Tag Archives: Fowler

Doing the Right Thing Can Be So Hard

With summer camp winding down and the abbreviated regular season looming on the horizon (COVID permitting), there is all kinds of chatter among Cardinal fans about what this team will look like when and if it takes the field. But, for all of the chatter, there seems to be very little uncertainty regarding how Mike Shildt will deploy his forces. 

If you are going to bet on the outcomes of the “position battles,” this is how it is going to shake out. The outfield will begin as Tyler O’Neill in left, Harrison Bader in center and Dexter Fowler in right.  Top prospect Dylan Carlson will begin in the minor league camp.  Matt Carpenter will be the starting third baseman.  Tommy Edman will scrounge for at bats where he can find them.  And Carlos Martinez will be the closer.  Nobody expects anything different from Shildt.  Is this the right thing to do?  No.  But sometimes doing the right thing is really hard.

Let’s take third base.

Now 34 years old, Matt Carpenter has been the quintessential Cardinal.  He has played at least 114 games a season for the last 8 seasons, with an .835 lifetime OPS – all in St Louis, where he has been a three-time All Star and twice a top-ten finisher in the MVP race – most recently in 2018 when he hit 36 of his 148 career home runs.  He has also started at least 200 games at three different infield positions (3B, 2B and 1B) and even made 14 starts in the outfield.  Of all the decisions that I am about to question, this one is easy enough to justify.  At his best, Matt Carpenter is an elite offensive force.

However, Carpenter begins the 2020 season on the short end of three circumstances that must force Mike to re-evaluate his situation.  First, now 34 he is entering what is usually the declining phase of a player’s career.  Additionally, he is coming off the worst season of his career (.226 average, 15 home runs, .726 OPS).  Finally, his position was taken from him last year by the spectacular Tommy Edman, whose .304 batting average and .850 OPS led all Cardinals with at least 100 at bats last year.

The short and blunt of it is that Edman needs to play, and Carpenter’s age and recent decline make him vulnerable.  Matt may very well end the season back in the starting lineup.  Edman’s sophomore season may not live up to the promise of his 2019, or Carpenter may absolutely explode when he gets his opportunities and force his way back into the lineup.  But Matt needs to at least begin the season second on the depth chart.  After his stellar 2019, third base has to be Edman’s job to lose.

The outfield problem is Dexter Fowler – now also 34 and – if we are being honest – in clear decline.  Over the last two seasons, Fowler is a .216/.321/.367 hitter – a .688 OPS.  That figure includes a .183 average (17 for 93) last September.  He then went 2 for 33 in the playoffs – not that anyone hit much in the playoffs.

The Fowler problem is two-fold.  First, for some reason Shildt is enamored with him.  Second, the Cards are trying to graduate a whole bunch of high-ceiling outfielders.  In more-or-less pecking order they are:

  • Tyler O’Neill. Tyler has made kind of extended cameos at the big league level over the last two seasons.  His early career has been plagued by lack of contact (110 strikeouts in 293 at bats), but he has maintained a better-than-Fowler average of .258 and has 14 big league home runs.  Tyler has also been a two-time 30 home run guy in the minors and has 140 minor league home runs in about four seasons worth of at bats.  He carries a .271/.343/.529/.872 batting line over 2418 minor league plate appearances.  In 996 PA at the AAA level, O’Neill has 68 home runs and a .267/.339/.554/.894 line.  He needs only a sustained opportunity to see if that minor league success can translate into major league production.
  • Lane Thomas. It’s hard to say the impact that Thomas might have had on the team as it headed into the playoffs last year.  In 38 at bats before a broken hand ended his season, Lane hit .316/.409/.684/1.093 with 4 home runs.  That’s a bit out of synch with what Lane has done throughout 480 games and 2027 minor league plate appearances, during which he has hit 55 home runs with a .252/.329/.421/.750 batting line.  He has, though, gotten better against higher competition.  In 444 AAA at bats, Thomas carries an .815 OPS.
  • Dylan Carson. Dylan is the team’s top-rated prospect and number 16 in all of baseball.  Just 21 years old, Dylan hit .292/.372/.542/.914 with 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases across the two highest levels of minor league baseball in 2019.  He was hitting .313/.436/.469/.905 in spring training before camp shut down.
  • Austin Dean. Dean had two uninspiring partial seasons in Miami, hitting .223 in 291 at bats for the fish.  But Austin is a monster in AAA.  In 568 at bats over two AAA seasons, Dean has whacked 27 home runs and hit .331/.398/.546/.944.  Even though the PCL is known as a hitter’s league, these are still eye-opening numbers.
  • Justin Williams. After a modest minor league career, Justin – whose season was delayed by a broken hand – exploded at the AAA level last year.  In a small sample size (36 games and 119 plate appearances) Justin punished PCL pitchers to the tune of .353/.437/.608/.1.045 – numbers not easy to ignore.

The exit of Marcell Ozuna to the Braves opens up left field for one of these hitters.  The incumbent in center, Harrison Bader, deserves to begin the season as the starter based on his elite defense and his record of hitting in the minors. 

And then there is Fowler in right.  In all honesty, it will be a bit frustrating to see Fowler take at bats better given to one of the developing young talents.

What should happen here seems a bit over-obvious.  Like Carpenter, Fowler should start the season as, say, the fifth outfielder.  Some combination of Bader, O’Neill, Thomas and Carlson should man the outfield spots and the designated hitter, with Dean and Williams ready for whatever changeups the very strange 2020 season might throw.

Carlson is an interesting case.  With no previous major league experience, if the Cards place him on the opening day roster – and if he stays there the entire year – the Cards will lose a year of control over the talented young outfielder.  Whereas, if he spends the first week or so of the season in Springfield, the front office will be able to delay his arbitration years and eventual free agency by another year.  I don’t think that there is anyone connected with the club that does not believe that Dylan is one of their best 30 players right now.  In fact, since there will be no minor league season this year, St Louis is very lucky that their top prospect is close enough to major league ready that they can plug him into the big league scene this year with every expectation that he will hold his own.  Otherwise – like many of their other top prospects – this would be a mostly lost year for Carlson.

No one pretends, though, that this will happen.  At any moment, I expect to see the notice that Dylan has been re-assigned.  It will almost certainly happen.  But it’s the wrong move, and sends two bad messages.

The first bad message is that winning is nice, but pinching pennies is better.  So, we may lose a few early season games that we might have otherwise won – and that may cost us a playoff berth at the end of the season – but it’s OK because we will gain one whole season of financial control over our best prospect.  The other bad message is the one they are sending to Dylan.  That message lets him know that the Cardinals will exploit every advantage the system allows them in order to maintain maximum control over him for as long as possible.

That’s all well and good.  But one day the Cards will need Carlson’s good will.  The day will finally come when he is eligible for arbitration and finally free agency, and Dylan is likely to remember how he is treated in the early part of this season.  Putting Dylan on the opening day roster and giving him a chance to prove that he can stick in the majors might even prove to be the more economical decision in the long run.

Turning to the pitching decision, Korean import Kwang Hyun Kim has taken the team by storm.  With four plus pitches that he can throw at varying speeds and with excellent control – not to mention an unorthodox delivery, Kim is the front-runner to take the open starter’s spot.  This is not to say that Carlos Martinez’ performance in second camp has been any whit behind Kim.  But Martinez has a history as an effective closer – and the guy they were counting on (Jordan Hicks) has opted out of the season.  In the kind of logic that usually governs these kinds of decisions, that makes this an almost done deal. 

But that is only because no one on the team is listening to Carlos.

If assigned to the ninth inning, Martinez will, of course, fulfill that role to the best of his abilities.  But it has to be evident to anyone who is paying attention that being a starter is more important to Carlos than it is to any other starter on the staff.  It was his consuming desire to return to the rotation that kept him tirelessly firing breaking balls all during the break.  This was the carrot that Carlos has been chasing since last season ended.  It is almost his raison de etre.  Martinez – more than anyone else in camp – defines himself as an elite starting pitcher.

So, why in the world don’t the Cardinals exploit that passion?  Knowing that 2020 will be a sixty-game sprint, why don’t they let Martinez’ great passion help fuel that sprint? If it’s true that there isn’t a wealth of closing experience behind Carlos, it’s also true that there is no shortage of dominating arms that are clear candidates to dominate that calling.  Ryan Helsley would be my nomination, but for all of that, imagine how good Kim – a lefty with an strange motion that no one in the majors has faced before – would be in a role where teams aren’t going to get three or four looks at him a night.

Don’t get me wrong.  Kim will do well as a starter, and Martinez will succeed in the ninth.  But it’s not the right move.  The right move – the smart move – is to ride Martinez’ passion.

So often, it’s quite difficult to see what the right moves to make are.  The dawning of this abbreviated season comes with much more clarity than many. But as hard as it sometimes is to see the right thing to do, it can frequently be harder to do those right things. 

Especially since the wrong things will be so much easier.

Starting Pitching Continues Strong

The St Louis Cardinals ended their most recent homestand with an improbable four-game series against San Francisco in which the Giants didn’t score a single run off any of the four Cardinal starters.  The encore in the first series of the road trip in Pittsburgh fell short of that exalted standard.  Just barely.

With Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty in “October form,” the Cardinal starters combined for 20 innings in the series.  They gave 14 hits (10 singles, 3 doubles and 1 triple) and all of 2 runs – an 0.90 ERA backed by a .203 batting average against and a .275 opponent’s slugging percentage.

It all continued a remarkable starting pitching renaissance that has contributed principally to St Louis’ recent surges – and the Cards have won 23 of their last 30 and 55 of their last 84.  Nine games into September, and St Louis’ starters (according to baseball reference) lead all rotations in baseball with a 1.36 ERA (Atlanta is a distant second at 2.20).  The combined slugging percentage against the Cardinal starters this month (who have allowed just 2 home runs in 9 games) is just .249 – leading the season-long slugging percentage against St Louis below .400 for the season.  Now at .397, the Cards hold baseball’s third best slugging percentage against (and second to the Dodgers’ .386 in the NL).

It’s rarefied air, and this remarkable pitching effort is one of the strongest reasons for optimism as the playoffs approach.

Miles Mikolas

The only one of the Cardinal starters this weekend not to get credit for a quality start was Mikolas, and that only because he pitched just five innings – five very strong innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits.  After enduring a rocky stretch, this would have been Miles’ third consecutive quality start.

Even at that, Mikolas has still allowed just 5 runs on 11 hits (8 singles, 2 doubles and 1 home run) over his last 17 innings.  If these numbers pale somewhat in comparison to some of the other St Louis starters, his 2.65 ERA, his .180 batting average against, and his .262 slugging percentage against over these starts is still plenty good.

Miles’ two starts this month have been against divisional opponents Cincinnati and Pittsburgh – two teams that have seen him a lot.  Interestingly, of the 44 batters he’s faced in those two games, only 3 have hit his first pitch.  Across all of baseball, about one out of every 9 batters hits the first pitch.  Apparently neither the Reds nor the Pirates were getting what they expected from Miles with that first pitch.

Bullpen Misadventures

After Mikolas left the game with a 4-1 lead, the usually reliable bullpen got knocked around for the second time in 3 games.  After the Giants punched them around on Wednesday, Pittsburgh stung them for 8 runs on 9 hits over the last three innings of the game to walk off with a 9-4 victory (box score).  One of the Cardinal strengths over the course of this season, the bullpen begins September with a 5.33 ERA (ranking twenty-fifth in baseball to this point of the month).

Jack Flaherty

It is getting to the point with Mr. Flaherty that when you look at the line score and see that he allowed 5 hits in 8 innings, you assume he didn’t have his good stuff that night – never mind the zero on the scoreboard.  Jack has now thrown consecutive eight-inning starts, allowing no runs.  He is unscored on in 3 of his last 4 starts, 6 of his last 8, and 7 of his last 10.  Over his last 9 starts, he has allowed more than 4 hits just twice, and he has allowed that many just 3 times over his last 12 starts.  Flaherty has been other-worldly of late – with an 0.80 ERA over his last 12 starts (78.1 innings).

Jack has been especially devastating over his last 8 starts.  He has thrown 7 quality starts, going 6-1 in those games, with one other lead lost by the bullpen.  Over his last 54 innings, Jack has been brushed for just 4 runs – 3 earned (an 0.50 ERA).  He has struck out 65 in those innings while allowing just 25 hits (16 singles, 7 doubles and 2 home runs).  That ERA combines with a .137 batting average and a .208 slugging percentage against.  This is a nasty, nasty stretch of pitching.

August’s pitcher of the month, Jack has begun September with 16 innings of zero.  In 11 second half starts (71.1 innings) Flaherty holds an 0.76 ERA.

Offensive Contributions

Although they only scored twice in the series finale (enough for a 2-0 win), it was another productive offensive series, as St Louis finished with 16 runs across the three games.  They are now scoring 5 runs even per game in September, and 5.02 runs in 55 games since the All-Star Break.

Matt Carpenter

After fighting through an endless slump through most of the year, Matt Carpenter is finally showing signs of fighting his way out of it.  He was the only Cardinal with two hits yesterday afternoon, and, after going 3 for 4 in the series he is now 6 for his last 8.  This recent offense has pushed Carp up to the .400 level of the month.

Paul DeJong

With his 0-for-4 on Sunday, Paul DeJong had a six-game hitting streak snapped.  DeJong was 7 for 23 (.304) during the streak, with a double, two home runs and 6 runs batted in to go with a .609 slugging percentage.

Yadier Molina

Also having his hitting streak snapped on Sunday was catcher Yadier Molina.  Molina had hit in 7 consecutive games overall, and 14 consecutive games in which he had had an official at bat.  During the 14 games, Yadi hit a very loud .379 (22 for 58) with 5 doubles, 4 home runs and a .672 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Starting to struggle of late is lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler.  After a 1-for-10 series against the Pirates, Dex is just 4 for 26 over his last six games, with all the hits being singles.  He has walked just once in those games, so his batting line for September is just .154/.185/.154.

NoteBook

Fowler initiated Saturday’s rout with an RBI single in the third inning – his only hit of the series.  It held up as his fifth game-winning hit of the season.  He is now tied for fourth on the team with four other players (Carpenter, Tommy Edman, Jose Martinez and Molina) with 5.  Just ahead of them is DeJong, who has 6.  Marcell Ozuna (13) and Paul Goldschmidt (12) are vying for the team lead.

With ten strikeouts on Sunday, Flaherty now sits at 196 for his 168.1 innings this season.  With probably 4 starts left, Jack is in great position to reach the 200 mark for the first time in just his third season.

St Louis has now won six consecutive series. In their last nine series, they have won eight and split one.  After struggling on the road for much of the season, St Louis is now 35-36 away from home.  They have won 10 series, lost 11 and split 2 others on the road.  This Pittsburgh series was also just the seventh time in the 21 times they have lost the opening game of a series that they came back to force a rubber game.  They are now 5-2 in those rubber games.

St Louis continues to be the team you don’t want to try to turn things around against.  Pittsburgh was the nineteenth team to play the Cards after having lost its previous series (Colorado will be the twentieth).  St Louis has won 15 of those series, splitting 3 others.  Only the Padres – who won 2 of 3 to open our season at home – have bounced back against the Cards.  St Louis is now 45-16 (including 5-0 in rubber games) against teams that have lost their previous series.

St Louis scored first in all 3 games against the Pirates, and have scored first in their last 4 consecutive games and 6 of their last 7.

A victory tomorrow night in Colorado will give them 24 in their last 31 games.  It has been almost exactly a decade since they have managed that (August 8 through September 11, 2009).  Their 55 wins in their last 89 games is the first time they’ve managed that since June 19 through September 26 of 2015.  This has been one of this franchise’s more impressive hot streaks in quite a while.

This Rookie Can Play

If you were to glance over the Cardinal’s top 30 prospect list from last year, I wonder if the same omission would jump out to you that jumps out to me.

For nostalgia purposes, the 2018 list read Alex Reyes (1); Nolan Gorman (2); Dakota Hudson (3); Ryan Helsley (4); Andrew Knizner (5); Randy Arozarena (6).

Of the first six, only Gorman hasn’t appeared in the majors – and shown significant promise.  Continuing, we come to:

Elehuris Montero (7); Justin Williams (8); Conner Capel (9); Griffin Roberts (10); Max Schrock (11); Dylan Carlson (12) – yes Carlson, the current number 2 prospect was twelfth behind Max Schrock just a year ago.  Then we had some lower prospects who vaulted past higher rated guys:

Genesis Cabrera (13); Junior Fernandez (14); Edmundo Sosa (15).  After these guys, the rest were mostly lower level guys, but still legitimate prospects:

Luken Baker (16); Jonatan Machado (17); Jake Woodford (18); Steven Gingery (19); Ramon Urias (20); Lane Thomas – yes, that Lane Thomas was #21 last year; Seth Elledge (22); Giovanny Gallegos, believe it or not, was just our number 23 prospect last year; Wadye Ynfante (24); Johan Oviedo (25); Alvaro Seijas (26); Evan Mendoza (27); Delvin Perez (28) – remember what a big deal his selection in the first round a couple of years ago was?; Daniel Poncedeleon (now spelled Ponce de Leon) (29); and Connor Jones (30).

There are a couple of pitchers that I would have thought would have been on that list.  Austin Gomber would be one, and glaringly Jordan Hicks didn’t make the list, although he certainly would have qualified.

Also not making that list is a player who has been in the bigs slightly more than two months, and even though the positions he plays are usually manned by established major-league stars, he has so ingrained himself that manager Mike Shildt can’t keep him out of the lineup.

Yesterday afternoon, Tommy Edman (nowhere to be found on the 2018 prospect list) singled twice, drove the fifth home run of his big league career, and scored twice – every bit of that production critical as the Cards held on for a 5-4 win over Cincinnati (box score).

Fifty-four games and 185 plate appearances into his major league career, Tommy’s numbers are decidedly average.  He is hitting .271/.303/.429 for a modest .732 OPS (the major league average according to baseball reference is .761).  Nothing here – you would think – to entrench him in the lineup.

And, truthfully the numbers – at least some of the numbers – don’t suggest that Tommy is anything special.  But you don’t have to watch Mr. Edman go about his business for very long before your eyeballs tell you something the numbers don’t quite, yet.

Tommy Edman is a ballplayer.  Defensively, Edman plays everywhere.  He has started games at third, second and right field, and could play anywhere else on the diamond (not sure about catcher, but I wouldn’t be surprised).  He never seems out of place anywhere he plays.  He is a smooth, effortless fielder with a strong and accurate arm.

And he plays with a very even demeanor.  Already he has been through some slumps, but you could never tell by watching him whether he was 10 for his last 20 or 0 for his last 20.

A switch-hitter, Edman’s swing is very polished from both sides of the plate.  Already he appears very comfortable fouling off the more difficult pitches to wait for one he can put into play.

In his 16 plate appearances in Cincinnati over the long weekend, Tommy swung at 31 pitches.  He fouled off 14 of those pitches (45.2%), put 13 other pitches into play (41.9%), and missed on just 4 swings (12.9%). These numbers are mostly consistent with Edman’s performance across his brief major league stay – especially recently.

For the month of August – a month in which his 60 plate appearances ranks second to only Paul Goldschmidt’s 61 – Edman leads the team by putting the ball in play with 46.2% of his swings (the team average is just 33.7%).  He has missed on just 15.1% of his swings – which also leads the team (the average is 26.7%).

While the split in Cincinnati was a bit disappointing, those wins give St Louis victories in 7 of its last 9 games.  In those games, Tommy is 14 for 36 (.389).

For a 24-year-old rookie, Edman is very advanced.  Even if his primary numbers don’t suggest it clearly yet, everything else about Tommy suggests that he is going to be a very good player for a very long time.  For now, he is someone that Shildt will continue to find at bats for.

KoltenWong

Kolten Wong didn’t start on Sunday (possibly because Cincy was starting a lefty?) one day after his 0-for-3 interrupted a six game hitting streak (in games that he started).  There are few hitters hotter than Kolten right now.  During the streak, he hit .500 (10 for 20) and slugged .750 (2 doubles and 1 home run).

Kolten is a .381 hitter this month (16 for 42), and a .371 hitter in the second half.

DexterFowler

In game two of the series, the Cards rapped out 18 hits on their way to a 13-4 victory (box score).  For the other three games, they totaled 17 hits.  So more than one Cardinal finished the series with big numbers that were mostly the product of that one game.  Dexter Fowler is one of those.  He finished the series hitting .357 (5 for 14), with 3 of those hits coming on Friday night.

Still, Dexter has been one of the driving forces of the offense over the last 9 games.  He is slashing .310/.417/.586 over his last 36 plate appearances.

MarcellOzuna

Like Fowler, Marcell Ozuna also had 3 hits on Friday and finished the series 5 for 14 (.357).  Marcell is 10 for 31 (.323) over the last 9 games.

There has been a very subtle change in Marcell’s at bats since he returned from his injury.  Before the injury, Ozuna swung at 47.3% of the pitches thrown to him, and his at bats averaged only 4.05 pitches per.  In 16 plate appearances against Cincy, Marcell saw 72 pitches (4.50 per) and only swung at 32 (44.4%).  Since his return, the percentage of pitched that he is offering at has decreased to 40.7%, and his pitches per at bat has risen to 4.52 – the most on the team this month.

PaulGoldschmidt

Goldschmidt was 5 for 15 (.333) against the Reds, with 4 of the 5 hits going for extra-bases – including 2 home runs.  Paul is 12 for 34 (.353) over these last 9 games, with 3 home runs, 10 runs batted in, and a .676 slugging percentage.

MichaelWacha

Michael Wacha started the Thursday game and was almost on the wrong side of history (box score).  Although saddled with the close loss, Wacha did throw five encouraging innings.  Relegated to fifth starter status, Wacha has only pitched 8.2 innings this month, but in those innings Michael has induced 21 ground balls to 11 fly balls – a 65.6% ratio.  A very good sign for Wacha.

AdamWainwright

Adam Wainwright got the Friday start and the benefit of all of the runs.  Waino has had some starts where offensive support was hard to come by, but has also now had three starts since the All-Star break where the team has scored in double-digits when he’s pitched – a 12-11 win over Cincinnati on July 19, and a 14-8 conquest of Pittsburgh on July 24.

MilesMikolas

Miles Mikolas had a second consecutive rough outing on Saturday (box score).  He is 0-2 with a 6.61 ERA for the month of August, and over his last 17 starts, Miles is just 3-11 with a 4.44 ERA.

JackFlaherty

Jack Flaherty finally gave up a run this month (in the first inning of the Sunday game), but that was all the damage done against him.  In 4 August starts, Jack is 3-0 with a 0.35 ERA.  In 7 starts since the break, he holds an 0.83 ERA over 43.1 innings.

NoteBook

After making 29 consecutive starts at shortstop, Paul DeJong began Saturday’s game on the bench.  It had been the team’s longest consecutive starting streak at the same position.  That mantle reverts back to Goldschmidt, who has now made 24 consecutive starts at first base.

Ozuna drove in the first run of Friday night’s avalanche – bringing him to 10 game-winning RBIs this season, and temporarily tying him with Goldschmidt for the team lead.  Paul regained the lead with his eleventh GWRBI on Sunday.

Friday’s start was Wainwright’s twenty-third of the season.  After making just 8 starts last year and 23 in 2017, Waino is on pace to make 30 starts for the first time since he made 33 in 2016.  His 126.2 innings pitched are already his most since throwing 198.2 innings in 2016.  With 127 hits and 85 runs allowed already, Adam will also probably end up with more hits and runs given up in any season since 2016 as well.

The home run he served up on Friday night was the sixteenth hit off Adam this season – already the third highest total in his 14-year career.  His career high came in 2016 when he served up 22.

With the walk allowed, Waino has 50 for the season.  He has reached 60 walks only twice so far in his career.

Adam’s 6 strikeouts Friday bring him to 124 for the season – already more than either of the last two years.  At this pace Adam may end up with more strikeouts than in any season since he fanned 179 in 2014.

Fowler’s last healthy, full season was 2015.  He played 156 games and had 596 at bats that year, and hasn’t played in more than 125 games or had more than 456 at bats since.  Sunday was his 112th game, providing his 349th at bat of 2019.

In his three seasons in St Louis, Dexter has never had more than 111 hits.  With 5 against the Reds, Fowler already has 87 this year.  Last year he had a four-year streak of twenty or more doubles broken.  His double Friday night was his eighteenth on this season.  With his home run that night, Fowler is within 4 of his career high – 18 set in 2017.

Goldschmidt has still played in every game this year – all 122 so far.  He played 158 last year.  The closest he has come to playing all the games was 2013, when he played in 160.  He is now, also, up to 457 at bats after finishing with 593 last year.  He has been over 600 at bats in a season just once in his career.

Up, now, to 28 home runs this year, Paul is just 5 behind the 33 he hit last year.

Mikolas – Saturday’s starter – continues to gain on many of the career highs he set last year.  The start was his twenty-fifth of this year, leaving him just 7 starts away from the 32 he made last year.  The 7 hits allowed bring him to 153 already this year, after allowing 186 last year.  With 2 walks given up. Miles has walked just 25 batters this year – but walked just 29 last year.

The 5 runs scored off of him last night bring him to 72 for the season – a career high.  He allowed 70 all last year.  He also allowed 2 home runs.  Having already set a career high in that category, Mikolas reaches the 20-mark in home runs allowed for the first time in his career (he has now allowed 21).

When St Louis opened up a 12-0 lead on Cincinnati during Friday’s game, it was their biggest lead in a game since May 9, when they beat Pittsburgh by 13 runs – 17-4.

Friday’s win brought the team earned run average under 4 (3.99) for the first time all season.  The stay was brief.  After the Reds dropped 6 runs on the Cards the next night, the team ERA popped back up to 4.01.

Flaherty Overcomes Limping Offense to Down Royals

With 23-year-old Jack Flaherty in command, the Cards kicked off their road trip and kept their winning streak clicking up to four games.

Kansas City finished with no runs on 4 hits in the 2-0 Cardinal victory (box score).

The great pitching performance and the win makes things more palatable.  Truth be told, though, the Cards were as nearly dominated on 5 hits.  Only one of their runs was earned.

The storyline continues the same.  For the seventh time in 10 August games, the Cardinals were held to fewer than four runs.  They have scored just 37 runs this month, and are scoring just 3.07 runs per game over their last 14 games.

There are lots of pieces of the St Louis offense that aren’t exactly perking right now.  One fundamental thing that would make a significant difference – if they can do it – would be to put the leadoff man on base.

Last night, Dexter Fowler began the game by reaching on an error.  He eventually scored.  Paul DeJong began the second inning with a walk.  He was later erased trying to steal second.  Kolten Wong then led off the third with a double.  Even though he managed to run himself into as out as well, his hit set in motion the Cards second run.

Thereafter, the Cards put none of their last six leadoff batters on base.  Consequently, they never scored again, and only pushed two runners into scoring position – both with two outs.

This was not an isolated occurrence.  The Cards’ .301 on base percentage from their leadoff hitters (according to baseball reference) ranks twenty-second out of thirty teams.  Over the last 14 games, that on base percentage has faded to .289.  In the season’s second half, St Louis has put its leadoff batter on base just 72 times in 251 innings (.287).  Those hitters are batting just .222.

The April team that jumped out to a 20-10 record, profited from a .291/.361/.498 batting line from its leadoff hitters.  And once that batter reached base, he scored 55% of the time.

Since April, Cardinal leadoff hitters have limped along with a .211/.282/.347 batting line – with only 45% of those batters who reached eventually scoring.

It’s a number that supports one of the feelings that I’ve had about the team and lineup in general.  Lots of guys in the lineup are thumpers.  But too few of them seem to embrace the set-up roll.  If this one aspect of the offense could improve even marginally, the impact would be noteworthy.

KoltenWong

One of the players who has embraced the table-setting aspect of offense is Kolton Wong.  Kolten is pretty torrid right now.  He had 2 of the 5 Cardinal hits last night – including their only hit out of the leadoff spot.

Wong now has hit safely in 18 of his last 23 games, hitting .377 (26 for 69) as he has pushed his season average back up to .271.  The team’s leading hitter in July, Kolten holds that position early in August as well.  Ten games into the month, Kolten is 10 for 28 (.357).  He is also hitting .361 (30 for 83) in the second half.  That average also leads the team.

DexterFowler

Finishing 0-for-3, Dexter Fowler saw his six-game hitting streak come to an end.  Fowler hit .381 (8 for 21) and slugged .667 (3 doubles and 1 home run) in those games.

PaulDeJong

Every so often this season, Paul DeJong joins in the offense with a flurry of hits.  The last time was the beginning of this month when he popped 5 hits over the first two games.  He only has four hits in the 8 games since.  Over those last 8 games, Paul is 4 for 28 (.143) and hasn’t had an extra base hit over his last five games.  Over his last 15 games, DeJong has 3 runs batted in (just 1 in his last 7).  Over the last 14 games, DeJong has struggled to a .196 average (10 for 51).

My question, I guess, is that if Paul is going to start every game even if he doesn’t hit, perhaps he shouldn’t hit fifth?  Maybe he should bat lower in the order?

JackFlaherty

But who wants to dwell on shaky offense when you can talk about Jack Flaherty.

Of the myriad of high-ceiling arms in the Cardinal’s system, Flaherty becomes the first to really settle in and start growing into an elite pitcher.  Yes, one day Jack will allow another run, but it hasn’t happened to him yet this month.

His first 21 innings in August could hardly be better.  The 75 batters that have faced him have created no runs on just 8 hits (5 singles and 3 doubles).  He has struck out 26 of them while walking just 4.  It’s an opposing batting line of .114/.173/.157.  But this is just the very prominent tip of the iceberg.

Going back to the last game before the break, Flaherty has made seven starts with an 0.79 ERA over 45.1 innings.  Six of the seven starts have been quality.  In five of those starts, Jack has pitched 7 innings allowing 4 or fewer hits and never more than 1 run.  The batting line against him – from the last 168 batters he has faced – is a compelling .142/.208/.219.

The emergence of Jack Flaherty is one of the most important developments of the 2019 season.  He has become “must-watch” TV every time he takes the mound.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s first-inning sacrifice fly stood up as the game-winning hit.  Goldy is the first Cardinal this season with 10 GWRBIs.

DeJong’s second inning walk was his forty-third of the season – a career high for the third year player.  More than that, it was the 100th walk of his career.  It took him 338 games and 1420 plate appearances, so Paul isn’t exactly a walk machine.  But he has been getting better.  Every year his walk total increases – as does the margin between his on base percentage and his batting average.

The shutout victory breaks a string of 8 consecutive games during which the Cards had trailed at some point.

Athletics Sweep Cards Behind Roark’s First Start

What to make of Tanner Roark?

The St Louis Cardinals took the field in Oakland Sunday afternoon needing a win to split the series.  On the mound was Roark, making his first start for the Athletics.

While new, perhaps, to the American League, Roark is no stranger to the Cardinals.  He has pitched most of his career in Washington, and became a member of the Cincinnati team in the offseason.  Lifetime against the Cards – even after last night’s game – Tanner is 3-3 with a 5.01 ERA.

But, as a member of the Reds he pitched two very solid games against the birds.  On April 13 he threw 5.1 innings, allowing 1 run on 6 scattered hits.  On July 18, he gave the Reds 5 more solid innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits.  In both of those games, there was a common element.  For some reason, the Cards couldn’t put his first strike into play.

Hitting the first strike thrown to you is one of the most productive activities that hitters can engage in.  Across all the major leagues this season (according to baseball reference), batters who put that first strike in play are hitting .353 with a .639 slugging percentage.

But you have to put the pitch in play.

In his two starts against them with the Reds, the 44 Cardinal batsmen offered at Tanner’s first strike 23 times (a healthy 52.3% of the time).  They put the pitch in play twice.  Both by pitchers.

Adam Wainwright bounced an RBI single through the left side in the April game, and in the July game, Dakota Hudson popped up a bunt attempt.  Everyone else either missed the pitch or fouled it off.

Yesterday afternoon’s contest followed the general same pattern.  Thirteen of the 22 batters that Tanner faced offered at that first strike.  Two put the pitch into play.  Andrew Knizner slapped a single up the middle in the fourth on the first pitch of his at bat, and Marcell Ozuna grounded a 1-0 pitch to short to end the fifth (Tanner’s final frame).

Roark finished with five more innings completed against the Cards allowing 1 run on 4 hits and the 4-2 win (box score).

Whether it’s Tanner or whether the Cards are just off kilter is a question worth asking.  For the series, only 8 of 74 Cardinal batsmen managed to put the first strike in play.  Of the 8, Knizner’s single was the only safe hit, and only one other first strike was hit notably well.  Tommy Edman ended the fourth inning of the Saturday game by lining into a double play.

Whether the Oakland pitching or a general slump among the Cardinals – or some combination of both – the Oakland series was not St Louis’ finest hour.  They hit .194 in the two games (13 for 67).  Over the last 7 games (5 of them Cardinal losses), St Louis is hitting .246 and scoring 2.71 runs per game.

And, meanwhile, they have tumbled to a game-and-a-half behind the Cubs in the division.

PaulDeJong

While there was not much good news in Oakland, the best could be the revival of Paul DeJong.  Contributing very little since mid-April, DeJong was 3 for 8 against the A’s, including a home run.  Over his last 3 games, Paul is 6 for 12.  His return to form can’t happen fast enough.

JoseMartinez

Unable to build on his recent seven-game hitting streak, Jose Martinez finished the Oakland series 1 for 8.  His has been one of the missing bats over the last seven games.  Martinez is 6 for 27 (.222) in those games, with only one extra-base hit – a double that raises his slugging percentage to .259 over those games.  Traditionally a second-half hitter, Jose is hitting just .217 (13 for 60) since the break.

TommyEdman

Promoted early in June, Tommy Edman quickly became a fan favorite (and apparently a favorite with management as well).

But after his quick start, Tommy has been tail-spinning lately.  After a 1 for 9 series, Edman is only 2 for 18 over his last 4 games.  Since the All-Star break, Tommy has had 84 plate appearances.  He has 13 singles, 4 doubles, 1 home run and 4 walks to show for them.  His batting line for the second half so far is .225/.262/.313.

Tommy hit the first strike thrown to him twice in Oakland – going 0 for 2.  He is 0 for his last 8 when he hits that first strike

YairoMunoz

Yairo Munuz was the other player (along with Edman) that made Jedd Gyorko expendable.  And, of course, like Edman, he also immediately fell into a slump.  Hitless in 3 at bats on Saturday, Yairo is 2 for his last 17 (.118), and hitting .226 (12 for 53) with just 3 walks since the break.

DexterFowler

Playing in both games, Dexter Fowler was hitless in the series (0-for-5) and now hitless in his last 10 at bats.  His average is now down to .239 for the season, as he is just 1 for 17 (.059) over his last 5 games.  Dex is hitting .188 (13 for 69) since the break.

Hitting with two strikes on you is always a challenge, but Fowler – after going 0-for-3 with two strikes on him in the Oakland series – is just 2 for 40 (.050) with 23 strikeouts when he has fallen into two strike counts since the break.

DakotaHudson

It is getting increasingly difficult to remember the Dakota Hudson that pitched 8 consecutive quality starts at one point in the season.  Dakota was the Saturday starter (an 8-3 loss) and lasted just 3.2 innings.  Since the last of those quality starts, Dakota has made 7 starts, with only 2 quality starts and a 5.68 ERA over 31.2 innings.

He has faced 155 batters in those games, allowing 23 singles, 7 doubles, 9 home runs, 1 sacrifice bunt, 2 sacrifice flies, walking 20 and hitting 5 others.  It adds up to a 307/.416/.575 batting line.  Once an elite groundball pitcher, Dakota has gotten only 46% ground balls his last seven times out.

Hudson and Wainwright both had trouble finishing when they had batters in two-strike counts.  Dakota got to strike two on 14 of the 21 he faced, but walked 4 of those.  Three of the four runs that scored against him reached base after they had two strikes on them.

Since the All-Star break, Hudson has gone to two strikes on 55 batters.  They have 8 hits and 9 walks – a .315 on base percentage.  Across all of baseball, batters with two strikes on them reach base at a .248 clip.

For his part, Wainwright went two strikes on 15 batters.  Only one hit safely, but two others walked and there were those two critical two-strike hit-by-pitches that set up most of the damage.  Two of the three runs he gave up reached base after they had two strikes on them.

NoteBook

The home run allowed by Adam Wainwright was his fourteenth of the season.  He only served up 5 in his injury shortened 2018 season, but also allowed only 14 in 123.1 innings the year before.  The next home run he allows will give him the most home runs against since he allowed a career high 22 in 2016.

Along with the 2 hit batsmen, Adam also walked 3.  He has now walked 47 this year, more than the 18 from last year and the 45 from 2017.  Adam hasn’t walked as many as 60 batters in a season since he walked 66 in 2009.

On the other hand, with his 7 strikeouts, Waino is up to 110 for the season, already his most since striking out 161 in 2016.  He collected 40 last year, and 96 the year before.

The Jurickson Profar home run, by the way, was the 140th hit against the Cards this year.  They allowed 144 all of last season.

The sweep was the first suffered by the Cards since the last time they faced Oakland.  They scored just 5 runs in this two game series.  They scored only 3 runs in the two games they played against Oakland in St Louis (June 25-26).

Facing a sweep 11 times already this season, this was the fifth time in 2019 the Cardinals have submitted.

Now 27-29 away from home, St Louis is 7-10-1 in road series.

Doing Damage to Lefties

Let’s go back one last time to that last day in June.  There were your St Louis Cardinals, losers of five in a row, 40-41 on the season and about to tilt out of the pennant race.

It’s the eleventh inning of a 3-3 game.  Kolten Wong is on first, but there are two out and Matt Wieters is to the plate to hit against lefty Brad Wieck.  According to the percentages, both teams should have started preparing for the twelfth inning.  As he stood at the plate, Matt was 0-for-19 on the season against left-handers.

But all the percentages that inform the long baseball season were about to undergo a seismic shift – not just for the St Louis Cardinals, but also for Mr. Wieters himself.

Beginning with that two-run home run that gave St Louis an 11-inning walk-off 5-3 win, the Cards have surged into the lead in their division courtesy of an 18-9 run.

As for Matt Wieters, he has spent the last month exacting revenge for the indignities of the first three.

On July 4, he tied the game against Seattle at one by scorching a third inning homer off of Mariner lefty Tommy Milone.  In the first game after the All-Star break, he did the same to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray (that game tying shot coming in the fifth inning).

Apparently, the Cubs haven’t been paying attention.

It’s the sixth inning of last night’s contest against Chicago.  The Cards hold a 3-0 lead, but have the opportunity to open things up.  They have two runners on, with no one out.  With Wieters coming up, manager Joe Madden went to the bullpen and pulled out a left-hander – Derek Holland.

Five pitches later, Matt flicked a tailing fastball from Holland over the wall in right to punch a hole in a game otherwise dominated by Cardinal starter Jack Flaherty.

The most telling hit in St Louis’ 8-0 victory (box score), pushed Matt to 7 of his last 17 against lefties – with 5 of the 7 hits going for extra-bases.

It also helped push St Louis back into sole possession of first place in their division – at least for another night.

Kolten Wong

It was a night of heroes, but among the most productive was Cardinal secondbaseman Kolten Wong.

You will remember that Wong got off to a searing-hot start in April.  Eighteen games into the season, Wong was slashing .316/.437/.614.

Then came the cold spell.  From April 19 through May 30, Kolten went 20 for 119 (.168) with only 5 extra-base hits.  His season average fell as low as .216.

For the last two months, Wong has more closely resembled the Kolten of early April.  Beginning with a single and a double (against Chicago, by the way) on May 31, Kolten has been a .327 hitter (53 for 162) ever since.  He has been especially torrid of late.  On his way to leading the team in batting average for the month of July (he hit .357 last month), Kolten has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts, going 19 for 45 in those games – an impressive .422.

But last night’s story gets even better.  His 3 hits last night all came off the lefty Jon Lester.  For a left-handed batter, Kolten was always OK against lefties.  He entered the season hitting .245 against them, including two years (2014 and 2017) when he hit over .270 against them.

With last night’s hits, Wong is 25 for 81 against left-handers this year, his .309 batting average against them ranking second on the team to Jose Martinez’ .367.

Perhaps one reason is that this year Kolten is getting to play against lefties consistently.

Dexter Fowler

The only starter not to collect a hit last night was Dexter Fowler – now 1 for his last 12 after his 0-for-4 last night.  Left-handed pitching has been problematical for Dex this year.  He was 0-for-10 against lefties last month, and is 13 for 62 (.210) against them for the year.

In his three-year Cardinal career, Fowler is just 50 for 231 (.216) against lefties.

Jack Flaherty

The storyline of the game, though, was Jack Flaherty, who took a no-hitter into the sixth, and finished seven innings allowing no runs on just the one hit.  Jack walked just two while striking out 9.

Over his last 5 starts, Flaherty has been growing every bit into the dominant kind of starter he showed flashes of last year.  His last 5 times out, he has tossed 4 quality starts, allowing just 4 runs over 31.1 innings.  Jack has given just 15 hits in those innings, just 2 of them home runs, his 9 walks offset by 39 strikeouts.

It all adds up to a 1.15 ERA and a .140 batting average against.

NoteBook

Jose Martinez began the rout with an RBI single in the first.  That run stood up for Jose’s fifth game-winning RBI of the season.  Martinez now ranks fourth on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9), Paul Goldschmidt (8) and Paul DeJong (6).

Although his prospects for regular play seemed slight at the start of the season, Martinez has persevered.  Last night he played in his 103rd game of the season.  He played 152 last year to set his career high.

With his big home run last night, Wieters has reached double figures in home runs for the seventh time in his eleven-year career.  He only hit 8 last year in 235 at bats.  The shot raises his slugging percentage to .500.  The highest slugging percentage Matt has ever sustained over the course of a 200 or more at bat season was .450 in 2011.

The eight-run victory was the Cards’ largest since May 14 when they beat the Braves 14-3.  St Louis had trailed at some point in each of its five previous games.

The Cards finished the series allowing just 3 runs to the Cubs.  It is the fewest runs the Cards have yielded in any series this year.  The previous low (in a three-or-more game series) was 6 runs, given up the last time the Cubs visited Busch.  During that series at the beginning of June, the Cards won 2-1, 7-4 and 2-1.

The Cards have now won 5 of their last 6 series, and are now 5-3 in rubber games at home.

The Cubs were the thirteenth team St Louis has faced this year that had lost its previous series.  The Cards are 29-11 (.725) in those games, winning 10 of the series and splitting 2 others.  The only team to flip its momentum at the Cardinals expense was the San Diego Padres who won 2 of 3 in St Louis’ opening homestand of the season.  They had lost 2 of 3 to Arizona the series before.

Waino Plays Stopper Again

The memory is surprisingly vivid even a month later.  It is June 29.  The Cardinals – on the road in San Diego – were getting hammered 12-2.  After the game, the young Padres were cavorting on the field.  They were careless, happy and hot.  Although they weren’t expected to contend, at that moment they were 42-40 and just a game and a half out of the last wildcard spot.

In the other dugout, the Cardinals (who had vowed to make it back to the playoffs this year) wandered off the field like a team caught in a nightmare that they couldn’t wake up from.  That loss was their fifth in a row.  It dropped them to 40-41 on the season.  They were 4 games behind the Cubs in the division, and a game and a half behind San Diego in the wildcard race – three games behind the last spot, with four teams in between them and the last playoff spot.

This was the statistical half-way point of the season, and this team was under .500.  They were also at that point 20-20 in games after a loss.  While – to the best of my knowledge – no one else tracks games after a loss, I consider it a fairly useful barometer of a team’s character and resourcefulness.

For some background, no Cardinal team this century has finished below .500 in games after a loss.  The 2017 team finished a century-worst 39-39 in games after a loss.  That team finished 83-79 and 9 games out.

Throughout the century, coming into this year, the Cards (including playoffs) were 809-596 – a .576 winning percentage – after they had lost the game before.  Five times this century, this team won over 60% of their games after a loss.  All of those teams made the playoffs.

The seven versions of the Cardinals that have failed to make the playoffs this century are a combined 294-246 (.544) after a loss, while all of this century’s playoff teams have gone 515-350 (.595) after a loss.

The concept is simple enough.  Everybody loses games now and then.  But the tough teams resist getting that second loss pinned on them.  Stay out of losing streaks, and things will generally pan out well for the season.

Throughout the bulk of the season, the issue in games after a loss has been on the mound.  St Louis has lacked that stopper’s mentality from the next day’s pitcher.  Through the end of June, the next day’s starter carried a 4.86 ERA and a .281 batting average against.

On the last day of June, Miles Mikolas put his foot in the ground and began something of a turnaround.  He contained the exuberant Padres for 6 innings, leaving the game trailing, but only by a 3-2 score.  With a nearly impeccable bullpen (which has been a strong part of this story) holding the line, St Louis tied the contest thanks to an eighth-inning error, winning finally in the eleventh on Matt Wieters’ two-run home run (box score).

With the end of the season’s longest losing streak, came a reversal of fortunes for both teams.  Gravity has since caught up with the Padres, who have floated out of playoff contention.  For their part, the Cards used that emotional win to fashion the 16-8 July record that has surged them to the top of the division.

At the close of last weekend’s series against Houston, the Cardinal momentum looked like it may have stalled, as St Louis was defeated fairly soundly on Saturday and Sunday.

And so, yesterday they again needed a starter to take the mound and put an end to the losing streak.  As it has been so often over the last decade plus, that starter was Adam Wainwright.

The Cubs gave as good as they got from Waino, but by the end of his 5.2 inning stint, he held the game at a 1-1 tie.  The bullpen, again, threw airtight relief, and a late home run off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt sent the Cards into sole position of first place by a 2-1 score (box score).

This was now the 147th time that Adam has taken the mound after a Cardinal loss in his storied career.  The Cards are now 96-51 (.653) in those games.

Meanwhile, St Louis has gone 5-3 this month (including 4-1 over the last 5) in games after a loss – improving them to 26-23 for the season in this category.  In the 8 games after a loss this month, the rotation has come up strong with a 3.40 ERA and a .245 batting average against.  The bullpen has been even better in these games with a 1.88 ERA and a .152 batting average against.

Waino, by the way, has made the start in two of those games, throwing 5 solid innings against Seattle on July 3 setting up a 5-2 victory.

Last night’s game had a bit of a playoff feel to it.  The birds haven’t won too many of those types of games over the last few years.

Who You Gonna Call?

After back-to-back walks in the sixth, the Cubs had their best opportunity to break the hearts of the home team fans.  Bases were now loaded, two outs, and Kyle Schwarber – owner of more than one telling hit against the Cardinals in his career – was at the plate.  At 95 pitches, and with the lefty up, manager Mike Shildt felt the prudent thing was to relieve Adam in an attempt to hold onto the 1-1 tie.

So, who do you call on?  Giovanny Gallegos, of course.  Five pitches later, Gallegos got Kyle to reach for that slider, lofting a harmless fly ball to medium deep left.  And the threat was done.  Giovanny has now stranded the last 8 runners that he has inherited – including the bases loaded twice.  Gallegos – who has stranded 29 of the 32 batters he has inherited this season – has now come into bases loaded situations 7 times this season.  He has stranded all of these gentlemen in 5 of those occasions, allowing just one of those runs in the other two occasions.

There just has not been an occasion that has been too large for the amazing Mr. Gallegos.

Gio is now unscored on in 8 straight games (11.2 innings).  He has allowed 2 hits in those innings with 15 strikeouts against 3 walks.  Over his last 24 games (29.2 innings), Gallegos holds an 0.61 ERA with a.131/.179/.212 batting line against.  The 4 walks he has allowed in those innings more than swallowed up in his 39 strikeouts.   In 12.2 innings this month Gio holds an 0.71 ERA, and has allowed just 3 hits against 18 strikeouts.

This just in.  Gallegos is pretty good.

AndrewMiller

Andrew Miller – all things considered – has put together a very solid month of his own.

He also entered the game with a runner on base (first base) and two outs.  Miller allowed an infield hit, but then retired slugger Kris Bryant on a fly ball to center.

For the month of July, Miller has a 1.80 ERA through 10 innings.

CarlosMartinez

In recent days, Carlos Martinez has had some scary innings.  None of that was in play last night.  Carlos wrapped up a four-out save in perfect fashion, featuring 3 strikeouts.  One of the big questions surrounding any closer is how quickly he can turn the page if he has a couple of rugged outings.  Here, in a big game against the Cubs (a team he has had struggles with) Carlos was as good as could be hoped.

Throughout his career, Carlos has always pitched very well on days after a Cardinal loss.  He has pitched in 5 of the 8 such games this month, giving 1 run on 3 hits and a walk while striking out 8 in 5 innings.  For the season, Martinez holds a 2.79 ERA with a .206/.280/.279 batting line in 19.1 innings after a loss.

Over the course of his career, Carlos has pitched in 107 games after a Cardinal loss – starting 47 of them.  He is 24-14 with 10 saves and a 3.08 ERA over 362 innings.

TommyEdman

After a bit of a tailspin, Tommy Edman is beginning to re-emerge. He has had two hits in each of the last two games.

Tommy has had a good month in games after a loss.  He has now played in 7 of them, hitting .320 (8 for 25).

JoseMartinez

Jose Martinez finished the game with two singles, stretching his hitting streak to seven games.  He is hitting .333 (9 for 27) during the streak.

PaulGoldschmidt

Speaking of hitting streaks, Goldschmidt extended his to eight straight games.  It hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak either, as Paul has hit .364 (12 for 33) in those games.  The hits have been 5 singles and 7 home runs.  Paul has driven home 14 runs over the last 8 games (3 of them game winners) while slugging a tidy 1.000.

DexterFowler

Dexter Fowler saw his six-game hitting streak come to an end last night.  Dex was 7 for 23 (.304) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.652 slugging percentage) during the streak.

PaulDeJong

Paul DeJong will certainly be glad to see July end.  After his 0 for 4, Paul is down to .214 for the month (18 for 84).

For the season, Paul has struggled considerably after a St Louis loss.  Playing in 48 of the 49 games, DeJong is hitting .227 in those games (41 for 181).  In July, after a loss, he was 3 for 30 (all singles) with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts – a .100/.156/.100 batting line.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s home run accounted for his eighth game-winning RBI of the season.  Only Marcell Ozuna (who has 9) has more.

The home run was Goldy’s twenty-fifth of the year.  Paul has been a four-time thirty-home-run guy – including last year when he hit 33.  His career high is 36, done twice.  Behind his average home run pace for most of the year, Goldschmidt is now on pace to hit a career-high 38.  Seven homers in eight games will do that.

Paul hasn’t started every game this season, but he has played in all of them – all 106.  Goldschmidt has never played in every game in a season, but he has come close.  He played in 160 with Arizona back in 2013.  He has played in at least 155 games in each of the last 4 seasons – including 158 last year.

Paul is also up to 396 at bats, and is creeping up on the 593 he had last year – the second most of his career.

After getting hit by a pitch again last night, Kolten Wong has reached double figures in HBP for the third consecutive season, and the fourth time in his career.  His career high is 15 set in 2015.

Kolten is also moving up on the games played list – last night was his 104th game of the season.  He played just 127 last year.  Kolten has never played more than the 150 games he played in 2015.

Wong is also up to 330 at bats for the season, just beneath the 353 he managed last year.  Wong hasn’t been over 400 at bats in a season since that 2015 season.

His single was his eighty-sixth hit of the season – he finished last year with 88.  Kolten, in his seven-year career – has exceeded 100 hits only three times.  He has also nearly matched his total bases for all of last year (when he had 137).  He already has 129 in 2019.

With Tuesday’s hard-fought win, St Louis has now won the opening game of five straight series.

The Cubs (coming off losing two-of-three in Milwaukee) are the fourth team in the Cards’ last five series that had lost its previous series.

St Louis fell behind again in the fourth inning.  They have now surrendered the game’s first run in four straight games, and six of the last seven.

Still Comes Back to Pitching

The way that the Cardinal’s hot streak came to a thudding halt against Houston at home this weekend should serve as a reminder of some fundamental principles.  The first of these principles affirms that it is the depth of the lineup – not necessarily whatever impact bats might be in the middle of it – that determines your offensive performance.

Toward the end of the Cardinal hot streak (and most recently here), the mlb.com game accounts have connected the St Louis surge to Paul Goldschmidt’s recent heroics.

It is no surprise that sports’ journalists should – like the fans – gravitate towards the achievements of the game’s superstars.  Sunday’s loss brought to an end a six-game home run streak from Goldschmidt (although not his hitting streak – more on that below).  This is a significant achievement.  There are precious few mortals anywhere on this planet who are capable of doing things like this.

But the structure of baseball minimizes the impact of any one player – even the superstars.  Unlike football (where you can give the ball to your star running back as often as you like) or basketball (where you can funnel the ball to your top scorer every time down the court), in baseball, Goldschmidt has to wait until everyone else has had their at bat before he can hit again.  Thus, the more production you get from the rest of the lineup, the more runs you will score over the course of the game (or season).

This was somewhat dramatically born out in the Cardinal losses in this last series.  Paul homered in the Saturday game, and added a single on Sunday, but St Louis scored just two runs in each game because too few of the rest of the Cardinal hitters were able to contribute.

It feels a little obvious pointing this out, but there are times that I’m not sure that management understands that this is how offense works in baseball.

The other fundamental principle is that everything begins with pitching.  Paul may well have hit two home runs in each of the last two games, and the birds would probably have lost them both anyway as the starting pitchers in those two contests never really gave the team a chance.

In the Friday game (a 5-3 win), starter Jack Flaherty crafted a quality start against this very accomplished Houston lineup – he allowed just 2 runs on 3 hits over 6 innings (he struck out 9).

In the other two games – Saturday’s 8-2 loss and Sunday’s 6-2 defeat – the two starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon and Dakota Hudson) made early exits, leaving with significant deficits.

Combined, Ponce de Leon and Hudson totaled 6.1 innings at the cost of 10 runs on 11 hits (that included a double and 3 home runs), 6 walks and 1 hit batter.  They combined for a 14.21 ERA and a .407/.529/.778 batting line.

Most of the time, this kind of damage will get you into trouble.  On Saturday and Sunday, it was more trouble than the offense could overcome.

Flaherty

While the Astro series represented a step backward for the rotation overall, Flaherty’s performance continued his strong rebound.  After enduring some notable growing pains through much of the first half, Jack began turning things around with his last start before the All-Star break (a 1-0 loss).

Over his last four starts, now, Jack has 3 quality starts.  In his 24.1 innings, he has given just 4 runs on 14 hits while striking out 30.  He has a 1.48 ERA and a .165 batting average against, but still no wins as his offense has supported him with just 4 total runs over that span.

His ERA for the month of July is now down to 2.48 with a .198 batting average against.

The only runs off Jack came on a two-run home run off the bat of Michael Brantley.  The runner (Alex Bregman) was on first with one out – a potential double play opportunity.  This now makes 35 straight double play opportunities that Jack hasn’t gotten the double play on a ground ball.  A fly ball pitcher, Jack has actually gotten 5 ground balls in those situations, but 3 of those grounders found their way through the infield for singles, and the other two resulted in force-outs only.

Flaherty did actually get one double play in all of those opportunities.  Against the Pirates on July 16, Jack struck out Elias Diaz while Kevin Newman was running.  Matt Wieters gunned Newman down to complete the DP.

With their 50 swings at Jack’s offerings, Houston was only able to put the ball in play with 12 of them (24%).  Flaherty has been the most difficult of all Cardinal starters to put the ball in play against.  For the season, only 32.5% of the swings against him end up in play.

Flaherty had – overall – great success against Houston.  That success came at a price, though, as it took him 108 pitches to fight through his six innings (the ‘Stros fouled off 28 pitches against him).  He averaged 4.91 pitches per batter faced.

As is common for strikeout pitchers, Jack throws a lot of pitches per batter.  For the season, his 4.19 pitches per batter faced is the highest among all starters who have been in the rotation all year.

Ponce de Leon

Daniel pitched his way into the rotation with four very impressive spot starts.  He has now relinquished that spot as he hasn’t pitched well since being named the fifth starter.  In his last three starts he has totaled 9 innings pitched, giving 10 runs on 14 hits and 10 walks.  Opponents have a .368 batting average and a .500 on base percentage against him in those outings.

After a strong start, Daniel now has a 4.87 ERA for the month with 11 walks in 20.1 innings.

Hudson

At one point earlier this season, Dakota Hudson had thrown 8 consecutive quality starts – a feat unapproached by anyone in the rotation this year.

But Dakota has been undergoing some growing pains of his own lately.  His last 6 times out, Hudson has been saddled with a 5.46 ERA, a .301 batting average against, and a .593 slugging percentage against.  He has been touched for 9 home runs in his last 28 innings.

Normally an extreme groundball pitcher, only 43 of the last 89 batters to put the ball in play against him have hit the ball on the ground (48%).

John Brebbia

John Brebbia tossed a scoreless inning on Friday and then threw two more on Sunday.  While he has had some ups and downs this season, overall there have been a lot more ups.

In 10 games (14 innings) since his paternity leave, Brebbia has allowed 4 runs on 9 hits, walking 2 while striking out 19.  His July ERA sits at 2.57, with a .180/.226/.240 batting line against.

Of the two hits John allowed, one was an infield hit.  Through the end of June, John had allowed just one infield hit.  He has been scratched for 4 this month.

Over the two games, John faced 3 double play opportunities, and didn’t get the ground ball for any of them.  For the season, Brebbia has been in that double play situation 32 times and has gotten just 1 double play.  He only got ground balls on two other occasions – one resulting in an infield hit, and the other a dribbler back to the mound that advanced the baserunners.

Of the two batters that John struck out on Sunday, one (Carlos Correa) was caught looking at strike three.  Brebbia is getting more called third strikes than usual lately.  Of his first 48 strikeouts this season, only five looked at strike three.  Seven of his last 17 strikeouts have gone down looking.

No Cardinal pitcher who has faced more than 50 batters has had a higher percentage of his pitches swung at than John.  Over the weekend, Houston offered at 21 of his 39 deliveries (53.8%).  For the season, batters swing at his offerings 51.1% of the time.

John Gant

After a brilliant start to his season, John Gant has been regressing rapidly.  He pitched in 2 of the Houston games, and allowed a run in both.  He has been scored on in 5 of his last 12 games.  In a total of 10 innings, the previously almost untouchable Mr Gant has given 9 runs on 16 hits a 9 walks – his 8.10 ERA in those outings accompanied by a .381 batting average and a .490 on base percentage.

Sunday was one of the few times recently that John was brought into a game the Cards were losing, and the four-run deficit they faced was the farthest behind the Cards have been when John has entered a game this season.

In the eighth inning Sunday, Brantley came to the plate with George Springer at third, Jose Altuve at first and no one out. The score was 5-1 Houston.  Brantley drilled a double off the base of the wall in right-center driving in the runner from third.  This was the eleventh time this season that Gant had that runner at third and less than two out.  That runner has now scored 8 times.

Dexter Fowler

With his pinch home run in Sunday’s ninth inning, Dexter Fowler extended his recent hitting streak to six straight games.  Dex is hitting .304 (7 for 23) during the streak, with 4 of the hits going for extra bases (2 doubles and 2 home runs) – a .652 slugging percentage.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill was also one of the bright spots of the Houston series.  Extracting himself from a small slump, O’Neill was 4 for 10 in the 3 games, with 3 walks.  Tyler is still having a very strong July, hitting .312 this month (24 for 77).

Goldschmidt

As mentioned above, Paul’s home run streak ended at six games.  Goldschmidt did, though, get a single on Sunday to push his hitting streak to seven games.  He is 10 for 29 during the streak (.345) with 4 singles to go with the 6 home runs – a .966 slugging percentage.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong had gotten a hit in 8 consecutive games in which he had had a plate appearance until he went 0 for 3 on Saturday.  He started his next streak with a single and a run scored on Sunday.

In the last 10 games in which he has had a plate appearance, Kolten is hitting .371 (13 for 35).  He is up to .344 (22 for 64) for the month.

Paul DeJong

After his big series against Pittsburgh, Paul DeJong finished the Houston series just 1 for 9.  He is still hitting just .225 (18 for 80) in July.

Harrison Bader

Nothing will drop in for Harrison Bader.  Hitless in 5 at bats during the Houston series, Harrison is now 0 for his last 14 at bats.  He is hitting .146 for the month (6 for 41), and is down , now, to .195 on the year.

Yairo Munoz

Not much went Yairo Munoz’ way against Houston, either.  Hitless in 8 at bats in the series, Yairo is now working on an 0-for-10.

Over his last 6 games, Yairo is 4 for 24 (.167), and is now hitting just .233 (14 for 60) for the month.

Final Notes from the Pirate Series

Yairo Munoz got the start in left field on Wednesday, breaking Tyler O’Neill’s streak of 11 consecutive starts in left.   That had been the longest active streak by any Cardinal at a single position.  That mantle now reverts back to Paul DeJong, who – after the conclusion of the Houston series – has made 14 consecutive starts at shortstop.

While Miles Mikolas – the Thursday starter – has pitched notably better since the All-Star break, he is still well on pace to set new career highs (all set last year) in runs, earned runs, hits allowed and walks.  He gave 3 more runs (all earned) on 5 more hits and a walk in his six innings, and has now served up 58 runs (56 earned) on 127 hits and 20 walks for the season.  His career highs were the 70 runs (63 earned), 186 hits and 29 walks he gave last year.  At his current pace, Miles will give up 92 runs (89 earned), 202 hits and 32 walks this season.

With their 6 runs on Thursday, St Louis finished the series with 30 runs scored – the most runs they have scored in any series this year (of course, this was a four-game series).  The previous high was the 26 runs they scored against the Dodgers from April 8-11 (also a four-game series).

NoteBook – Houston Series

Paul Goldschmidt picked up his seventh GWRBI with his Friday home run.  He is 2 behind Marcell Ozuna for the team lead.

When St Louis out-homered Houston 2-1 on Friday, they brought themselves into home run parity for the season for the first time since the twelfth game of the season  (they were actually ahead of the opposition at that point, 19-18).  The Cards ended Friday with 134 home runs hit and 134 home runs allowed.  As recently as game number 90 (on July 13), they were 16 home runs shy of the opposition (109 hit and 125 allowed).

With his 3 at bats on Thursday, Dexter Fowler surpassed the 289 at bats he totaled in his slump-and-injury plagued 2018 season.  Dexter now has 292 at bats for the 2019 season.

Carlos Martinez has started at least 1 game every year of his seven-year career.  On Friday he pitched in his twenty-fifth game of the year – all out of the pen.  He is 8 games pitched away from the 33 he pitched last year, when he was mostly a starter.  Even after missing the first part of the season with injuries, Carlos is still on pace to pitch in 39 games, which would be his most since he pitched in 57 games when he was mostly a reliever in 2014.

But no starts, yet.

Carlos has already set career highs in games finished (17, after finishing 13 in 2014) and saves (he has 10 this season after recording just 7 previously in his entire career).

One thing about Kolten Wong’s season.  He won’t be able to complain that he did have ample opportunity.  Kolten, who has had annual issues staying healthy (and producing enough to stay in the big leagues) played his 103rd game of the season on Sunday.  He played only 127 all last year.  His 10 at bats in the series brought him to 328 for the season.  He totaled 353 all last year.

The consistent playing time has seemed to pay off some.  Wong already has 85 hits (with his 3 against Houston) and 128 total bases this year, after finishing last year with 88 hits and 137 total bases.

He already has more runs batted in this year (40 after his Friday RBI) than he had all of 2018 (38).

When the Friday game started, St Louis had gone 8 games being at least tied in the game after 6 innings, but they trailed in this one by a 2-1 score at that point of the game.

In Saturday’s loss they broke a streak of ten straight games where they held the lead at some point of the game.

George Springer’s home run in the first inning on Sunday meant that Houston scored first in all three games of the weekend set.  The Cardinals have now surrendered the first run in five of the last six games.

St Louis is now 11-5-1 in series after winning the first game.

Cards Waste Another Quality Start in San Fran

Oh, come on, now.  You didn’t really think Jack Flaherty would make it through a whole start without getting touched for a home run, did you?

The impressive and encouraging thing about the Cardinals’ last game before the All-Star break was how long it took for that ubiquitous home run to show up.  Seventy-five pitches and 6.1 innings into the contest, Flaherty had not only not allowed a home run.  He had given no hits whatsoever.  His seventy-sixth pitch, of course, was the misbehaving slider that Evan Longoria crushed deep over the left field wall for the only run of the game (box score).

Jack has now allowed at least one home run in seven straight starts.  The total is now 11 in his last 37.2 innings.

Even in defeat, though, it was a welcomed performance from Jack, who had managed only one quality start in his previous six outings.

As far as the Cardinals’ wasting excellent pitching, this was hardly an isolated moment.  Eighty-eight games into the championship season, the Cards have only gotten 38 quality starts from its rotation.  Eight of those 38 starters have been saddled with the loss in these games.  Flaherty has now absorbed the loss in both of his last two quality starts.  Of the 38 quality starts, this is now the third time that the Cardinal pitcher received no support runs at all.  This has now happened to Jack (who has now gone five consecutive starts since the last time he saw at least four runs of support) twice in his last 4 starts.

In all, St Louis has failed to score more than 3 runs for their starter in 24 of their 38 quality starts.  In all honesty, our rotation hasn’t been as dominant as often as expected.  But, on those rare occasions when they are, it is almost to be expected that they will get minimal run support.

To this point of the season, St Louis is 25-13 (.658) when they get a quality start from their pitcher.  That seems pretty strong, but if that figure holds, it would tie the Cardinals’ lowest winning percentage in quality start games in any year in this century.  The 2008 team (50-26) finished at .658 when they got quality starts.

Last year’s team was 50-18 (.735).  Through all the games this century up to this year, the Cards are 1187-425 (.736) when their starter puts them into position to win.  They have won over 70% of these games in 15 of the first 19 full seasons of this century.

The 2017 team was the one I labeled “the team that blinks.”  They lost 21 quality start games (out of 76 – a .724 winning percentage).  But Sunday’s loss was so reminiscent of one of those games, it’s impossible not to take a look back.

May 20 that year was a Saturday.  The evening in St Louis was a balmy 79 degrees with a few clouds.

The Cardinal pitcher was Carlos Martinez.  That evening, Carlos may have thrown the best game by a Cardinal pitcher since Chris Carpenter in Game 5 against Philadelphia.  In just 93 dominant pitches, Martinez tore through the Giants, walking off the mound after nine complete innings, having allowed no runs on just two hits and 1 walk.

Making the best start of his career, Carlos didn’t walk off the mound with a complete game.  He wasn’t awarded a shutout.  Carlos didn’t even get the win.  That, of course, would be because while Martinez was turning away the Giant batters, San Francisco’s pitcher – yes, it was Jeff Samardzija that evening as well – was similarly frustrating the Cardinal batsmen.

After 12 scoreless innings, San Francisco finally broke through with 3 runs against Kevin Siegrist, and held on from there for a 3-1 victory (box score).

It was a signature loss that year.  Like Sunday’s loss, it was the kind of game that playoff teams rarely lose – especially against losing teams which the Giants are so far this year and were in 2017 when they lost 98 games.  But not that night.

So, just like that the Cards hit the All-Star break with a .500 record.  As the rest of the division has hung around waiting for them, they find themselves just two games out of the division lead.

Dakota Hudson

On the other end of the spectrum – at least this time out – is Dakota Hudson.  Hudson was provided with 6 support runs while he was pitcher of record, as the Cards were on their way to a 9-4 win on Friday (box score) – their only win of the series.

After throwing 8 consecutive quality starts, Hudson missed qualifying for the second consecutive start.  He still navigated through 5 innings, allowing 3 runs, and took the win.  Over his last 10 games, Dakota is 5-1 with two potential wins lost by the bullpen, and a 2.83 ERA.

Miles Mikolas

Saturday’s losing pitcher (box score) was starter Miles Mikolas.  Done in by a grand slam, Miles lasted just 4, giving 5 runs on 6 hits.  In his last 10 starts, Miles is now 1-7 with a 4.99 ERA.

They were only two singles, but San Fran was 2 for 3 with a sacrifice fly against Mikolas when they hit the first pitch.  No pitcher on the staff has had the difficulties with his first pitch that Mikolas has.

Batters are now 25 for 52 (.481) when they hit Miles’ first pitch.  The hits are generally not soft, either.  Opposing hitters have 3 doubles, 2 triples and 6 home runs when jumping Miles’ first pitch – a .962 slugging percentage.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz got another start Sunday afternoon – and responded with two hits.  He was the only Card with multiple hits that afternoon.

Munoz – who hit .345 in sparse duty in June – is starting to work his way more and more frequently into the lineup.  Much of this has been facilitated by injuries to Matt Carpenter and now Kolten Wong.  But production is also in the equation.  Yairo has played 6 of the last 8 games, starting 5.  He is hitting .316 in those opportunities (6 for 19).

Dexter Fowler

After getting 5 hits through the first two games, Dexter Fowler was held hitless on Sunday.  That 0-for-4 broke a nine-game hitting streak (counting only games in which Fowler had an at bat).  He was 12 for 29 during the streak (.414) with a double, a triple and two home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the streak, with a .724 slugging percentage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Don’t look now, but Paul Goldschmidt has put together a pretty noisy seven-game hitting streak.  After going 5 for 13 against San Fran, Paul is 9 for 26 (.346) during the streak.  He has 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a .654 slugging percentage over his last 7 games.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters finished the Friday blow-out win with 2 hits.  He went 0-for-7 through the last two games.  Matt is now 4 for 19 (.211) in his cameo subbing for Yadier Molina.  It should be pointed out, though, that 2 of those 4 hits have been home runs.

Harrison Bader

So far, July hasn’t been any kinder to Harrison Bader than June.  Hitless in 6 at bats in San Francisco, Bader is now 5 for 52 (.096) over his last 19 games.  He has no extra-base hits, or runs batted in in those games.  He has drawn just 3 walks in that span – none in his last 9 games.

For July, Bader is off to a .200 (3 for 15) start.

NoteBook

With 4 hits in the series, Kolten Wong is now up to 68 for the season.  He finished 2018 with just 88 hits.  He is also up to 105 total bases after amassing just 137 all last year.  Kolten is also about to pass last season’s totals in runs (34 after scoring just 41 times all last year) and runs batted in (35 after driving in 38 all of last year).

Miles Mikolas – whose ERA is up almost two full runs over his 2018 season – continues to gain quickly on all his totals from last year (which were, by the way, his career highs).  The home run he allowed Saturday was his sixteenth – tying his career high.  The 5 runs allowed brought him to 52 for the season, and the 4 earned runs leave him with 50 in 2019.  Last year’s totals were 70 and 63 respectively in 200.2 innings.

Then, on Sunday, Jack Flaherty – whose 2019 ERA is also up precipitously – allowed his twentieth home run of the season – matching his career high from 2018.  As with Mikolas, Jack is quickly reaching several other career highs set last year in hits allowed (108 – he has 87 already), runs (59 last year, 51 already this year) and earned runs (56 last year and 50 already in 2019).

St Louis is now 3-5 in rubber games this season.  All 5 losses in rubber games have come against teams that had won its previous series (we are 1-5 in rubber games against those teams).

Overall, St Louis has played 14 series against teams that won their previous series.  They have won 3 of those series, lost 10, and split the other.  They are 17-25 when pitted against teams coming off a winning series.

The Friday game was the first time in 9 games that St Louis didn’t trail at some point, and their 5 run lead after seven was their biggest lead heading into the eighth since they held a seven-run lead on Kansas City in an eventual 10-3 win on May 22.

Meanwhile, the 1-0 loss on Sunday ended a streak of 8 straight games in which they had held a lead at some point.

At 2:19 the Sunday game was the quickest of the season.  The previous quickest game was the 4-3 loss in Philadelphia on May 28.  That game lasted 2:28.

New/Old Offensive Philosophy Leads to Damage in Seattle

“Our hard-hit contact rate improved [in May] and our results decreased.  And I felt like we said, ‘You know what? We’ve got to do something different because we’re not getting the reward.’  We got away from the damage we were doing coming out of Spring Training.  We did without reward and lost our way a little bit.  We’ve gotten back to doing what we need to do, and that’s putting some damage out there.”

The speaker here was Cardinal manager Mike Shildt, quoted in Anne Rogers game story for MLB.com (full article).

The gist – as I understand it – is that the Cardinal hitters tried to be too selective at the plate.  Earlier in that same article, Dexter Fowler explained it this way: “See the ball in the zone and take that hack at it.  Guys sit there thinking, ‘Oh, he’s going to throw me this, so I want it in this spot.’  If it’s in the zone, hit it.”

June, of course, was a disastrous offensive month for the Holy Cardinal Franchise.  They managed just 3.54 runs per game and finished dead last in the entire major leagues in team batting average (.223), on base percentage (.286) and slugging percentage (.357).

The Seattle series did show a significant uptick.  In three games in the Pacific Northwest, the formerly inept Cardinal batsmen hit .275 (28 for 102), with 12 of the hits going for extra-bases (6 doubles and 6 home runs).  They slugged .510 in Seattle.

So, how much of the expressed philosophical issue and the described resolution are truly responsible for the woes of June?  And how compelling is the evidence that things have turned around?  Let’s play a little fact or fiction.

There actually is a statistical footprint that supports the “too passive” theory.  The usual statistical breakout of the average major league at bat is that slightly more than half of them get to the point where the hitter gets two strikes on him.  At that point, the numbers shift drastically to the pitcher.  Up to that point, major league batters hit over .300.  The other 50% of at bats are generally divided pretty evenly between batters hitting the first and second strike.  According to baseball reference, batters hitting the first strike thrown to them are hitting .354/.414/.636.  Once the batter gets two strikes on him, his numbers drop to .173/.247/.285.

St Louis’ numbers from June show that the first strike was hit only 17.5% of the time (suggesting a reluctance to take an aggressive approach).  Moreover, when that pitch was hits, the results – the “damage” if you will – sat well below the major league average.  Cardinals hitting the first strike in June hit .279/.357/.517.

Meanwhile, they ended up in two-strike counts an uncomfortable 57.3% of the time – with predictable results (.165/.225/.256).

For all of the talk, though, they didn’t hit that first strike any more frequently in this series.  Of the 109 batters who came to the plate in Seattle, 18 hit the first strike (just 16.5% – this number including two batters who walked before seeing strike one).

They did, however, hit that first pitch much better when they did hit it – going 9 for 16 (.562) with 2 doubles and a home run (.875 slugging percentage).

Of the 109 batters sent to the plate, 62 (56.9%) still ended up in two strike counts – higher than average.  These batters, though, also performed better.  The batting average was somewhat higher at .190 (11 for 58).  But 6 of the 11 two-strike hits went for extra-bases (3 doubles and all 3 home runs hit over the last two games).  Tommy Edman’s seventh-inning, game-winning single in the Thursday game (box score) also came on a two-strike pitch, culminating a 9-pitch at bat.

It could be argued from this, that the team isn’t any less selective than they were in June, but that when they do decide to swing, they are doing so with more abandon – that the swings, themselves, are more aggressive.

On the Other Hand

So, if there is some evidence of a new and more productive offensive philosophy in place, here are a couple of caveats to keep in mind.

First of all, the sample size is exceedingly small.  We are looking here at 109 plate appearances in contrast to 964 in June alone, and 3226 for the season.  Three games can suggest a possible turn-around, but proves nothing.

Second, of course, this was Seattle.  The Mariners are having a fairly dreary season, having lost more than fifty games, already.  There have been a lot of teams that have taken similar advantage of the Seattle pitching staff.  This becomes more credible when (if) they can perform similarly against a more established pitching staff.

Finally, this re-discovered damage happened on the road.  The question that hangs over this offense is – aggressive or not – can they do sustained damage in their spacious ballpark, where big flies tend to die on the track?

Don’t get me wrong, it was a relief to see some hits coming off the bats of some struggling hitters.  But there is still much to be proved.

HarrisonBader

Perhaps the change in philosophy affected no one more than Harrison Bader.  He had fallen completely into that pattern throughout the month of June.  Harrison hit that first strike just 19% of the time, and went just 3 for 12 when he did.  He ended with two-strikes on him 61.9% of the time, batting just .087 (4 for 46) when that happened.

Harrison had 7 plate appearances in the last two games of the Seattle series, and he hit the first strike in 3 of them – getting singles all three times.

PaulGoldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt finished the Seattle series with 3 hits over the last two games – a single and two doubles.  Two of the three hits came with two strikes on him – which was encouraging.  But again, Goldschmidt faced two-strike counts in 6 of his last 8 plate appearances.  Paul, who is, perhaps, more selective than he needs to be, has gotten to two strikes in 62.8% of his plate appearances.

JoseMartinez

Jose Martinez finished the Seattle series with a single and a double yesterday afternoon.  Jose has now strung together a nice six-game hitting streak.  He is hitting .333 during the streak (8 for 24), with half the hits going for extra-bases (2 doubles, 2 home runs).  Since being returned to the lineup 13 games ago, Jose is hitting .314 (16 for 51), and slugging .529 with 3 home runs.

DexterFowler

Fowler also has a little hitting streak going, having at least one hit in each of the last 7 games he’s had an official at bat in.  He walked as a pinch-hitter in the last game against San Diego.  Counting that walk, over his last 25 plate appearances, Fowler has contributed 5 singles, 1 double, 1 home run and 5 walks – a .350/.480/.550 batting line.

Fowler – like Goldschmidt – is a taker of pitches.  For all his talk about aggression, he never did hit the first strike thrown him at any point in the series, working with two strikes on him in 9 of the 11 plate appearances he had where they actually pitched to him (he was intentionally walked his last time up).

All three of his hits in the series came with two strikes on him.

YadierMolina

While most of the Cardinals’ struggling hitters found some measure of success in Seattle, things are still not falling in for Yadier Molina.  Yadi is 0-for-10 with a sacrifice fly in his last 11 plate appearances, but three of those outs (including the sac fly) have been line drives.  In 20 games since he’s returned from injury, Yadi is carrying a .239/.257/.282 batting line.

MichaelWacha

After allowing just 3 runs over 13 innings of his previous two starts, inconsistency found Michael Wacha yesterday afternoon, and he was driven from the mound before he could get through the fourth inning.

Wacha has labored to a 5.89 ERA since he returned from the injured list.

CarlosMartinez

Carlos Martinez’ season began on the injured list, and his first several appearances out of the pen were less than sharp.  That has resolved itself over his last 7 appearances (10.1 innings) in which he has given just 1 run on 7 hits (0.87 ERA).  Over that span, Carlos has walked just 2, given no extra-base hits, and struck out 11.

Of the last 24 batters to put the ball in play against him, exactly two-third have hit the ball on the ground.

AndrewMiller

Like Martinez, it took Andrew Miller a little while to get the feel of his slider.  The recent results indicate it is about back to its former level of filthiness.  He has struck out all of the last five batters he’s put into two strike counts, and 9 of the last 11.

NoteBook

Jose Martinez grounded into two double plays last night.  He has already bounced into 11 this season.  His career high are the 15 he hit into last year in 152 games and 534 at bats.

Last night’s victory gave St Louis a series win on the road.  This was their fourteenth road series of the season, and only the fifth of them that they have won, losing 8 and splitting 1.  Even with the win, they are 19-24 on the road this season.

Even though they eventually won the game, St Louis trailed after six innings for the ninth game in a row.