Tag Archives: Fowler

Brief Musing Over the Outfield Pecking Order

It looked for all the world like another quiet loss for the St Louis Cardinals as they went meekly into the ninth inning against the Mets trailing 4-2.  With Edwin Diaz coming into the game to close things out, it didn’t seem like it would take too long to navigate through the inning, allowing everyone to go home.  That may have been in part behind the decision to continue to play in a rain that was making things increasingly quagmirish.

And then the most unexpected thing happened.  Down to their last out, an RBI single from Kolten Wong and an RBI double from Harrison Bader tied the game.

Faced, now, with the potential for a considerably longer game, the tarps came out in earnest and – a short while later – the game was suspended, to be finished tonight before the regularly scheduled game.

So, while we wait to find out if we will be treated to a stirring comeback victory or just another tease, I thought we might spend a couple of quick paragraphs considering the outfield situation.

Currently the “fourth outfielder,” Jose Martinez has started more games than he hasn’t.  The suspended game was his forty-first start of the season.  Through the first 67 games, St Louis is 23-17 (.575), scoring 5.15 runs per game when Martinez is in the starting lineup.  They are 10-16 (.385), scoring 3.92 runs per game when he is not in the lineup.

The Martinez advantage is even more pronounced when a right-hander starts against the Cards.  So far they have faced 54 right-handers.  Jose has started 32 of those games.  The team record in those games is 20-12 (.625) while they score an average of 5.34 runs per game.  When he is not in the lineup against righties, St Louis is 8-14 (.364), scoring 3.95 runs per game.

On the other hand, Dexter Fowler has made 51 starts this season, with the team going 23-28 when Dexter is in the starting lineup, and 10-5 when he isn’t.

With Martinez currently struggling at the plate, it’s hard to make a compelling case for more playing time for him.  The numbers, though, hint at something I’ve long felt – namely, that Martinez’ defensive deficiencies in the outfield have been somewhat exaggerated.  And that, perhaps, Fowler’s defense is a tad over-rated.

If Jose should start to hit again, that could make this an easier decision for Mike Shildt.

Marlins Emphatically Deny Cardinal Sweep

So, if you are a rookie pitcher making his very first major league start – like Miami’s Jordan Yamamoto was last night – the one thing you might ask of your teammates is a little bit of a cushion.

Wish granted.

Before Cardinal starter Miles Mikolas could get out of the second inning, he was behind 5-0, and young Yamamoto carried it from there, slicing and dicing the Cardinal lineup for 7 three-hit, shutout innings.  There were more runs in the Marlins’ tank, but they didn’t need them as they rolled over the Cards 9-0 (box score).

Other than the fact that the game finally ended, there were few positives the visiting team could take from this most recent drubbing.  Few positives, but plenty of lingering concerns.

Be Concerned, Be Very, Very Concerned

As good as Jordan was on the mound, this game adds to a very long trend of offensive futility in St Louis.  Over their last 24 games, the Cards have now been shutout twice; held to 1 run three times; to 2 runs 5 times; and to 3 runs 4 other times.  St Louis is 3-11 in the 14 games where they have scored less than 4 runs.

Over the dismal 24 games, the Cardinals are hitting .214 and scoring 3.50 runs per game.  Manager Mike Shildt’s patience looks like it will have to hold out a little longer.

MattCarpenter

Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Matt Carpenter’s current slump has him with just 2 singles for his last 15 at bats (.133).  He’s had no extra base hits in his last 5 games.

Eleven games ago, Matt was re-installed as the leadoff hitter.  The change hasn’t sparked much.  Matt is hitting .226 (7 for 31) since then.

DexterFowler

After his own 0-for-3 last night, Dexter Fowler is now hitting .140 (7 for 50) over his last 17 games (13 starts). Only 2 of those hits are for extra-bases (he has a double and a home run), leading to just a .220 slugging percentage.

Dexter has drawn just 1 walk in his last 8 games, and is hitting .222 for early June.  In the Cardinal’s 24-game offensive tailspin, Fowler has the lowest average (.153) of any of the regulars.

HarrisonBader

Harrison Bader went 0-for-2 with a walk last night.  He now has just 1 hit over his last 4 games, and is hitting .200 (6 for 30) for the month.  That being said, 5 of the 6 hits have been for extra-bases, and Bader has also drawn 7 walks, so his OPS this month is actually a pretty healthy .875.

MilesMikolas

Loser of 4 games all of last year, Mikolas lost his fourth in a row last night.  Over the five starts, there haven’t been a lot of positive numbers – a 7.03 ERA, a .343/.377/.626 batting line against, and just 2 support runs.  Not a happy combination.

TylerWebb

Tyler Webb is another unsung Cardinal reliever who has been pitching very well of late.  Although he surrendered an inherited runner, Webb was the only Cardinal pitcher last night not to allow a run.

Over 12 innings in his last 10 games, Tyler has given just 2 runs on 5 hits.  The hits have been 4 singles and a double.  He holds a 1.50 ERA over those appearances, with a .132 batting average against, and a .158 slugging percentage against.

While walks have been an issue this year, Webb has walked just one batter over his last 5.1 innings, throwing 67% of his pitches for strikes in those innings.  The last home run Tyler allowed was to Yasiel Puig on April 25.  That was 17.2 innings (and 293 pitches) ago.

JohnBrebbia

A revelation earlier this year, John Brebbia has regressed to the norm with a deafening thud.  Miami put an exclamation point on last night’s win with a three-run home run off of Brebbia.

John has now been scored on in 3 of his 5 June outings – giving up at least 2 runs each time.  For the 4 total innings pitched this month, John has given 7 runs.  Opposing hitters hold a .294/.400/.765 batting line against him, and of the 11 batter to put the ball in play against him, only two have hit the ball on the ground.

Congrats to the Blues

We’ve talked baseball and football here, but until now no hockey.  But last night the St Louis Blues were finally able to lay claim to Lord Stanley’s Cup.

I have often felt that being a Blues fan was the closest a St Louisan could come to knowing what life must be like for Cubs fans.  When the Cubs finally broke their historic jinx a few years ago, I sort of felt that the same karma that had permitted the Cubs championship might take pity on the Blues.

Our jinx wasn’t nearly as long – although at 52 years it was long enough.

Some has been written about the fact that it was the Boston hockey team (the Bruins) on the other end of the ice.  It hasn’t been forgotten around here that the Cards were the opponents when the Red Sox (Boston’s baseball team) broke an impressive World Series jinx of their own in 2005.

The expansion St Louis Blues impressively made the Stanley Cup Finals in each of their first three years in existence – getting swept in each of those three final series – the last time by the Bruins.  At that point it would have been impossible to think that it would be a half century before this franchise would ever win it all.

Congratulations to the entire organization.

NoteBook

Miami was the eighth team St Louis has played this season that came to us after losing its previous series.  The Cards have now won 5 of those series, split 2 others, while losing just one (to the Padres in the opening series at home).  They are 16-7 when they get to play against a team that lost its previous series.

With 5 earned runs allowed last night, Miles Mikolas has been touched for 42 earned runs already this year in 78.1 innings.  He allowed only 63 all of last year (in 200.2 innings).

The home run he allowed was the fourteenth off of Miles already this year.  He allowed 16 all of last year.

The Worm-Slayer Rules

I don’t know if there are, in fact, any living things making their microscopic homes in the turf at the cleverly named Marlins Park.  But if there are, they must have thought the apocalypse had come.

Gaining in confidence, not to mention momentum, with every start, Cardinal rookie right-hander Dakota Hudson and his very heavy sinker is growing into his worm-slayer role.  Last night, in seven mostly dominant innings, Dakota faced 28 Miami batters.  He struck out 6 and walked 2.  He also hit one.  Of the other 19, 13 drilled the ball into the ground (68.4%).

Dakota allowed 1 run on 4 hits in earning the 7-1 win (box score).

In his two June starts, Dakota is getting groundballs from 65% of the batters who have faced him.  For the season, he leads the rotation – and probably most of baseball – by getting groundballs on 62.3% of the balls put into play against him.  Tonight’s pitcher, Miles Mikolas, is a distant second on the team, getting ground balls 50.4% of the time.

St Louis also has two elite groundball machines working in its bullpen.  Jordan Hicks is getting grounders 60.8% of the time, and Carlos Martinez – albeit after facing just 37 batters – has a groundball rate of 62.5%.

As his groundball rate climbs, Hudson’s ERA declines.  Dakota has now fired off 6 consecutive quality starts, and 7 in his last 8 games.  He is 3-2 in those games, with two more leads lost by the bullpen.  He holds a 2.40 ERA over his last 48.2 innings, while getting groundballs at a 65.8% rate.

He carries a 1.35 ERA after his two June starts.

Getting hitters to ground out isn’t pitching-sexy the way that striking out a bunch of hitters is.  But what it lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in efficiency.  Dakota needed only 93 pitches to cover 7 innings last night.  In his 13.1 innings this month, he is averaging only 13.95 pitches thrown per inning.  He throws just 3.32 pitches per plate appearances this month, and 3.53 for the season.  Both numbers lead the staff for any pitcher facing more than 40 batters.

Dakota has also profited from significant run support for the most part this year.  They scored six for him last night, and have supported him with a team-high 47 runs (5.82 per innings).  Michael Wacha is the rotation’s leader, getting 6.91 support runs per game.

For the turfdwellers at Marlins Park, though, last night’s performance was more like a sequel.  The night before re-claimed Cardinal starter Wacha threw a very similar game.  In shutting out the Marlins during his six innings, Michael induced 14 ground balls and only two fly balls.

With the unlikely duo of Hudson and Wacha leading the way, the Cardinal pitching staff has undergone something of a rebirth as the calendar page flipped to June.  This month so far, Cardinal pitchers are getting grounders at a rate of 54.3% – contributing to a 3.12 team ERA that is closer to team expectations.  They have allowed just 6 home runs in 9 games this month.

Certainly these last two games against a last place club have helped.  And the club psyche is still stinging from the sweep in Chicago.  But the numbers are finally starting to trend in a positive direction.

GiovannyGallegos

With surprisingly little fanfare, Giovanny Gallegos is on something of a tear.  He pitched last night’s eighth inning, giving a hit but no runs while picking up a strikeout.  Gallegos now has a scoreless streak of 6 games, covering 8 innings, during which he has given just 3 hits while striking out 9.

Of the last 61 swings against him, 25 have missed the ball (41%).  He has now gone 8 appearances and 10 innings since his last walk, and has thrown 75% of his last 146 pitches for strikes.  His season ERA is down to 3.14.

For the season, 314 of his 448 pitches have been strikes – a 70.1% ratio that leads the team.

Offense Has a Day

By the end of the game, St Louis finished with 7 runs on 13 hits.  Everyone got at least one hit, even those who had been struggling recently (Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, etc).  About the only thing not achieved was getting Tommy Edman his first major league hit.

Most of the damage came late, though, at the expense of the embattled Adam Conley.  Before he came in, the game had gone to the sixth, tied 1-1.  St Louis scored the go ahead runs on an error and a bases loaded walk.  It’s, perhaps, premature to call the hitting woes a thing of the past, but it was nice to see some people get hits who haven’t gotten many recently.

MarcellOzuna

Marcell Ozuna is enjoying his return to South Florida.  He has had 2 hits in each game, and has 7 over his last 3 games, including a home run last night.  Ozuna is still hitting .412 for the month of June (14 for 34) with a .618 slugging percentage.

YadierMolina

Missing for 9 games with a thumb injury, Yadier Molina stepped back into the game like he was never away, collecting 2 hits.

Yadi also hit the line drive that brought in the go ahead run.  Although he didn’t get a hit or an RBI, nobody on the team is better at finding a way to get that runner in from third.  This was the seventeenth time this season that Molina had a runner at third with less than two outs.  This was the thirteenth time he had delivered that runner.

Molina’s night also included a strikeout – his eighteenth this season.  All of his strikeouts have been swinging.  There is no other Cardinal who has been to the plate at least a dozen times that has not been called out on strikes at least once.

Of course, that’s understandable when you almost never take a pitch.  In his first game back, Molina saw 14 pitches and swung at 9 of them.  For the season, he has hacked at 56.8% of all pitches thrown his way – the highest percentage of any of the regulars.

He also put the ball in play with 4 of those 9 swings.  It’s something else he leads all the regular players in, as he puts the ball in play with 45.8% of his swings.

This all means that Molina’s plate appearances are over quickly.  He lasted just 2.8 pitches per last night, and for the season is averaging just 3.34 per plate appearance – also the lowest on the team.

KoltenWong

After a damaging month of May, Kolten Wong already looks much better in June.  With two more hits last night, Wong is off to a .333 start (10 for 30) in the new month.

One of Kolten’s hits last night was a bunt single.  Wong has 7 of the Cardinals’ 11 bunt hits on the season.

When Kolten came to the plate in the fourth, he had Yadier Molina on first and just one out.  If Miami had designs on turning the double play, though, they had the wrong guy up there.  Kolten is the Cardinals’ toughest player to double up, having grounded into just 1 double play this year in 38 such opportunities.  This time, he lined a single to bring up a first-and-third situation.

Miami then got the double play grounder from Dexter Fowler.

Wong is also the hardest Cardinal to throw a first-pitch strike to.  For the season, only 52.2% of the first pitches thrown to him are strikes.  Last night, he only saw one first-pitch strike.

Kolten swung the bat six times last night.  He fouled off three and put three pitches into play.  He didn’t miss on any of his swings.  He rarely does.  For the season, Kolten’s swing-and-miss rate is just 19.7%.

Of the 14 pitches that Wong took, only 1 was called a strike.  He doesn’t let many strikes go by.  So far this month, of the pitches that he’s taken, only 27.9% are called strikes.

DexterFowler

While Fowler did ground into the double play, Dexter also got two hits.  The double-play, by the way, was just the first he has grounded into this year.

In the early games in June, Dexter has shown some increased ability to put the bat on the ball.  Through April and May, Fowler missed on 26.5% of his swings.  So far – for the first 47 times he’s swung the bat in June – Dexter is missing only 21.3% of the time.  He missed only 2 of his 13 swings last night.

Dexter may also have the best eye on the team.  Last night he took 12 pitches – all called balls.  For the season, 42.1% of the pitches thrown to him are balls – the highest percentage on the team.

NoteBook

In the first two games of the Miami series, St. Louis has scored 11 runs.  In their two previous series (2 games against Cincinnati and 3 against the Cubs) they totaled 10 runs.

The Marcell Ozuna home run was his eighteenth of the season already.  During his first year in St Louis he hit just 23.  Ozuna also scored twice in the game.  After scoring just 69 runs all of last season, Marcell already has 48 this year.

No One Comfortable Facing Castillo

It all started much too comfortably for the Cards.  The first five pitches out of Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo’s hands were all fastballs (averaging 97.3 mph).  Matt Carpenter launched the second one over the centerfield wall.  Paul DeJong collected an infield single on the fourth.  The fifth was ball one to Paul Goldschmidt.

It was a less than dazzling start from a highly regarded young right-hander who would end up dominating the Cardinals and earning his sixth victory that night.

In fact, the Cardinals would never score again, and Cincinnati would break St Louis’ four game winning streak, 4-1 (box score).

With his sixth pitch, he threw his first slider of the night.  On his sixth pitch to Goldschmidt, Paul grounded out on a change.

Through the first batter in the third – Goldschmidt, again, who walked – it was Castillo who seemed uncomfortable.  His command of the fastball was inconsistent.  The slider and change also eluded him from time to time.

The first 12 Cardinal batters had 2 hits (including the home run) and 4 walks.  But only the one run.  After that, it was all Castillo.  He set down the last 12 batters to face him – six on strikeouts.

The difference was the growing confidence in and command of that slider (and especially that wipeout change) that allowed him to throw any of his pitches – and throw them for strikes – at any time.  Five of the last six strikeouts came on the change-up (all swinging).   After the first two batters hit the second pitch, only two of the last 22 he faced put either the first or second pitch into play.  DeJong grounded out on an 0-1 slider in the second, and Marcell Ozuna flew out on a first pitch slider in the sixth.

The Cardinals would get plenty of fastballs from Luis (mostly on the corners, and some of them as hot as 98 mph), but they could never tell when, and could never sit on it, even when they were ahead in the count.

Of the 24 batters that faced Castillo in his six innings, 13 got first pitch fastballs, and 5 others got the fastball on the second pitch.  Luis threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of those Cardinal hitters.  Nine of those first pitch strikes were fastballs – and 8 of those were taken for called strikes.

In fact, of the 13 first-pitch fastballs thrown by Castillo, only one was swung at.  That’s quite a trick against a team that’s looking to hit the fastball early in the count.  And evidence that not too many Cards enjoyed a comfortable evening at the plate.

Offensive Difficulties Extended

It was an impressive display from Cincinnati’s best pitcher, but it nonetheless continues St Louis’ on-going offensive struggles.  Since they rang up 14 runs on Atlanta on May 14, St Louis is hitting .215 and scoring 3.76 runs per game over its last 17 games.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters is hitting his first little dry spell after inheriting the catching job from the injured Yadier Molina.  In his first 3 games as the starter, Matt went 6 for 11.  But he was hitless in 4 at bats last night, and is now 1 for his last 12 (with 5 strikeouts).

Dexter Fowler

Red hot when he was promoted to the leadoff spot ten games ago, Dexter Fowler immediately plunged into an offensive tailspin reminiscent of 2018.  Hitless last night in 4 at bats, Dexter is 3 for 31 (.097) over his last 10 games.  He finished at .171 in May (12 for 70), and is just 7 for 53 (.132) over the last 17 games.

Michael Wacha

After being knocked around in his first trip out of the bullpen, Michael Wacha entered in the fifth inning of this one and settled things down, looking much more like the Wacha we expected to see this year.  He pitched 2.2 innings, giving no runs of his own (although he did allow an inherited run to score) and showing much improved velocity.

Wacha is still getting an awfully high number of his first pitches hit, and hit hard.  Two of the 7 he faced last night hit his first pitch, and both got singles.  In May, 24 of the 108 batters he faced hit his first pitch – a 22.2% clip that is about double the league average.   Those batters hit .500 (12 for 24) with 3 doubles and 4 home runs.

Tyler Webb

One of the low profile arms in the Cardinal bullpen, Tyler Webb has been throwing quite well of late.  He retired all four batters he faced last night, and over his last 8 innings has allowed just 1 run on 3 hits.  In 11.1 innings in May, Webb posted a 3.18 ERA and a .135 batting average against.

Tyler hasn’t allowed a home run since the last time Cincinnati was in town – on April 26.  That was 55 batters, 13.2 innings, and 227 pitches ago.

NoteBook

Matt Carpenter’s first inning home run meant that St Louis has scored first in 6 of the last 8 games.  They are only 3-3 in those games.

The Cards have now lost the first game of 5 of the last 6 series.  They went 0-3-1 in the previous 4.

With last night’s six-hit effort, the team batting average now slips to .249 for the season.

Cards Lose Consecutive One Run Games

The games were not quite identical.  In the Tuesday game, the Cardinal scoring happened in the first four batters of the game.  In the Sunday game, the runs against the Cardinals all came late at the expense of the bullpen after a clean outing by the starter (Jack Flaherty).  In the Tuesday game, the scoring against the Cards came against the starter before a clean effort by the bullpen.  In the Sunday game, St Louis wasted multiple opportunities with runners on base.  On Tuesday, the Cards only had 1 at bat with a runner in scoring position.  In the Saturday game, the winning run was walked home.  In the Tuesday game no Cardinal pitcher permitted a walk.

All that being said, the similarities between the two games are notable.  Early 3-0 Cardinal lead? Check.  Almost no hits from St Louis? Check (after getting 3 hits on Sunday, they managed just 4 on Tuesday). Encouraging performance from the starting pitcher wasted? Check (Flaherty gave no runs on 3 hits through 6 innings, striking out 7; Adam Wainwright did serve up 4 runs in his 6 innings, but also walked none and struck out 10).  Kolten Wong striking out on three pitches for the final out? Check.  Final score: Cardinals 3, Bad guys 4? Check. (Sunday box score) (Tuesday box score).

One run games are one of my “character” markers – one of those numbers that speaks directly to the team’s ability to win the tough games.  As with my other character markers (games after a loss and games against winning teams) this number also suggests a team-wide lack of character.  The Cards – losers now of 17 of their last 23, are 5-10 in one run games – having lost their last seven such contests.

In the seven one run losses this month, St Louis has scored just 18 runs (2.57 per game), hitting .188 and slugging just .274.  In those games, they have had 78 base runners.  They are also 11-0 in stolen bases in those contests.  But they have been consistently unable to produce that hit that will turn the game.

Tonight’s game will mark the statistical one-third point of the season.  The Cards are, in a sense, lucky to be only 4 games behind in the division.  They could easily be buried.  The rest of this division has left the door open a crack, but at some point St Louis will have to do better than losing two of three games to take advantage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Perhaps the only glimmer of good news from Tuesday’s loss is the continuing resurgence of Paul Goldschmidt.  The off-season’s big “get,” Paul hasn’t actually been the impact bat yet the Cards had hoped for.  But he began to turn it around against Atlanta, and added 2 hits – including a home run – last night against Philadelphia.

Paul now has multiple hits in 3 of his last 4 games, hitting .467 (7 for 15) in those games.

Dexter Fowler

In the only lineup change that manager Mike Shildt has made during the Cardinal’s 23-game collapse, four games ago he installed Dexter Fowler as the leadoff batter.  In what can only be described as a microcosm of the way the month has gone, Fowler – whose on base percentage has been over .400 for most of the year – has responded to the change with an 0-for-14 slump with no walks.  He has 3 hit-by-pitches during his stay at the top of the order, bringing his OBP for those games to .176 (with 7 strikeouts).

Fowler falls to .180 for the month (11 for 61), although his 13 walks do have his OBP for May at .359.

Dexter has played – and started – 6 of the 7 one run games played by the Cards this month.  He is 2 for 21 (.095) in those games.  For the season, in the 15 one run games the Cards have played, Dexter is hitting .162 (6 for 37) with 1 run batted in.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter has also shown signs of life lately.  Not last night, though.  His 0-for-4 keeps him at .236 for the month (21 for 89).

Carpenter has also struggled in the one runs contests St Louis has played.  This month, he is just 4 for 26 (.154) in the seven one run games.  For the season, he is hitting .186 (11 for 59) in the Cardinals’ 15 one run games, with 1 home run and 3 runs batted in.

Paul DeJong

Still no turning of the page for Paul DeJong.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Paul is hitless over his last 6 games, and hitless in his last 21 at bats.  One of the heroes of April, DeJong is hitting .215 in May (17 for 79).

Kolten Wong

Like his double-play partner, Kolten Wong’s bat has all but disappeared.  Hitless in 3 at bats, Kolten has gone 4 games without a hit, and is hitless over his last 16 at bats.  Wong is now down to .165 for the month, and .222 for the year.

Kolten is 2 for 22 (.091) this month in the seven one run Cardinal games

Yadier Molina

For the season, Yadier Molina holds the lowest batting average of any of the Cardinal regulars in one run games.  After his 0-for-2 last night, Molina is hitting .148 (8 for 54) in St Louis’ one run games with 3 runs batted in.  He is 3 for 22 (.136) in the seven played this month.

Adam Wainwright

Starter Adam Wainwright made a lot of good pitches last night.  He worked his way (as mentioned earlier) through 6 innings striking out 10 and walking none.  At the end of the day, though, he made just enough mistakes – allowing 4 runs on 8 hits including a home run – to cost him the game.

Suddenly, that has become a recurring theme for Adam.  Earlier this season, he and Miles Mikolas were the two pitchers holding the rotation together.  Over his last three starts, Waino holds a 7.20 ERA and a .322 batting average against.

In the now-dismal month of May, Adam has made 5 starts.  He is 1-3 with a 6.33 ERA and a .284 batting average against.

Of Adam’s 11 starts this season, 5 have ended up as one run decisions.  The Cards are 2-3 in those games.  Adam, himself, is 1-2 in those one run games, with a 4.78 ERA and a .295 batting average against.  He has also struck out 29 batters in those 26.1 innings.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos surrendered a damaging two-run home run on Friday, but has been pitching better recently.  He threw two scoreless innings last night.  That home run accounted for the only runs Gallegos has allowed over his last 7 games.  The last 27 batters to face him have only 3 hits and 1 walk – a .115 average and a .231 on base percentage.  Giovanny has thrown 72% of his last 120 pitches for strikes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

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

Harrison Bader

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

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

Hitless Against Atlanta

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

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

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

Fowler

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

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

DeJong

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

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

Wong

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

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

Cheers for the Rotation

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

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

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

Mikolas

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

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

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

Hudson

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

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

Flaherty

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

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

Andrew Miller

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

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

Jordan Hicks

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Texas Lefty Leaves Cards Less than Smyly

After an encouraging 8-2 victory on Saturday (box score), the St Louis Cardinals faced the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon, needing any kind of win to halt a four-series losing streak.  They would give the ball to young Jack Flaherty (who would turn in a strong effort).

But, standing in the way was veteran Texas left-hander Drew Smyly.

It’s funny how some tendencies follow a club over the course of decades – regardless of the makeup of the club.  In St Louis, the boogeyman has been almost any flavor of left-handed pitcher, but especially the soft-tosser.  In this context, Smyly isn’t the softest of soft tossers, but with a fastball that topped out at 92.6 (according to Brooks Baseball), Drew doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters with sure speed.  But it’s enough fastball to tantalize and to set up his curve and changeup.

On a superficial level, you tell yourself that it doesn’t just happen to the Cardinals – that these guys are getting other teams out as well.  But someone is hitting these pitchers.  Smyly entered the game with a 6.85 ERA.  And, in the early going, it looked like the Cards had him solved.  In quick succession, Drew allowed a double, a walk, and a two-run double.  Quickly, it was 2-0 St Louis.

But that would be it.  Smyly would face 16 more batters before ending his four-inning stint.  St Louis would score no more runs and manage just one more hit against him.  Drew wouldn’t figure into the decision, of course (a 5-4 Texas win in 10 innings – St Louis’ thirteenth loss in its last 17 games).  Along the way, he would walk 3, but he would also strike out 4 of those last 16 batters faced.

It doesn’t stand as a dominant game, per se, but by the end it fell along familiar parameters.  St Louis finished 3 for 15 (.200) against Drew, and just 5 for 29 (.172) during the three-game series against Texas’ left-handers.  They are down to .235 against them for the season.

Offensive Struggles

While losing two of three in Arlington, St Louis did manage to score 15 runs in the series, but hit only .236 (26 for 110) and couldn’t cash in on other opportunities.  The Cards are hitting just .241 this month.

Harrison Bader

St Louis’ complex outfield picture got more complex over the weekend.  With Jose Martinez moving into the DH slot in the American League park, Harrison Bader was able to start all three games in center.  Bader was nothing but spectacular.  He, of course, made several sparkling plays in center.  He also went 7 for 12 (.583), including a home run and 2 doubles (a 1.000 slugging percentage) at the plate.

Harrison started the season as the regular centerfielder.  But he started off slowly at the plate, and when he went down briefly with a hamstring pull, Martinez found his way into the lineup and hit his way into a permanent spot.

While his opportunities have been infrequent, Bader has hit .326 (15 for 46) since his return, and is now hitting .306 (11 for 36) for the month.

Bader had multiple hits in all three games in Texas, and it seems hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup when the season resumes Tuesday night.

Harrison was only 1-for-4 against left-handed pitching in the series, but was 6-for-8 against the righties.  While not qualifying, yet, as a regular, Bader is hitting .357 this month (10 for 28) against righties – the highest on the team for anyone with more than 20 plate appearances against them.

Paul DeJong

As you might suppose, St Louis isn’t overburdened with batters who are flourishing against left-handed pitching.  One who has been succeeding all year is Paul DeJong.  The righty was 2-for-3 against Texas’ left-handers in the series – his hits being a double and a home run.  For the season, Paul has the team’s second highest average against lefties.  In 32 plate appearances against southpaws (and there haven’t been an awful lot of lefties to face the Cards so far this season), Paul now has 2 singles, 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 6 walks.  He has driven in 7 runs against lefties so far, with a .346/.469/.769 batting line against them.

Yadier Molina

Everyday catcher Yadier Molina – who has been so consistent all season – had a tough series in Arlington.  He was just 2 for 13, going hitless in two of the games.  Over his last 5 games, Yadi is hitting just .150 (3 for 20) with no runs scored and one run batted in.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler had his one big moment.  Capping a nine-pitch at bat in Sunday’s ninth inning, trailing by one, Dexter lined a game-tying home run into the upper deck in right.  The home run (clutch as it was) broke an 0-for-15 streak.  Fowler – over .300 for much of the season – is hitting just .195 this month (8 for 41).  Bader had almost as many hits in the Texas series as Dexter has had all month.

Fowler – a switch hitter – is getting fewer and fewer opportunities against lefties.  He is hitting .208 against them this season (5 for 24) with no extra-base hits.  Lately, though, he has been struggling against right-handers as well.  He is 6 for 32 (.188) against them this month.

Kolten Wong

In the Saturday victory, Kolten Wong was held hitless in 5 at bats – breaking his encouraging little five-game hitting streak.  Wong – who has struggled lately – was 6-for-18 (.333) during that streak.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt walked 4 times in the 3 games in Texas.  He subsequently scored 3 runs and drove in a run with a ground ball.  But he had no hits in the series (0-for-10).  Paul hasn’t had the best of starts.  He is 16 for 65 (.246) this month with 2 extra-base hits (1 home run).  He has driven in 5 runs in 18 games in May.  He is 6 for 28 (.214) this season against left-handed pitching.  Paul has 1 home run against lefties this year.

It’s safe to say that there is an explosion coming from Mr Goldschmidt.

Cheers for the Rotation

As we approach the end of May, almost any good news from the pitching staff in general and the rotation in particular is cause for celebration.  The overall numbers from the Texas series are not particularly warm or fuzzy.  The staff finished the series with a 4.73 ERA, and the starters finished at 7.43 and a .327/.383/.582 batting line.

The actuality wasn’t as bad as the numbers.  Game One starter Miles Mikolas was driven from the mound after 1.1 innings, having allowed 7 runs on 9 hits (including 2 home runs).

From the moment Mikolas left the mound through the end of the series, the Cardinal pitching staff contained the Texas offense to just 7 more runs in 25.1 innings.  Their 2.49 ERA was backed by a .195 batting average against.  Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty followed Mikolas with quality starts, and the bullpen – pitching as many innings as the starters in this series – were flawless (until the end of the Sunday game).

As I said, any hint of light at the end of the tunnel is welcome.

Mikolas

Miles Mikolas had tossed three consecutive quality starts – throwing a total of 20 innings – before his meltdown in the first game.  He had pitched three straight games without allowing a home run.

Hudson

Dakota has also been steadily improving.  He served up 8 April home runs in just 24 innings – contributing to a 5.63 ERA.  In 23 innings over 4 starts (3 of them quality starts) in May, Hudson has allowed just 1 home run and holds a 3.13 ERA (that ERA figure is a little deceptive in that it doesn’t include the 6 unearned runs he allowed a couple of starts ago).

Among the most encouraging notes from the Saturday win was Dakota Hudson dominating lefties.  Until that night, the 101 lefties to face Hudson had owned him to the tune of a .388/.475/729 batting line with 8 home runs.  Saturday night they (lefties) finished with just 4 singles in 21 at bats against Hudson (.190).

NoteBook

In the Saturday game, Paul DeJong – in addition to getting two hits – drew a walk.  It is already his twenty-fifth walk of the season.  All last year he drew 36 – his current career high.

Then in the Sunday game, Paul drilled his seventeenth double of the season.  All of last year, he only hit 25.

With their fifth straight series loss, St Louis (holding a 10-14 road record) is now 2-5-1 in road series.  They are also 2-5-1 in series when they lose the first game.

This was also their eighth series so far this year against a team that had won its previous series.  They are also, now, 2-5-1 in those series – going 11-13 in those games.

(This post was originally composed Monday, May 20).

Struggles Against Winning Teams Continues

May began in Washington DC, with the Cards finishing up a series against the Nationals.  They began the month facing Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  St Louis split the two games, and headed off to Chicago with the best record in the National League (20-11) and tied with Tampa Bay for the best record in baseball.  And feeling pretty good about themselves.

That was 13 games ago.  Things have changed a bit.

Last night’s 10-2 beating at the hands of the Atlanta Braves (box score) marked St Louis’ tenth loss since they left the nation’s capital.  They have lost, now, four straight series – the last three of them after winning the first game of the series.

One of the aspects of this recent struggle that maybe hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves is the schedule itself.  Two of the lost series came against first place teams, and they lost another to a second place team.  The softest opponent (by record) that the Cardinals have encountered since the Nationals was division foe Pittsburgh.  The Pirates are a fourth place team, but still 21-20 on the season.

One of the consequences of playing in what is perhaps baseball’s deepest division (they are the only division at the moment with four winning teams), is an unrelenting schedule.  As they open a series tonight against a struggling Texas team (the Rangers are 19-22) the Cards have played winning teams in 32 of their first 44 games.  They have been – and will continue to be – thoroughly tested, as their schedule offers very few soft touches.

Games against winning teams is one of my litmus tests for a team.  In losing 10 of 13 against the Cubs, Phillies, Pirates and Braves, St Louis doesn’t look – at the moment – like they are ready for higher level competition.  However, they were 12-7 in March/April against winning teams (including Milwaukee and the Dodgers).

As with everything else about this very strange team, it’s a little hard to tell right now what is real and what’s a mirage.

After the Rangers, St Louis will have a couple games against another currently losing team in Kansas City (the Royals are 15-29).

After that, they better be ready for most of these same teams again, as they have three games each against Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Cubs.  They would do well to flip whatever switch as quickly as possible, because this season will not wait for them.

Paul DeJong

Probably the team’s most consistent hitter all year, shortstop Paul DeJong seems to be slowing down for the first time this season.  He is still drawing walks – he drew another last night – but is hitting just .154 over his last 4 games (2-for-13) with no extra-base hits or runs batted in.  He hasn’t hit a home run in 9 games, and has fallen to .245 for the month.

Dexter Fowler

Another of the Cardinals having great seasons who has seen his numbers drop lately, Dexter Fowler went hitless in 3 at bats last night.  He is now without a hit in 3 of his last 4 games and his season averaged has settled at .288.

Dexter is hitting just .226 this month.

Luke Gregerson

Embattled reliever Luke Gregerson came into the game in the sixth inning.  Already trailing 5-1, Luke inherited a runner at first, with one out already recorded.  Gregerson did, in fact, take care of the last two outs of that inning, but not before allowing four singles and 3 more runs.

Following an injury compromised 2018, Luke missed the first 32 games this season with a right shoulder impingement.  He pitched a few minor league inning in a rehab setting, but doesn’t look ready at the moment to face real hitters.  It hasn’t helped that Luke was activated just in time to face the Cubs and all the teams that have followed.

One of the runs he surrendered belonged to Tyler Webb.  He was charged with the other two, and has now allowed 5 in 5.2 major league innings.  The 27 batters he’s faced are hitting .423 against him.

Gregerson – who might still turn into a productive reliever – is in a tight place.  With Carlos Martinez set to be activated soon, Luke is one of those in jeopardy of losing his roster space.  He would truly profit from an extended minor league stay where he could establish some rhythm.  But the mechanics of that would be complicated.

Dominic Leone

Dominic Leone is another reliever whose position is precarious – all the more so after he allowed 2 more runs last night.  After an excellent start (Leone allowed just 2 runs over his first 11 innings), Dominic has become a bit unhinged.  He has now allowed runs in 5 of his last 9 games – a total of 17 runs in 10.1 innings.  The damages include 20 hits (including 4 home runs) and 6 walks.  His ERA over that span is an alarming 14.81 with a .400 batting average against and a .760 slugging percentage allowed.

Jordan Hicks

Inactive for 5 days, closer Jordan Hicks made just his third appearance of the month, as he came on to record the last out.  Between losses and blowout wins, the Cardinals are still looking for their first ninth-inning save opportunity this month.

At this rate, monitoring Hicks’ innings won’t be nearly as difficult as keeping him sharp.

Cards Ride Another Big RISP Night to a Win in Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

Yadier Molina

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

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

Jack Flaherty

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

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

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

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

Third Inning Woes Bedevil Flaherty and the Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dangerous Third and Fourth Innings

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

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

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

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

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

Questions of Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Gant

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

Dominic Leone

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

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

Kolten Wong

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