since he got here, that is the lowest figure on the staff.

Bud Norris

Continuing to get the job done, Bud Norris closed things out in the ninth for his sixth consecutive save. 

Good all year, Norris may be in the midst of his best stretch of the season.  He is unscored on over his last 6 games (6 IP), allowing just 2 hits and 1 walk.  Over his last 15 games (13.2 IP), Bud has saved 10 of 11 with a 1.32 ERA, a .170 batting average against, and a .191 slugging percentage against.  This has reduced his second-half ERA to 2.35.

NoteBook

In search of their tenth straight series victory, St Louis has won the opening game of their sixth consecutive series.  That’s a good first step.

Heavy Pitches Humble Cardinal Hitters

On the fourth pitch of the bottom of the first inning, Jon Gray’s slider stayed a little up and just inside enough for Matt Carpenter to get around on it.  Matty got just enough lift on the pitch to pull it over the wall in right.  One batter into the game, and the Cardinals had a quick 1-0 lead.

At the time, you wouldn’t have guessed that this would be a singular event.  Gray’s ERA coming into the event (5.16) wasn’t dazzling (take into account, of course, that he pitches his home games in Colorado), and the Cardinals – of late – have shown a little pulse at the plate (including the 5-4 comeback win from the night before).

Nonetheless, when Gray finally ran out of gas after 92 pitches with one out in the eighth, he walked off the mound with a 6-1 lead – on his way to a 6-3 victory (box score).

Not only was the Carpenter home run an anomaly in that it accounted for the only Cardinal run to that point, it also turned out to be rare because he was actually able to pull the ball in the air – something the Cards managed only 3 times all night.  Yadier Molina stroked a couple of fly ball outs to left during the game.

Velocity and location are not the only pitching factors.  Some pitchers throw what batters refer to as a “heavy” ball.  Even when left in locations and at velocities that batters can normally handle, these pitches don’t really jump off the bat.  It creates the illusion that this particular ball is made out of granite or some other weighty material.

This is who Jon Gray was for most of the evening last night.  He didn’t shy away from the strike zone with a fastball that held at about 94-mph and a slider about 10-mph slower.  But both pitches ran heavy, resulting in many groundballs – especially in key situations.

About the only time that Gray was ever in trouble during the first seven innings was the fifth, when an infield hit and a walk put two on with just one out.  But that heavy slider got the double play grounder (after a review) off the bat of Greg Garcia.

When he wasn’t getting ground balls, he was getting fly balls hit to the opposite field.  Between Gray and the two relievers – ex-Cardinal Seunghwan Oh and Wade Davis – the power-hitting Cardinals were left with 7 opposite field fly balls – several of them quite well hit – that they couldn’t get around on enough to get them over the fence.

As the Rockies walked off the field congratulating each other after the last of these opposite field fly outs (a soft fly to right by Jedd Gyorko) with a win that was more dominating than the final score suggested, the scoreboard showed 3 runs for St Louis on only 4 hits.  Other than the home run, the Cards had two infield hits, and one ground ball that snuck its way through the infield.

Gray – and the pitchers that followed – didn’t complicate things.  They threw strikes and kept their heavy pitches low and away.  They made it look easy.

Tyler O’Neill

The first opportunity to occupy the spot of the departed Tommy Pham fell to rookie Tyler O’Neill.  He finished his first game back in the majors with two infield hits.

In his 3 plate appearances, Tyler ended up in two strike counts twice, striking out once.  Power hitters in general – and rookie power hitters in particular – find themselves in this situation frequently.  O’Neill’s rookie season is now just 50 plate appearances deep, but he has ended up in two-strike situations in 64% of them – and of the 32 times that he has seen strike two, he has subsequently seen strike three 21 times (65.6%).

Yadier Molina

Molina finished a very strong July (.315/.357/.472) with a disappointing 0-for-4.  Twice during the game, Yadi put pretty good swings on the first strike he saw, but neither resulted in base hits.  Over all of baseball, batters are hitting .338/.402/.585 when they hit the first strike.  Yadi’s July ran quite contrary to that.  With his 0-for-2 last night, Molina finished July 4-for-20 (.200) when hitting the first strike.

In his first at bat of the game in the first, he fell quickly behind in the count 1-2.  But Yadi fouled off one pitch and took a ball before hitting the sixth pitch in play.  Molina continues to be difficult to strike out.  Strike two only leads to strike three 27.9% of the time with Molina at the plate.

Paul DeJong

Still feeling his way back from his injury, Paul DeJong took another 0-for-4 last night.  Paul is now hitless in his last 14 at bats, and finished July just 18 for 83 (.217) with only 6 walks (.264 on base).  Since being moved by new manager Mike Shildt into the third spot in the order, DeJong is hitting .182 (10 for 55) with only 4 walks (.230 on base).

Paul hit a couple of those “heavy” fly balls to right.  His first time up, he jumped a first pitch fastball, but the drive ran out of steam and came down well short of the fence.  Since his return from the DL, Paul is another who has had poor luck when hitting the first strike.  He is now just 2 for 18 (.111) on those pitches.

Marcell Ozuna

Among the casualties of last night’s loss was Marcell Ozuna’s six-game hitting streak.  He hit .346 (9-for-26) during the streak, with a double and 3 home runs.  He drove in 7 runs during that streak, while slugging .731.  The recent revival from Ozuna’s bat has been one of the most encouraging recent developments.

Jedd Gyorko

In general, the Cards struck out slightly less often in July than in the months leading up it – one of the reasons why the offense up ticked.  Through the season’s first three months, the Cards averaged 8.77 strikeouts per game, striking out 43.4% of the time that they found themselves in two-strike counts.  Over the last month, those numbers declined to just 7.46 strikeouts per game, and strikeouts in just 38.0% of their two-strike plate appearances.

Jedd Gyorko, in particular, is getting more and more difficult to fan.  Jedd – who didn’t strike out at all last night – struck out only 8 times in July, and on just 21.1% of his two-strike plate appearances.

Greg Garcia

Struggling lately off the bench, Garcia got a start last night to try to help his timing.  For one night, at least, the results were not quite there – Greg was 0-for-2 with that important double play.  Garcia finished July in a 2-for-20 slump.

Jack Flaherty

Last night’s starter, Jack Flaherty, didn’t make it out of the sixth inning again.  He finished July tossing just 28.2 innings over 6 starts, with a middling 1-3 record and a 4.71 ERA.  Since tossing seven innings of one-hit ball against Milwaukee on June 22, Jack has a 1-4 record and a 5.23 ERA over 7 starts.  His loss was his second in a row and fifth in his last seven decisions – although in fairness to Jack, he was twice betrayed by his bullpen, and has had more than two runs scored for him only once in his last 9 starts.

Flaherty is still not giving up a lot of his – only 5 in his 5.1 innings last night (albeit they included a home run and a double).  With that performance, the Cardinal starters finished the month of July with an opponent’s batting average of just .225.

Jack also struck out 7 batters in those innings, and is now averaging 11.06 strikeouts per nine innings.  Flaherty throws a lot of strikes, and almost always gets hitters in two-strike counts.  Last night, 14 of the 23 batters he faced ended up in two-strike counts.  For the month of July, he put 65.6% of the batters to face him (80 of 122) in two-strike counts.

Following Jack’s lead, the Cardinal pitching staff in general constantly kept Colorado in two-strike counts.  Of the 39 batters the Rockies sent to the plate, 26 (66.7%) ended their appearance with two strikes on them.  Only 4 of them got hits, although those hits included the two-run home run by Charlie Blackmon in the fifth (on a 1-2 pitch) and the very damaging double struck by Gerardo Parra (also on a 1-2 pitch) in the sixth.  That blow – from the first man faced by newly acquired Chasen Shreve – drove in a run to make it a 4-1 lead.

Speaking of the Bullpen

After an impressive series against the Cubs and a good first game against Colorado, the Cardinal bullpen ended July pretty much as they pitched through most of the month.  With Flaherty out of the game, the Rockies padded their advantage with 2 more runs on 4 more hits – including a home run – over the last 3.2 innings.  St Louis thus finished the month of July with a 5.98 ERA and a .306 batting average against from the bullpen.

John Brebbia

At one time, perhaps, the best pitcher in the Cardinal bullpen, John Brebbia finished a rough July by serving up a two-run homer in two-thirds of an inning.  He pitched 7 innings in July, allowing 6 runs on 10 hits – 2 of them home runs.  Opposing batters hit .323 against him in those innings, with a .581 slugging percentage.

With two-outs in the seventh, Brebbia started Parra off with an inviting fastball – perhaps just a little lower than Gerardo might ideally like it.  Parra jumped it, but only flew out to left.  John has had some ups and downs, but this is one thing he has managed to do pretty well – throw that first strike just slightly better than the batter expects.  For the season, batters are hitting just .160 (4 for 25) when hitting John’s first strike.  Not only are all four of the hits singles, but two of them are infield hits.

Mike Mayers

Throwing a quiet eighth inning, Mike Mayers faced three batters and got two strikes on all of them, but was unable to get a strikeout.  Mike throws the ball hard enough that one might expect more strikeouts.  Of the 19 July batters that he got two strikes on, only 4 ended up striking out (21.1%).  For the season, that percentage is a modest 35.8.