Tag Archives: Gant

Dodgers Drop Another One-Run Contest

It wasn’t – by any stretch of the imagination – a thing of beauty.  In a frequently laborious effort, Cardinal starter John Gant employed guile and 95 pitches to navigate his way through six innings against the defending world champions in Los Angeles.  The Dodgers put at least one man on base in five of the six innings, and caught a bad break when Will Smith’s sixth-inning double into the left field corner bounced into the stands, forcing Mookie Betts to stop at third.

Nonetheless, when Dylan Carlson made a full-speed, sliding catch in short center of Gavin Lux’s flare to end that sixth, Johnny Gant walked off the mound with six innings of zeroes on the board, and a 2-0 lead.

As it turns out, the lead wouldn’t hold – and Gant wouldn’t get his well-earned victory – but the Cardinals would manage to prevail, nonetheless, evening the series with a 3-2 win (box score).

For opponents of the defending champs, games like the Cardinals suffered through on Monday (a 9-4 loss to open the series) are all too common.  Fifty-five games into the season, and the Dodgers are already 12-4 in games decided by five or more runs.

But for the Dodgers – currently trailing both the Giants and Padres in their division – games like last night are far too common as well.  With the loss, this supposed juggernaut is just 7-13 in one-run games.

An indicator of some kind of post-championship hangover?  Perhaps.  It’s certainly an unexpected result from a team that is supposed to have everything.

For the Cardinals, the one-run trend is more encouraging.  That they are 7-5 on the season is less than spectacular, but after a 1-3 start in one-run games, the Cards have now won 6 of their last 8.

Over the course of the early year, I have sometimes questioned the character of this team.  In these last one-run games, though, the Cards have done whatever they’ve needed to. 

They’ve done some scoring – putting up at least 4 runs in five of those games – and averaging 4.25 runs for the eight games.  Although they only managed three runs last night.

The bullpen has also mostly answered the bell, holding a 3.06 ERA in the last eight one-run games – although the bullpen slipped last night.

Although I don’t have a number for it, this team can certainly make defensive plays that can determine the outcome of games like this.  Last night, there were about a half-dozen excellent defensive plays that certainly changed the narrative of this contest.

If there has been one area of the club that has been a little disappointing in these recent one-run games, it has been the starting pitching, which has managed a pedestrian 3.89 ERA in the kind of games that are usually quite low scoring.

But last night John Gant reversed that trend, and it set the tone for the rest of the club.  When they needed to be gutsy, they were gutsy.  It’s a welcomed sign.

Gant

Although just the second time in ten starts that Johnny has lasted six innings, last night was the second consecutive game – and the fourth time already this season – that Gant (whose season ERA sits at 1.60) has pitched at least 5 innings without allowing an earned run.  With St Louis going frequently to a six-man rotation in May, John made only 4 starts for the month, going 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA.

Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos continued the recent skid that the bullpen has been fighting through when he served up the two-run homer to Matt Beaty that tied the game in the seventh.  These one-run games – to this point – have brought out the worst in Gallegos.  Appearing in 7 of the last 8, Gio has surrendered 11 hits over 9 innings, giving 5 runs and blowing 3 saves.  For the season, Gallegos has pitched in 9 of the team’s 12 one-run games, blowing four leads and registering a 6.10 ERA over 10.1 innings.

Reyes

Alex Reyes brought a little unwanted excitement to the end of the game, but (with a giant assist to the glove of Tyler O’Neill) he kept his closing ledger perfect at 16 for 16.  Alex is coming off a 9-for-9 May with a 1.15 ERA across 15.2 innings.

Edman

Tommy Edman continues to ignite from the leadoff role.  After singling and doubling last night, Edman has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts.  He would be riding a seven-game hitting streak if not for a failed pinch-hitting appearance at the end of the Arizona series.

Even so, Tommy is hitting .327 (18 for 55) over his last 13 starts, and slugging .545 during those contests – his hits including 6 doubles and 2 home runs.

Carlson

After hitting into more than a little tough luck toward the end of May, Dylan Carlson has turned it on a bit over the last three games.  He had two hits last night, and has had two, two-hit games over his last three contests.  Carlson is 5 for his last 12, including 2 home runs – a .417 batting average with a .917 slugging percentage.  He has driven in 4 runs over the last 3 games.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill added two more hits last night, set up the winning rally in the ninth with a single and a stolen base, and then preserved the victory with a highlight reel, running, leaping catch into the left-field corner.  Tyler thus extends his hitting streak to nine games, with 4 of the 9 being multi-hit efforts.  He is hitting .400 during the streak (14 for 35) and slugging .943 (his hits including 4 doubles and 5 home runs).  He has 10 runs batted in over the length of that hitting streak.

Arenado

After ending May in a tailspin, Nolan Arenado began June with another 0-for-4.  Since his third-inning home run off of Madison Bumgarner in the second Arizona game, Nolan is now 0 for his last 14 (with a sacrifice fly and a hit-by-pitch).

NoteBook

At 66 degrees, last night’s game was the lowest game time temperature for a Cardinal game since they played in San Diego in 64 degree weather on May 16.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Three Takeaways from the White Sox Series

When Edmundo Sosa’s grounder snuck through the infield, Cardinal Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Having lost the first two of the three-game set to the White Sox, St Louis was clinging to a narrow two-run lead in the finale until Sosa’s ninth-inning chopper brought home two more and gave the Cards the 4-0 lead that would hold up as the final score on Wednesday afternoon (box score).

While relieved not to carry a four-game losing streak with them into Arizona, the three games on the South side echoed issues that have lingered at least through the month of May – and in some cases, all year.  To this point the Cardinals – still clinging to first place in their division – have yet to pay the full penalty of these shortcomings, but if a resolution isn’t found, there will likely be enough series like this one against the White Sox to slide St Louis out of the playoff picture.

Issue One – Walks and Other Free Baserunners

Not long removed from the series in San Diego where they walked 26 batters in 24 innings, the Cardinal pitching staff left Chicago having walked 12 more in 25 innings – to go along with 4 more hit batsmen.  The Cardinals hit the end of May walking an average of 5 batters per every nine innings, and having hit 18 other batters in just 23 games.

Even though opposing batters are hitting a negligible .219 against Cardinal pitching this month, all the free base-runners have improved the on base percentage against this staff to .333.

Against the White Sox, only 5 of the 16 free runners scored.  Of the 129 free runners St Louis has allowed this month, a relative few (34 – just 26.3%) have found their way across the plate.  For the season, only 27.4% (69 out of 252) of the batters walked and hit have completed their journey around the bases.

To this point, Cardinal pitchers have done an admirable job of pitching out of all of this trouble.  But it’s not a formula for long term success.

Issue Two – Offense in Decline Again

The four runs the Cards scored in the finale accounted for exactly one half of all the runs scored in the series.  St Louis’ 2.67 run-per-game average for the series came as a result of a .206 team batting average.  The offense in April averaged 4.5 runs per game across 26 games, but did so in very uneven fashion.  St Louis journeyed into Arizona averaging 3.91 runs per game in their 23 May contests.

These days, every offseason focuses on upgrading the offense.  To this point – with the 2021 season rapidly approaching the one-third mark – this organization has been unable to turn the corner.

The difficulty here is that the organization believes in all of these players – and has shown great patience while they have struggled to score on any kind of consistent basis.  At some point, management may find itself at a cross-roads – especially as the trading deadline draw near.  These decisions will be immeasurably easier if some of the players that they believe in start to produce.

This applies in some measure to the starters, although they have – by and large – done well enough.  For the most part, the St Louis offense has been done in by the third lingering issue of the early season.

Issue Three – Dude, Where’s Your Bench?

As the Cardinal starting lineup continues to struggle to stay on the field (and at the moment there are still two on the shelf) the bench players are continuously offered opportunities to contribute.  In the Wednesday finale against Chicago, St Louis started five bench players.  Other than Sosa (who left Chicago with a .375 batting average), the other four continued their season long struggles.  Andrew Knizner, Lane Thomas, Max Moroff and Justin Williams combined to go 0-for-14 with 9 strikeouts.  For the three games against the Sox, Moroff finished 1 for 8, Thomas finished 0 for 11, and Williams went 0 for 7.  It’s a combined 1 for 26 (with 16 strikeouts).

Forty-nine games into the season, and starting pitcher Jack Flaherty’s .673 OPS is higher than six of the team’s principle bench players: Matt Carpenter (.137/.289/.274/.563); Knizner (.197/.290/.246/.536); Williams (.162/.273/.248/.520); Thomas (.107/.242/.107/.350); John Nogowski (.071/.188/.071/.259); and Moroff (.063/.063/.063/.125).

It’s harsh, because the organization believes in all of these guys as well.  They are either veterans with track records, or high ranking prospects who are projected to be starters in the near future, or guys who have had explosive batting seasons in AAA, or impressive spring trainings.  None of these guys should be hitting under .200 and OPSing under .700.  Yet here they are, forcing management into yet more difficult decisions.

In my humble opinion, few things would energize this team more than to have a few hits fall in for some of these talented bench players.

Goldschmidt

Consistent Paul Goldschmidt put together another solid series against the Sox.  He went 4 for 10 in Chicago with a walk and a hit-by-pitch.  After his 1-for-4 in Arizona last night, Goldy is hitting .303 (27-for-89) this month.

Molina

Yadier Molina made two starts in Chicago, and went 3-for-8 at the plate.  He added three more hits last night in Arizona.  Yadi’s has been one of the team’s most potent bats lately.  He has hit safely in 9 of his last 11, hitting .310 (13 for 42) over that span with a .524 slugging percentage (3 doubles, 2 home runs).

Gant

It took John Gant 94 pitches to navigate 5 innings on Wednesday.  He gave 5 hits and walked 3, but gave no runs.  It was his second start of the season in which he’s pitched at least five innings allowing no runs.  In fact, in his 9 starts this season, John has never allowed more than three runs.  In 4 May starts, Gant is 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA.

NoteBook

Before Wednesday’s win, the Cards had trailed at some point in five straight games.

After starting all of the first 48 games at third base, Nolan Arenado yielded the position to Moroff on Wednesday.  The new Cardinal streak for most consecutive games started at the same position goes to Sosa, who is in the lineup tonight at shortstop for the eleventh straight game.

To be clear on this, both Arenado and Tommy Edman have started every game for St Louis – the only two players to do that.  But they haven’t started all of those games at the same position.

St Louis is now 3-5 in road series, and 0-5-1 in series when they lose the first game.

Ironically, all three sacrifice bunts laid down in Wednesday’s game came from the American League team.  Hey White Sox, haven’t you heard that the designated hitter was supposed to banish the bunt to the ash heap of history?

Which leads me to —

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Pitching Duels on Tap in Milwaukee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cards Press On

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

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

Best With the Bases Loaded

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

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

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

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

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

Gant

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

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

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

Flaherty

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

Cabrera

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

Reyes

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

Home Run Dependency

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

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

Arenado

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

DeJong

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

Bullpen Home Run Watch Ends

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

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

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Gant Perseveres

When John Gant’s five-inning, 99-pitch struggle was over he had walked 5 batters with just two strikeouts.  His first inning had been a three-up, three groundout inning.  Thereafter, John had traffic in every inning.  According to Statcast, 53 of his 99 offerings missed the strike zone.

And yet, when the dust settled, Gant had allowed 1 run on 3 hits, and would become the eventual winning pitcher as St Louis opened their season series against Pittsburgh with a 7-3 victory (box score), their sixth win in the last 8 games.

Gant’s effort continues the recent run of sterling starting pitching.  Over the last ten games, Cardinal starters have thrown 63 innings, surrendering just 12 earned runs on only 41 hits – a 1.71 ERA with a .187 batting average against.

Gant was helped immensely by a couple of unorthodox double plays.  After Ka’ai Tom drew a walk to open the third, Pirate pitcher JT Brubaker bunted him to second.  But, once there, Kim began to stray towards third.  Second baseman Tommy Edman (covering first on the bunt) noticed the aggressive turn and threw behind him, picking Tom off of second.

A single and a walk put Gant in a tight spot in the fifth, when Erik Gonzalez cuffed a little dribbler in front of the plate.  The runner at second (Wilmer Difo) couldn’t initially tell if the ball was hit or missed, and got a late break off of second.  Thinking quickly, Cardinal catcher Andrew Knizner grabbed the ball, tagged Gonzalez, and fired to third in time to get Difo.

Beyond the alert defensive plays behind him, John Gant survived by getting the Pirate hitters to chase a few pitches (9 of them – with 6 of those coming in two-strike counts).  But mostly, he simply stayed out of the middle of the strike zone.  Of his 99 pitches, only 4 strayed over the heart of the plate – and none of them resulted in any damage.

In the second inning, he hung an 0-1 curve to Bryan Reynolds, who decided not to swing.  In the second inning, he fired a first-pitch sinker (at 90.9 mph) right down the middle to Kevin Newman (who watched it go past). In the third, Gonzalez got a first-pitch, 90.1 mph fastball right down the middle – he fouled it back.  Johnny hung him a slider on the very next pitch, which Erik slashed back up the middle.  The chopper looked like it might squirt through for a hit, but Gant made a nice play, leaping to pull it down.

Gant doesn’t have radar-gun dazzling stuff.  He attacks with an assortment of breaking pitches and a sinker that he can usually hit the corners of the zone with.  But even on a day when his control eluded him, Gant was able to muffle the Pirates by simply avoiding that one big mistake.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Bullpen Slips Again

Gant left the game with a 6-1 lead that quickly became 6-3 in the sixth, even though Pittsburgh contributed only one hit (a single) to the rally.  Two walks, a balk and a wild pitch did the rest.  While they haven’t been terrible, the Cardinal bullpen has been susceptible to the occasional hiccup.  Over the same last ten games, the pen has carried 26 innings, giving just 14 hits (.157 batting average against), but they have allowed as many earned runs as the starters (12) thanks to 18 walks, 4 hit batsmen, 3 wild pitches, and now, a balk.  Going into the season, the bullpen was advertised as every bit as much a strength as the rotation – and mostly they have been.  But they’ve been dented by a few messy innings of late.

Helsley

When the Cards added a ninth-inning run, and the game no longer presented a save situation, Mike Shildt turned the game over to Ryan Helsley.  This is where Ryan fits, currently, in the bullpen pecking order.  He gets the almost-high leverage opportunities.  Regardless of the circumstance, though, Helsley’s stock is rising.  After allowing 5 runs over his first 2.2 innings, Ryan has given just 1 additional run on 5 hits over his last 10 innings – an 0.90 ERA with a .152 batting average against.  Ryan has yet to allow an extra-base hit this season.

Today’s Statistical Oddity

Pittsburgh finished the game with only 4 hits.  Three of the four came on at bats that lasted 7 pitches or more.  Newman drove in Pittsburgh’s first run when he singled on Gant’s first pitch to him in the fourth.  Otherwise, Pittsburgh was 0-for-23 on the night on the first six pitches of any of their plate appearances (although they did also draw 7 of their 9 walks in those plate appearances).

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill accounted for some of the early offense with a home run that was part of a three hit day – Tyler’s second three-hit game in the last three games, and his third multi-hit game in his last 6.

None of the three hits yesterday were pulled.  The home run was a monster 426-foot blast to straight-away center.  The other two were singles that were poked into right.  They pitched him away, so he went to the opposite field.

O’Neill is now 9 for 22 (.409) over his last 6 games with 4 of the hits leaving the park – a .955 slugging percentage.

This isn’t the first time that O’Neill has teased us with his considerable potential, so I’m careful not to over-react.  But Tyler is in a pretty good place right now.

Tyler is an aggressive, early in the count hitter.  55.4% of his plate appearances are over before he sees four pitches.  When he can do that – when he gets a pitch to hit before he gets into a strike-out situation – Tyler has been terrifically productive.  He is 11 for 30 (.367) in the first three pitches of an at bat, with a double and 4 home runs (an .800 slugging percentage).  His homer yesterday was on the first pitch, and the 2 singles came on the third pitch.

When he has to stay in for more than three pitches, Tyler is 2 for 24 (.083) with 16 strikeouts (and 1 walk).

NoteBook

At 3.97, the team’s ERA has finally slipped below 4.00.  They have climbed back up to number seven in the league.

At 5,953, yesterday’s attendance was the smallest crowd the Cards have played before since they left Miami.

The crowd, though, was the only thing about the game that was reminiscent of Miami.  The game-time temperature of 51 degrees was the second lowest of the season, behind only the 37 degrees they played in on opening night in Cincinnati.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Cards Can’t Take Control of Central

When the Cardinals’ plane landed in Denver prior to last Tuesday’s game against the Rockies, St Louis had won 23 of 30 games and climbed from 3.5 games behind in the division to 4 games ahead.

But the magic seems to have vanished somewhere over the mountains.  Last night they were pushed around by Washington, 6-2 (box score) their fifth loss in the last eight games.

And so, the division is still sitting there for the taking.  The Cardinal lead is down now to just two games over both Chicago and Milwaukee.  St Louis has 11 games left – only four at home.  Increasingly, it is looking that the 2019 National League Central Division will be decided in Wrigley Field beginning Thursday night.

All but on life-support when they arrived in St Louis, the Milwaukee Brewers – after taking two of three from the Cards – are now well positioned to make the playoffs again.  While they do end the season with six games on the road, the Brewers have no winning teams left on their schedule.  As long as they take care of the business before them, they will almost certainly gain on either the Cards or the Cubs, as those two teams will play each other seven more times before the season ends.

And if those games are fairly even divided, Milwaukee could easily swoop in and take the division.  To say the least, it will be a very interesting two weeks.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna, of course, was the hero of the Monday game – his home run and double accounting for all the Cardinal offense.  He followed that performance with an 0-for-3 last night.  Unfortunately, that latter result has been much more the norm than his Monday show.

Over his last 19 games, Marcell has had multiple hits in just 2, while being held hitless in 12 of them.  Marcell is 9 for his last 69 (.130).  Counting his 4 on Monday, Ozuna has 9 runs batted in over those 19 games.

He is now a .155 hitter for the month (9 for 58).

Marcell – who was 0-for-2 against Washington starter Patrick Corbin – has been one of the most prominent right-handed bats that have never really punished left-handed pitching.  He is 13 for 72 (.181) against lefties.  He hit .314/.362/.533 against them last year.

Giovanny Gallegos

There was more damage done to the bullpen last night, as a 3-2 game got out of hand over the last two innings.  The Cardinal bullpen has slumped to a 4.67 ERA this month.

But in the midst of this trouble, Giovanny Gallegos – who was dinged for a couple of runs over a few recent games – has started to look very much like his old self.  He pitched to 4 batters last night, and struck out 3 of them.  Giovanny holds a 1.29 ERA in the second half over 28 innings.

Much valued for his ability to dominate left-handed batters, Gallegos struck out both he faced last night.  Lefties are now 0 for 12 with 7 strikeouts against Giovanny this month, and 4 for 45 (.089) with 19 strikeouts in the second half.

John Gant

It was when John Gant entered the game that things started to go seriously awry, as John continues to regress severely from his early season dominance.  Gant faced two batters, giving a hit and a walk.  One of the runners scored after he left the game.  John has seen runs scored against him in 5 of his last 10 games, a 7.1 inning span that has seen him give 10 runs (9 earned) on 10 hits and 11 walks (1 intentional).  He has allowed the last 42 batters to face him a .323 batting average and a .500 on base percentage.

He is up to 6.86 with the ERA in the second half.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost 3 of the last 5 quality starts they’ve received from their rotation.  It brings them to 48-22 on the season in games in which they’ve received a quality start.

They have now lost more quality starts than any Cardinal team since the 2016 team finished 56-24 in those games.  They are now up to 31.4% of these games lost – the highest rate since the 2014 team (62-29) lost 31.9% of the time they got a quality start.

In allowing one of the two runners he inherited to score, Ryan Helsley has now seen 6 of his 11 inherited runners cross the plate (54.5%).

St Louis had scored first in six consecutive games prior to last night.

Things Get Better Once You Chase the Lefty

July ended on something of an apprehensive note.  Dominated by Chicago right-hander, Kyle Hendricks, the July 31, 2-0 loss marked the third loss in the Cards’ final four games that month.  Their one-game lead in the division had disappeared, and the current home series against the Cubs was now even at one game each.

The good news was that for the rubber game St Louis would give the ball to Jack Flaherty.  The bad news was that he would be opposed by lefty Jon Lester.  Like most left-handers, Mr. Lester had enjoyed consistent success against this organization.  Even though this has now become a lineup dominated by right-handed “impact bats”, their recurring issues with left-handed pitching hadn’t seemed to get any better.

But a funny thing happened on the way to watching the Cubs take over first place.  The Cards drove Lester from the mound.  Jon lasted just 5, giving 5 runs on 9 hits – more than enough offense for Flaherty and the Cards (box score).

Considered an outlier at the time, batting around lefties has become almost a meme this month.  Yes, there was a start against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw that didn’t go so well, but the birds recovered to cuff around the Pirates’ Steven Brault and the Reds’ Alex Wood.

In addition, the Cards had big moments against lefty relievers Derek Holland (Cubs) and Wei-Chung Wang (A’s).

All of this made for interesting context ahead of last night’s game against Milwaukee lefty Gio Gonzalez.  As Dexter Fowler stepped in to face him, St Louis carried a .312/.353/.523 batting line against left-handed pitchers this month.

But Gonzalez didn’t get the memo.  On the seventh pitch of his start, Fowler struck out swinging at that slider that ends up low and out of the zone.

It wouldn’t all be that easy.  Gio faced a number of long grinding at bats – to the point where he left the game after 5 innings having tossed 92 pitches.  He walked 4 during his outing, but struck out 6 (all on that slider), gave only 3 hits and just 1 run.

Belying their earlier success, St Louis finished 4 for 23 (.174) against Gonzalez and left-handed reliever Drew Pomeranz.  Things were actually looking pretty bleak, as Milwaukee held a 2-1 lead when they turned the game over to their bullpen.

But what Milwaukee’s left-handers were able to so easily achieve turned out to be much more difficult for the right-handers.  The Cardinals bruised Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra and Matt Albers to the tune of 6 for 10 with 4 walks and a hit batsman.  They scored 4 runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings to secure a 9-4 victory (box score).

While the early innings still leave questions about St Louis’ comfort level against left-handed pitching, the win gives them victories in 9 of their last 11 games, and keeps them a half-game in front of Chicago.

Over the course of this streak, the offensive numbers have certainly perked up.  Over the last 11 games, St Louis is averaging 5.45 runs per game, and hitting .261.  The numbers are a bit deceptive, though, as there has been no consistency whatsoever in the Cardinal attack.

They have, in fact, spent the last two weeks trading good games with bad.  Beginning with the first game of the Pittsburgh series that began on August 9, the Cards hit the Bucs with 6 runs in a 6-2 win, followed that up with just 3 runs in game two (enough for a 3-1 win), and then finished up the sweep with an 11-9 slugfest.  But in the first game against Kansas City they were held to just 2 runs (again, enough for a 2-0 win), but then bounced back with 6 runs the next night (a 6-0 win).  The four games against Cincinnati held form.  One run in the first game (a 2-1 loss), followed by the 13-run eruption against Luis Castillo, followed by 1 run in a 6-1 loss, followed by 5 runs in the finale (a 5-4 win).

This series began with St Louis scoring just 3 runs on 5 hits in the opener (another shutout win), and now 9 runs last night.

You will forgive the pitching staff if they’ve gotten a little seasick.  It has been 21 games since the Cardinals scored at least 4 runs in consecutive games (July 22 through 26).

One hundred and twenty four games into the championship season, and this team is clinging to first place.  And this, in spite of the fact that the question marks still heavily outweigh the certainties.

MarcellOzuna

Marcell Ozuna paced the offense last night with three hits, his second 3-hit game in his last 5.  Ozuna is 8 for his last 21 (.381), and is 13 for 40 (.325) over the last 11 games.

JohnGant

A revelation early in the season, John Gant has regressed sharply.  In 16.1 innings over his last 18 games, Gant given 12 runs (11 earned) on 22 hits – a 6.06 ERA and a .338 batting average against.  He has allowed runs in 8 of the 18 games.

Throughout the season’s first half, Johnny dominated left-handed hitters.  They were only 7 for 50 against him (.140).  But lefties are clocking him at a .400 clip in the second half (6 for 15), with 4 of the hits going for extra-bases, including a home run – an .800 slugging percentage.  John surrendered an RBI single to Eric Thames that tied the score in the sixth inning.

AndrewMiller

Andrew Miller contributed a scoreless seventh inning last night.  Miller has had a very, very solid second half, with a 3.14 ERA over 14.1 innings.  This is in spite of the fact that – after last night’s walk – he has walked 11 over those innings.

The first two batters that Miller faced last night were right-handers.  He walked one (Lorenzo Cain) and got the other (Yasmani Grandal) to bounce into a double play.  In the season’s second half, right-handed batters are just 3 for 30 (.100) against Andrew.  That being said, 2 of the 3 hits have been home runs, and there have been 4 walks mixed in.

NoteBook

Miller pitched in his fifty-seventh game last night – tying his total from 2017 (he had already surpassed last year’s 37 games).  Miller is on pace to pitch in 70 games for the third time in his 14-year career.

Balmy days in St Louis in August are a rarity.  The 77 degrees that was the official game time temperature made this the coolest game in St Louis since July 15, when the birds pushed past Pittsburgh 8-0 in 74 degree weather.

Runners, Runners Everywhere – But Not a Hit to be Had

Cardinal nemesis Kyle Hendricks took the mound last night against his favorite patsies.  Kyle struck out the side in order in the first.  Still in there in the seventh, Kyle retired all three batters to face him on little pop ups.  It took him ten pitches.

In the five innings between Hendricks’ first and last innings, the Cardinals advanced a runner into scoring position in each inning.  They would finish the game with 9 hits – including 5 doubles – on their way to 15 plate appearances with a runner in scoring position (RISP).

They ended the game with no runs in a 2-0 loss (box score) that dropped them back into a first place tie with the visitors from up North.

In many offensive areas, this team has improved considerably since the break.  Taking nothing way from Mr. Hendricks, who made it look easy last night, hitting with runners in scoring position is not a skill that the Cardinals are getting better at.

For the season, they are hitting .250 in RISP opportunities (second worst in the league to Milwaukee, according to baseball reference).  Their .744 OPS in these situations leads only Miami’s .704.  They have driven in 286 runs with ducks on the pond.  The Marlins, again, are the league worst, just 13 behind the Cards at 273.

In the month of July, these numbers got even worse.  In spite of the fact that St Louis finished the month with a 16-9 record, they were only 39 for 173 (.225) in RBI opportunities. Nine of the 39 hits were of the infield variety – with 5 of those failing to deliver a run.

Both of their RISP hits last night fall into that category.  Infield dribblers by Miles Mikolas and Tyler O’Neill.  Before the evening was over, St Louis would advance two runners to third – in both cases with less than two outs.  In all, five Cardinals had opportunities with a runner at third.

But the zero on the scoreboard never did go away.

I can’t speak to games before 2012, but for the eight seasons that I have been tracking RISP at bats, this was the most in any game in which the Cards were shut out.  Previously, they have had three games in which they had 11 at bats with runners in scoring position and were shutout anyway.  Two of those three occurred in 2015 (May 22 – a 5-0 loss to Kansas City and August 22 in an 8-0 loss to San Diego).  That 2015 team was also shut out by Atlanta 4-0 on October 2 in a game when they had 10 RISP at bats.

Many of you may remember that series right at the end of the season.  The Cards had their division title wrapped, and ended the season with three meaningless games against the Braves.  They were shutout in all three games, a harbinger to their losing the division series to the Cubs that year.

So this game was – I suppose – somewhat historic.

After rolling through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh on the road, the Cards have returned home to face contenders in Houston and Chicago – and abruptly have lost the ability to get that hit with the runner right there.  In losing three of the last four, St Louis is 3 for 39 with ducks on the pond – with none of those hits accounting for runs.  Two of those happened last night.  The third came on Sunday afternoon against the Astros.  It was the third inning, and the Cards already trailed 2-0, but had runners on first and second with one out against Wade Miley.  O’Neill delivered the single to left, but Tommy Edman running from second couldn’t advance past third.

As it turned out, he never would get home.  Paul DeJong struck out and Matt Wieters grounded out.

For those of us who still have concerns about this team’s character, this is an unsettling trend.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt has been on quite a tear lately.  He has been hitting lots of singles and home runs, but almost no doubles.  Curiously, a hitter who is annually over 30 doubles had only hit 10 coming into last night’s game.  He slashed 2 against Hendricks – getting left on base both times.

The hits extend Paul’s hitting streak to 9 games – games in which he is hitting .378 (14 for 37) with 9 extra base hits (7 of them home runs).

With that, Goldschmidt wraps up a month that might very well get him some votes for player of the month.  Goldschmidt hit 11 home runs and drove in 27 runs for the month (25 games), while batting .308/.360/.725.

Ironically, the red-hot Goldy was the only Cardinal starter not to get a RISP opportunity last night.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong also ended July on a strong note.  While his hitting streak hasn’t been as noisy as Goldschmidt’s it has been encouraging.  With his 2 singles last night, Kolten has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 starts – hitting .390 in those games (16 for 41).

Wong ended the month as the Cardinals’ leading hitter.  Kolten hit .357 in July (25 for 70).

Miles Mikolas

As with Adam Wainwright the night before, Miles Mikolas came within one out of a quality start.  Also, like Waino, Mikolas allowed just one run.  That’s where the similarities mostly ended.  Mikolas’ run was unearned, and the run Waino allowed wasn’t enough to get him beat.

Miles took another tough loss, but wrapped up an excellent month of July.  In 5 starts he tossed 3 quality starts (and almost a fourth).  In his 30.2 innings, he maintained a 2.93 ERA.  Miles walked just 4 batters all month, while allowing just 2 home runs.

Over his last 8 starts, Miles has pitched to a 2.64 ERA.

On the reverse end of the RISP discussion, much of Mikolas’ improvement has come in this situation.  Miles is a guy who gives up a lot of hits, so there are almost always RISP opportunities against him.  Through the end of June, opposing hitters where battering Miles to the tune of .296 (21 for 71) when they had those shots against him.

Last night, the Cubs were just 1 for 6 against Miles in RISP situations.  For the month just ended, batters were only 4 for 23 (.174) against him with ducks on the pond.

Giovanny Gallegos

As with the night before, Giovanny Gallegos relieved in the sixth with runners on base (only two last night) and ended the inning getting a flyball from Kyle Schwarber.

Gallegos ends July with an 0.69 ERA in 13 innings for the month.  He closes the month on a 9-game scoreless streak in which he’s allowed 2 hits over 12 innings – leading to an .053 batting average against.

Giovanny has stranded all of the last 10 runners he has inherited, and has been absolutely brilliant when pitching with runners in scoring position.  In July, batters were 0-for-12 in RISP at bats, and for the year they are just 3 for 39 (.077) in this vital situation.

John Gant

Although the run was unearned, John Gant surrendered a run in his third straight outing.  He was also touched for 2 doubles in 1.2 innings.  Gant finished July with a 4.50 ERA over 10 innings.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia gave the Cards at least the chance of a comeback with a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth that featured 2 strikeouts.  Since returning from paternity leave, John has pitched 15 innings over 11 games with a 2.40 ERA and a .170/.214/.226 batting line.

NoteBook

Miles Mikolas may not get enough credit for his durability.  Miles made his twenty-second start of the season last night – after making 32 last year.

While Miles has been much better since the break, his rugged first half has him on the brink of re-setting most of the career highs he set last year.  The 6 hits allowed last night bring him to 133 for the season.  He allowed 186 last year.  The run scored off him was the fifty-ninth of the season – he allowed 70 last year.  The walk he allowed was just the twenty-first he’s given up this year, but he walked only 29 last year.

Kolten Wong, having his healthiest and perhaps best season, played in his 105th game last night.  The 127 he played in last year were the second most of his career.  In the only other “complete” season Kolten has had in the big leagues, he played 150 games in 2015.

Mostly because he is playing everyday, but also because he is having a better season, Kolten is already about to eclipse (and in some cases has already eclipsed) last year’s numbers with still two months left in 2019.  He already has 334 at bats after getting 353 last year.  With his two hits last night, Wong has equaled last year’s 88 hits.  After rolling up 137 total bases last year, Wong has 131 already this year.

With his stolen base last night, Kolten has not only more than doubled the 6 he stole last year, but has matched the 15 he stole in 2015.  His career high is the 20 he stole in 2014.

St Louis has now surrendered the first run in each of the last five games, and in seven of the last eight.

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.

Winning Teams Still a Stumbling Block

Last night in San Diego, the San Francisco Giants did – and did rather handily – something that has been a challenge for the Cardinals all season.  They beat the Padres – beating them pretty badly, by the way, 13-2.  By contrast, St Louis scored just 19 runs against them in six games – four of which they lost.

The loss dropped the Padres back down to – but not below – the .500 mark at 42-42.  As such, the Cardinals’ performance against San Diego last weekend (losing two of three) holds with the pattern established throughout the season: a noted inability to beat the better teams.

Going back to the previous road trip, the Cards got themselves swept by the Cubs (currently in second place in the division).  They responded by winning 9 of their next 14 games – a streak that gave the team and its followers a shot of confidence.  But all 14 of those games were against losing teams (Miami, the Mets, Miami again, and the Angels).  When the schedule brought in two teams with at least as many wins as losses (the Athletics and Padres), the Cards resumed their losing ways – losing four of the five.

The arc of the season so far has followed precisely the trajectory of their success against the better teams.  The March/April version of this team raced out to a 19-10 record.  At the heart of that record was a 12-7 mark against these better teams.  May saw them spin out to a 9-18 record.  Underpinning that mark was a 7-14 record against winning teams (and, by the way, a 2-4 record against losing teams).

They closed June 13-13 overall, but only 3-7 against teams that currently are at least at .500.

Of all my statistical subsets that reveal a team’s character, wins against winning teams is my favorite.  I’m not sure that any other measure will paint you as clear a picture of who your team is.  That the Cards enter July having been matched against winning teams in 50 of their first 82 games speaks to how frequently this team has been tested.  The fact that this team that expected to contend is only 22-28 in those contests is evidence that – at least to this point of the season – this team doesn’t match up to that competition.

In the ten June games, the offense struggled to 2.6 runs per game on the strength of a .215 batting average.  For the season, there has been very little offensive success against these teams – a .239 batting average, leading to 4.18 runs per game.

The pitching hasn’t been any more capable.  Their June ERA against winning teams was an unspectacular 4.34, which included serving up 18 home runs in the ten games.  The season ERA against these teams is an identical 4.34 (4.48 by the starters and 4.13 from the pen).

While they haven’t always been effective against losing teams either, the schedule will at least award them that opportunity until the end of the month.  Next up, they have Seattle (37-51), San Francisco (37-47), Arizona (43-43), Pittsburgh (40-43), Cincinnati (38-44), and Pittsburgh again, until the Houston Astros (53-32) finally make a visit to Busch on July 26. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are division foes.  The Cardinals’ combined record against them is 7-6.  Any expectation that this team will roll through those games is little more than wishful thinking.

Given the schedule, it is entirely possible (although not a certainty) that their fortunes could improve somewhat over the next few weeks.  Until this team shows me, though, that they can stand toe-to-toe with some of the good teams, we’ll kind of have to take any success they experience with a grain of salt.

Marcell Ozuna

The loss of Marcell Ozuna, of course, hurts on many levels.  Not the least of which was his ability to get hits against the better teams – especially in the month of June.  In his last 8 games against teams with at least as many wins as losses, Marcell had gone 10 for 27 (.370).  Of his 20 home runs this season, 13 came at the expense of these better teams.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz’ 4-for-7 series against San Diego wasn’t really an anomaly.  Munoz has been one of our better (if rarely used) bats against winning teams.  Munoz is 13 for 37 (.351) in his opportunities against better teams.

Paul Goldschmidt

With his combined 2 for 20 against Oakland and San Diego as the lowlight, Paul Goldschmidt finished June 7 for 37 (.189) against teams that are .500 or better.  For the season, Goldschmidt has faded to .249 (46 for 185) against these guys.

Paul DeJong

June was also trying all the way around for Paul DeJong.  In the ten games last month against winning teams, Paul hit a struggling .184 (7 for 38).  He walked just once while striking out 10 times in those games.

Jose Martinez

June saw Jose Martinez work his way back into the starting lineup.  Like most of the rest of the team, though, he was of little help against the better teams.  Jose hit .179 against them last month (5 for 28).  His 5 hits were 4 singles and 1 double – a .214 slugging percentage.  He drove in no runs against the better teams he played in June.

Harrison Bader

The June struggles of Harrison Bader also reached to his ability to get hits against winning teams.  Bader played in 8 of the 10 games (starting 7), hitting .148 (4 for 27).  He had no walks in those games, against 7 strikeouts.  Of his 4 hits, though, Harrison did come through with 3 extra-base hits – including 2 home runs.  He was the only one on the team to hit multiple home runs against winning teams in June.

Bader is just a .214 hitter (25 for 117) against winning teams for the year.

Adam Wainwright

Some of Adam Wainwright’s best moments of the month came in his three starts against the tough guys.  He was impressive in a 2-0 loss against Oakland, and made two earlier June starts against Chicago – one here (a 2-1 win) and one there (a 5-1 loss).

Overall, Adam finished with two quality starts, and a 2.37 ERA in those games.

Tyler Webb

One of the surprising names that has bubbled to the top of the list against winning teams is Tyler Webb.  Tyler is not noticed as often as some others, but he has been as effective as anyone on the staff against the best competition the Cards have played.

Webb has pitched in 20 of the 50 games, working 19 innings.  He has given just 4 runs on only 7 hits – which include just 1 home run.  It adds to a 1.89 ERA, a .115 batting average against, and a .197 slugging average against.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia has had some rough moments lately, but few of them have come against the good teams the Cards have faced.  In his 24.2 innings against the higher competition, John has fashioned a 2.19 ERA, with a .187 batting average.  He has allowed only 5 extra-base hits in these games (just 2 of them home runs), while striking out 30.  He averages 10.95 strikeouts every nine innings, while allowing a slugging percentage of just .286.

John Gant

John Gant – a revelation overall in the bullpen this year – has also acquitted himself well against this level of competition.  Over his 20 games and 23.2 innings, Gant holds a 2.28 ERA and a .173 batting average against.

Giovanny Gallegos

With little fanfare, Giovanny Gallegos finds himself throwing the most innings of anyone in the bullpen against the stiffer opponents.  With 25 innings against them, Giovanny has pitched to 95 of these hitters.  He has struck out 37 of them.  His 2.88 ERA and .191 batting average against in these games is highlighted by 13.32 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jack Flaherty

More than any other Cardinal starter, Jack Flaherty has been taken advantage of by the best teams.  Like Wainwright, Jack pitched twice against the Cubs and once against Oakland in June.  He didn’t get out of the fifth in two of the three, finishing with no quality starts, giving 13 runs in 13.1 innings on 18 hits including 6 home runs.  It all added up to an 8.78 ERA, a .310 batting average allowed and a .707 slugging percentage against.

For the season, Jack has made more starts (13) against .500+ teams than anyone else on the staff.  Only 4 of them have been quality starts.  He is 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA in those games.  In his 66 innings against these guys, Jack has struck out 74 (10.09 per nine) and served up 15 home runs (2.05 per nine innings).

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha pitched a very solid game against Oakland last week, but in general his games against the better opponents haven’t gone well.  In 8 starts and 1 relief appearance, Michael has totaled 44.1 innings against teams who are at or over .500.  In those innings, Wacha has unintentionally walked 27 batters (5.48 per nine innings) and served up 12 home runs (2.44 per nine innings).  These are usually bad combinations.  Not surprisingly, Wacha’s ERA against these guys sits at 5.48.

Jordan Hicks

Also learning some tough lessons at the hands of the league’s better teams is first year closer and flame-thrower Jordan Hicks.  With relatively few save opportunities, Hicks only appeared in 13.2 innings against these guys.  Not a lot of hits given up, of course – just 11 in those innings.  But these teams combined those hits with 9 walks they were able to draw to make Jordan’s innings stressful.  Hicks has allowed 9 runs in those innings – leading to a 5.93 ERA.

The Cardinals’ injured closer will get no more opportunities this year, but there are certainly plenty of experiences that are worthy of review.

Most of our issues against the quality teams fall in one of two buckets.  We have the veterans who are surprisingly under-performing.  And we have the young players – and this team’s chances are strongly linked to quite a few key performers who have relatively little experience – working through their learning curve.

Both of these are issues that can improve.  Actually, they are issues that should improve as the season wears on.  The question is: will they?

Cards Overcome Sputtering Offense in Shutout of Miami

If it’s possible to hang a fastball, that’s what Austin Brice did in last night’s eighth inning.  It seemed to start at Dexter Fowler’s ankles, but then it rose and just spun in the middle of the zone.  For his part, Fowler launched it over the wall in right for the three-run homer that put Miami out of its misery and sent St Louis on its way to a 5-0 victory (box score).

Breakthrough opportunities were fairly rare – as has mostly been the case recently.  Two first-inning singles had given Dexter a first-and-second opportunity with two outs, but he struck out.

From that point, the Cardinals didn’t see a runner in scoring position till the fifth, when Matt Carpenter – who had made the score 1-0 with a third-inning home run – gave St Louis a two-out opportunity when he laid down a bunt-double.  The Fish gave away that run – in the first place by playing their entire infield on the right side to allow the bunt-double, and then Starlin Castro dropped Paul DeJong’s pop fly to short center to allow the run.

With DeJong advancing to second on the error, Paul Goldschmidt had the chance to deliver the key hit – but he grounded out.

The Cards followed by going down in order over the next two innings, so this final opportunity in the eighth was welcomed.

For the game, the Cards managed a .238 on base percentage with the bases empty, resulting in 21 of St Louis’ 33 batters coming to the plate with no one on.  This has been a recurring pattern.

Over the last 17 games, the Cardinals hold a .281 on base percentage when the bases are empty.  The results have been 62% of all Cardinal hitters batting with no one on, only 5 bases-loaded plate appearances all month, and 16 of the last 23 Cardinal home runs (69.6%) being solo shots.

Here’s the thing though.  St Louis has won 11 of those last 17 games.

Slowly, but consistently, the pitching is settling into the decisive factor the Cardinals have been counting on all season.  Sometimes it’s been two steps forward, one step back.  But, while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Cardinal pitching staff has put together a 3.42 ERA over these last 17 games.  That would be good enough for second in the league if they had been able to maintain that all year.

I’m not really sure that I believe in this team yet.  I would like to see them keep the streak going a little longer and, perhaps, see more wins against quality opponents.  But this is exactly the kind of thing that those who do believe in this team point to.  The fact that – even when the offense struggles to get out of its own way – the pitching can be dominant enough to keep them competitive.

A week ago they had just been swept by Chicago and sat one game under .500 and 5.5 games behind in the division.  Today they have trimmed that margin to 2.5 games, and have pushed their way to 3 over .500.  The opportunity is before them.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter continues to hint that he is about to turn the corner.  He had a big game on Monday with 3 hits, including a home run.  Carpenter has hits in 4 of his last 5 games.

Carpenter never batted last night with a runner on base.  That’s normal for him.  As he has spent most of the year as the leadoff hitter, 69% of his at bats have come with the bases empty.  Of his 10 home runs this season, 9 have been solo shots.

Paul DeJong

DeJong didn’t leave his hot streak in New York.  With 2 hits last night, Paul has pushed his hitting streak to seven games, getting multiple hits in three of them.  Over the 7 games, he is hitting .367 (11 for 30) with a double and 3 home runs.  He has driven in 6 runs during the streak, while slugging .700.  He has also hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna rebounded from a tough series in New York to collect a couple of singles last night.  Marcell is up to .340 (18 for 53) for the month of June.

One of Marcell’s hits came in his 2 at bats with no one on base.  Throughout the last 17 games, Ozuna has been one of the few hitters to get hits with bases empty.  He is, in fact, hitting .378 on 14 hits in his last 37 such opportunities.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt’s season stays stuck in neutral.  He was hitless in 4 at bats last night, and has just 1 hit (that two-run home run in New York) over his last 5 games (16 at bats).  Paul is down to .192 (10 for 52) on the month.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina picked up two hits in his first game back from the injured list.  In the 6 games since then, hits have been harder to come by.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Yadi is 4 for 23 (.174) with 1 double (.217 slugging percentage) since that first game back.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader had the big first game in New York with 3 hits, a couple stolen bases, and the big defensive play.  He’s had no hits since.  With his 0-for-3 yesterday, Harrison is hitless in his last 13 at bats, with 7 strikeouts.

Miles Mikolas

In his three June starts, Miles Mikolas has had consistent issues keeping the bases clean.  Even though he shut the Marlins out through 6 innings last night, Miami batters were still 5 for 15 (.333) when hitting against him with the bases empty.  For the month, batters are hitting .355 (11 for 31) against him with the bases empty.

Last night he was very good once a runner reached.  The Fish were only 1 for 8 when they hit against Miles with a runner on base.  In his other starts this month, he hasn’t been so efficient.

Giovanny Gallegos

First out of the bullpen in support of Mikolas was Giovanny Gallegos, who recorded a scoreless seventh.  At some point someone other than me is going to have to start taking this kid seriously.  Gallegos has now thrown 12 scoreless innings over his last 9 games, giving just 4 hits and no walks – he has been throwing his pitches for strikes 75% of the time during this streak.  The last 38 batters he’s faced have a batting line of .108/.105/.162.

John Gant

John Gant had a couple rough games early in the road trip, as he gave runs in consecutive appearances.  Still, John has been more than just solid recently.  He pitched a scoreless eighth last night.  He has pitched in 8 of the last 17 games, throwing 10.1 innings with a 2.61 ERA.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks has held the back end of the bullpen very solid over the Cards recent rise.  He earned last night’s save with a 1-2-3 ninth.  He has now pitched in 7 of the last 17 games, with a 1.23 ERA and an .083 batting average against in 7.1 innings.

NoteBook

The victory was the Cardinals’ ninth this month – tying their total for the entire month of May.

Nonetheless, St Louis had trailed at some point in five consecutive games until last night.

The Cards scored first for the third straight game and the fourteenth time in their last 20 games.

Last night was game number 64 for Dexter Fowler this year.  Between his injuries and unending slumps, Dex played in only 90 games all last year.  He also now has 193 at bats, after finishing last year with just 289.  His strikeout was also his fifty-second of the season after striking out just 75 times last year.