Tag Archives: Garcia

Back From the Brink

As I watched Nick Castellanos circle the bases in the third inning of Saturday night’s game, in my mind’s eye I could see the Cardinals’ 2021 season circling the drain – and for that moment, I found I was OK with it.  For 140 injury-plagued games, this team had taken its fans on an emotional roller coaster ride that always ended up right where it began.  At the .500 mark.  After five-and-a-half months of sudden shifts of momentum, it occurred to me that it was enough.  This was as good a time as any for the ride to stop and for everyone to get off.

Here was the situation.  After losing the first two games, St Louis had fought its way back to a split with the Dodgers in the four-game series that opened the home stand.  That kept them relevant.  Now the Reds came into town, two games ahead of the Cards in the Wildcard chase.  There were 23 games left – and these would be the last three with Cincinnati.

So, after the Birds went quietly, 4-2, in the first game – and with a difficult pitching matchup on Sunday – the season seemed to slip away from them in that third inning on Saturday.  With Luis Castillo on the mound for the Reds, any Cincinnati lead would be tough to overcome.  When Castellanos’ home run doubled the Cincinnati lead to 4-0, a deep shadow seemed to fall over the crowd.

Already three games out (after Friday), they were now on the verge of falling four games off the pace.  With the very tough Sonny Gray set to throw the Sunday game, the most likely of scenarios had St Louis back at .500 (71-71) and five games behind Cincinnati by Monday morning.  Most likely, by that point, trailing not only Cincinnati and San Diego, but probably the Mets and Phillies as well.  Barring some kind of miracle, that would pretty much leave this team planning for next year.

Then, in the midst of this dreariness, a surprising thing happened.  The Cardinals got up off the deck.

It began with the defense, when Cincinnati’s next batter – Joey Votto – leaned into a Miles Mikolas fastball and crushed it to the remote ally in right center.  Based on exit velocity (104.3 mph) and launch angle (27 degrees), this blow carried an 87% chance of finding open turf.  But instead, there was Harrison Bader, on the dead run to the base of the wall where he leaped and gloved Votto’s drive before bouncing off the wall.

No one would have believed it then, but the Reds wouldn’t score another run the rest of the weekend.  Over the last six innings Saturday night, and through nine stunning innings on Sunday afternoon, there would only be zeros for one of the division’s most dangerous lineups.  They would muster just 7 hits and 2 walks over those decisive 15 innings.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals had a deficit to overcome.

Embattled shortstop Paul DeJong led off the bottom of the third with a home run of his own.  Another run promptly followed on a double by Bader and a Tommy Edman single.  In the sixth inning, Nolan Arenado made it a one-run game with an RBI triple.  He then scored the game tying run when Dylan Carlson’s pop fly fell into no-man’s land in center field.

Arenado would come to the plate again in the eighth with another runner on – this time against Lucas Sims.  Lucas left him a slider up and away and Nolan slashed it into the seats in left.  And that decided things, sending St Louis on to a most unlikely 6-4 victory (box score).

After producing a triple and a home run in his last two at bats of the Saturday game, Arenado was back at it Sunday afternoon.  In his first at bat of the game (in the bottom of the first inning) he abused a sinker from Gray, smashing it off the façade in the second deck that separates Big Mac land, giving the Cards an early 2-0 lead.

No one would have expected that to be all the scoring on the afternoon, but it was (box score).  After that first inning, Gray was as tough as advertised – but not as tough as the suddenly dominant Cardinal pitching staff.

Since allowing 12 runs in losing the first two games to Los Angeles, St Louis has given just 13 total runs over its last 5 games.  Cincinnati only managed 8 in the three-game series.  Especially heroic was the Cardinal bullpen.  Even including the two Friday runs that Cincy scored to end T.J. McFarland’s scoreless streak, the St Louis pen still posted a 1.86 ERA over 9.2 innings last weekend, holding the Reds to a batting line of .176/.200/.265.

Needless to say, things look a little different now that Monday morning has finally arrived.  This is not uncommon in baseball in September.  Instead of circling the drain, St Louis sits one game out of the last playoff spot.  They are now very relevant.

Of course, as quickly as thigs turned rosy for this team, they could sour that quickly as well.  With twenty games left, there is little margin for error.  Losing any of their remaining six series, could prove fatal.

At this point of the season, the only thing that can deliver them is that stretch of sustained excellence that has always managed to elude them.  Perhaps until now.

Mikolas

The Friday rally took Mikolas off the hook.  Miles still hasn’t re-discovered his form.  In 3 September starts, Miles is 0-1 with an 8.31 ERA.  Along with a .308 batting average allowed, Mikolas has served up 3 home runs in the 13 innings his last 3 starts have lasted.  Since returning from the injured list, he is 0-2 with a 6.04 ERA.

Garcia

Luis Garcia stretched his scoreless streak to 24 innings over 21 appearances with two, one-inning outings against the Reds.  Garcia has walked just 3 batters (1 intentionally) during his streak, and the 13 hits he has given up include only 4 extra-base hits – all doubles.  The last 88 batters to face him are hitting .153/.182/.200.

NoteBook

With the game-winning hit in both of the wins this weekend, Arenado has tied Yadier Molina for the team lead with 14.  Paul Goldschmidt – who has 12 – is third.

At 88 degrees, the Saturday game was the warmest the Cards have played in since they played in 90 degree heat in Pittsburgh on August 29.  The last home game they played that was this warm came on August 25, when they hosted the Tigers in 93-degree heat.

The Cincinnati series was St Louis’ twenty-third home series of the year – and they have finally won their tenth.  With a 39-33 home record, the Cards are 10-8-5 in their series in their home ballpark.

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.

Every Little Mistake

The pitch was far from being a hitter’s pitch.  The first-pitch changeup hugged the lower outside frame of the strike zone.  It was a pitch he would probably have bounced to short, if he had hit it.

But Jose Barrero doesn’t get to play much, and he was in no mood to be too picky.  This was his fourth at bat of the game, and he had yet to be terribly selective.  His first two times up, in fact, he had swung at pitches very much like this one – down in the strike zone – and had, in fact, bounced both to the shortstop.  Once into a double play.

So Jose was unlikely to let this one go by – and he didn’t, swinging over top of it for strike one.  The next pitch – a sinker – was even farther outside.  Almost involuntarily, Jose stuck his bat out and fouled it off.  And now, he was set up at 0-2.

All month long – as the Cardinal September ERA has soared to 5.29 – these kinds of at bats have been burning the Cardinal pitching staff.  Across all of the NL, once the count gets to 0-2 batters go on to hit .154/.188/.246 (a miniscule .434 OPS).  Across all of the NL, once a batters swings and misses the first pitch in an at bat (as Berrero had done), they go on to hit .209/.262/.350 (an also poor .612 OPS).

Here it was the top of the ninth inning of a 2-2 game.  Cincinnati’s Berrero was up with a runner at first and one out.  If Jose had actually hit that first pitch, he could easily have bounced into his second double play of the night, and sent the game tied into the bottom of the ninth.  Lucky for him, though, he didn’t.

The next three pitches weren’t terribly close to the plate – two sinkers well inside and a third that was similar to the one that Jose had fouled on the second pitch.  This time he laid off the pitch, and now the count was full.

On the mound for St Louis was T.J. McFarland, riding an 18.2 inning scoreless streak.  The Reds were toward the bottom of the lineup, and TJ just needed to make a pitch to retire Barrero and bring up Delino DeShields (or to end the inning, if he could coax another double play out of Jose).

But, as has happened all too often this month, McFarland blinked first.  His 3-2 pitch was a slider at 89.3 miles per hour right smack down the middle of the plate.  The aggressive Barrero jumped all over it, lining it on one hop off the center field wall, and, when the relay throw home was well wide, that marked the end of TJ’s scoreless streak.

Jose advanced to third on the throw home, and scored himself on DeShields’ grounder.  It was the decisive moment that pushed Cincinnati past a Cardinal team fresh off two emotional victories over the Dodgers.  The final in this one was 4-2 (box score).

Across all of the National League, batters are hitting .255/.284/.428 in plate appearances where the hitter swings at the first pitch, and, as mentioned .209/.262/.350 after he misses that first pitch. (These numbers, by the way, courtesy of baseball reference).  During the early days of September, Cardinal opponents are hitting .314/.330/.593 when swinging at that first pitch.  Even after they miss that pitch, they still go on to hit .265/.294/.571 in the rest of the at bat.  The Barrero double was the seventh extra base hit already this month against the Cards in 49 such at bats (the third double to go with four home runs).

The teams that the Cardinals have faced this month (Cincinnati, Milwaukee and the Dodgers) haven’t really been aggressive at the plate.  They’ve offered at that first pitch just 25.8% of the time (the league average is 30.5%).  But they haven’t missed many mistakes.  The last sinker to Barrero may have been the worst pitch that McFarland has made this month.  It was, at the very least, the first run he’s surrendered this month.  And it cost the Cardinals a much-needed game.  It doesn’t seem like this team can make the smallest mistake without costing them a game.

The loss leaves the one-step-forward, one-step-back Cardinals back to three games behind the Reds and Padres – currently tied for the last playoff spot.  The fact that Cincinnati is one of those teams directly in front of them in the chase for this Wildcard spot adds extra importance to these games.  Add in the fact that this is our final series against the Reds – and thus the last chance to take matters into our own hands against them – and you get some idea of the urgency of the situation.

Urgency notwithstanding, this was yet another lost opportunity.

On May 19, the Cards took down the Pirates, 8-5.  At that point, this team was 25-18 and 3.5 games ahead in the division.  In 97 games since that high mark of the season, St Louis has gone 46-51.  From 3.5 games ahead, they have toppled to 15 games behind in the division.  It is the farthest the Cardinals have been from first place since they finished the 2016 season 17.5 games behind.

Injuries have certainly been a part of the tumble.  As I’ve mentioned a few times, that May 19 win was the ninth (and so far final) win of the season for Jack Flaherty.  But injuries notwithstanding, there have been many of those 51 losses – like last night’s game – that were there for the taking.  Games that the Cards have found a way to loose.

Just two games over .500 now, the 71-69 Cardinals still sit just 3 games out of a playoff spot, with only the Reds and Padres in front of them.  They have two more against Cincinnati and three with the Padres, so this overly-forgiving season continues to offer them opportunities.  But the sand is pouring quickly now through the glass.

Lester

There was very little whooping and celebrating in Cardinal land when the Birds landed Jon Lester at the trading deadline (and for all of that, I still think they will regret giving up on Lane Thomas).  And Jon’s first four starts wearing the birds-on-the-bat didn’t endear himself to his new fandom.  He lasted just 20.1 innings in those games with a 7.08 ERA.

But Jon has been getting better every time out.  In a playoff-esque game against the Reds last night, Lester delivered 7 innings of 2-run, 3-hit ball.  A good enough effort to have earned him the victory.

Over his last 4 starts, Jon has allowed just 5 runs in 23.2 innings (a 1.90 ERA).  He is 1-0 in those contests, but handed over a lead to his bullpen on two other occasions.  He easily could already have earned his 200th win.  Perhaps the thought of Jon Lester winning his 200th game AS a Cardinal instead of AGAINST the Cardinals is more irony than the baseball gods can take.

At any rate, Jon has vaulted in the pecking order to be our second-most dependable starter (behind the remarkable Adam Wainwright).  Where would we now be without him?

Garcia

Someday, of course, Luis Garcia will give up a run as well.  Nobody puts up zeros forever.  But that day wasn’t yesterday, as Garcia delivered a scoreless eighth inning, sending the game to McFarland and the ninth.  It was the twentieth consecutive time that Luis has come out of the bullpen for the Cards without allowing a run – a span now bridging 23 innings.  During those innings, he has only walked 3 batters – 1 intentionally.

Molina

After a scuffling stretch, Yadier Molina is loudly hinting that he is ready for the playoff push.  He has back-to-back two hit games, hitting a home run in each.

Yadi swing at the first pitch in 2 of his 4 plate appearances, collecting a single in those at bats.  Yadi is actually at his best when he is aggressive.  In 27 plate appearances this month, Yadi has chased after the first pitch he’s seen 17 times – a very aggressive 63% of the time.  He is 6 for 16 (.375) with a double and 2 home runs in those at bats (an .813 slugging percentage).

Arenado

Nolan Arenado may, arguably, be the most frustrated player on the roster.  Three times last night, Nolan drove flyballs to the outfield with exit velocities of 89.4 mph or higher.  But he got way underneath all three of them (launch angles of 48, 52 and 41 degrees).  None of the flyballs travelled more than 319 feet, and Arenado finished the day 0 for 3 – and now 0 for his last 13.

This is the worst time of the season to find yourself in a slump.

Nolan took the first pitch in all four plate appearances last night.  He may be getting a little too selective early in the at bat.  In 35 plate appearances this month, Arenado has taken the first pitch 26 times (74.3%).  He has gone just 4 for 24 (.167) in those at bats (with just 1 walk and a sacrifice fly).

DeJong

Paul DeJong has found himself back in the starting lineup – courtesy of a wrist injury that has limited Edmundo Sosa.  Paul has taken some better at bats, but without the hoped-for results.  DeJong was hitless last night and is 1 for 13 (.077) this month.  Stretching over his last 17 games (11 starts) Paul is hitting just .140 (6 for 43).

Eliminations

Milwaukee’s win and Chicago’s loss eliminated a third team officially from the division race in the Central.  While the Cubs are still mathematically alive for the Wildcard, the math for the division has run out on them.  While no one expects anyone but the Brewers to take the crown, the Reds and Cards still have a mathematical chance.

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.

Timely Re-Inventions

Nobody who saw Jon Lester’s first four starts as a Cardinal would have believed it, but when Jon took the mound in Cincinnati last night to pitch the bottom of the first, the game was already over. 

A two-run opposite-field home run off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt had given the Birds first blood and a 2-0 lead – a margin that would seem fairly inconsequential, remembering that the Reds opened the series leading the National League in hits, OPS and total bases, and was second in runs scored, batting average and slugging percentage.  They were third in home runs.

When you further remembered the Jon Lester that struggled mightily through his first 20.1 Cardinal innings (with a 7.08 ERA and a .337 batting average against), had the Cincinnati fans and management known that the Cards would score just one more run for the rest of the evening, they would have felt their chances were pretty good.

But after inning after inning of offensive silence rolled by, it began to dawn on the Reds (and the Cards and their fans, too) that this was the old Jon Lester – as opposed to the recent Jon Lester.

After retiring 16 batters in a row, Jon walked Joey Votto with one out in the seventh inning to end his night.  After allowing but one hit, and walking his second batter, Lester left with a 3-1 lead in his pocket – which would turn out to be the final score (box score).

It was the culmination of a re-invention process for Lester, but also the continuation of a fairly dramatic reversal for the Cardinal pitching staff.  The progress hasn’t been straight-line by any stretch of the imagination, but the difference has been noteworthy.  The pitching staff that began the season as one of baseball’s wildest, has – in recent weeks – re-invented itself, as well.

On June 2 in Los Angeles, they were punched around by the Dodgers, 14-3 – a game in which Cardinal pitchers granted 10 walks.  It was the third time in 25 games that they had issued double-digit walks, and their nine-inning average peaked that evening at 4.68.

From that point on, they have averaged just 3.56 walks per nine innings.  Since the All-Star Break, they have averaged just 2.74 unintentional walks per nine innings.  With their two walks last night (none from the bullpen) they have exceeded three walks just 6 times in their last 35 games.  This is a marked departure from earlier in the year.

What they’ve discovered is that when they force opposing to teams to put the ball in play, they end up dealing with far fewer base-runners.  During the just concluded month of August (tonight’s game has been rained out), St Louis maintained a fine 3.30 team ERA.  Helping greatly was the fact that 60.1% of the batters that faced them in August (175 out of 291) came to the plate with no one on base.

Once these teams could get a man on, trouble frequently followed.  With at least one runner on, the opposing batting line jumped to .265/.345/.402.  But with the bases empty – as they were for the most part last night – opponents scuffled along with a .193/.257/.323 batting line.

Last night against Lester and several relievers, 27 of 32 batters came to the plate with no one on base.  We could find ourselves getting used to that.

McFarland

In to pitch after Lester, T.J. McFarland almost saw his scoreless streak ended.  Kyle Farmer – the first batter he faced (whose home run had provided Cincinnati’s only run of the evening) stroked a ground-rule double into the left-field stands – placing runners at second and third with only the one out.

But TJ escaped the jam, stranding both runners.  In addition to a scoreless streak that has now reached 15.2 innings over 15 games, McFarland has also stranded 9 of the 11 runners he’s inherited.  He has allowed just 9 hits in those innings to go with 3 walks for a .189 batting average and a .232 on base percentage allowed in those games.

(The hits by Farmer – by the way – would turn out to be Cincinnati’s only two hits that night.)

During August, McFarland faced 26 batters with a runner on base.  They finished with 2 singles, Farmer’s double and 1 walk – a .120/.154/.160 batting line (with 4 ground-ball double-plays thrown in for good measure).

Garcia

Luis Garcia saw a rare baserunner reach against him due to an error.  No matter, Garcia procured the last out of the eighth inning to raise his scoreless streak to 19.1 innings over 16 games.  The last 70 batters he’s faced hold a .134/.171/.179 batting line against him.

O’Neill

With two hits and a run batted in, Tyler O’Neill wrapped up one of the best months of his young career.  In 95 August plate appearances, Tyler slapped out 17 singles, 2 doubles, the first triple of his career, 4 home runs, 12 walks, 3 hit-by-pitches and a sacrifice fly – adding up to a .304/.411/.506 batting line.

Edman

After six games, Tommy Edman’s little hitting streak came to an end – but Tommy did significant damage during the streak.  He hit .462 (12 for 26) and slugged .808 (3 doubles and 2 home runs), scoring 7 runs and driving in 10 during the streak.

Molina

A second inning single off the bat of Yadier Molina on Saturday became the final hit of his nine-game hitting streak.  He has gone 0-for-11 since.  The season’s second half has been a struggle for Molina more often than not.  Over his last 125 plate appearances, Yadi has 27 singles, 2 doubles, 5 walks and 1 hit-by-pitch – a batting line of .244/.280/.261.

NoteBook

With Milwaukee’s win last night, Pittsburgh becomes the first NL Central team to be eliminated from the division title.  Mathematically, they could still finish second – and they are still alive (barely) in the Wildcard chase – although there is no practical chance of either of those things happening.

At 2:47, Monday’s game was St Louis’ quickest since their August 3 contest against Atlanta (also a Lester start) lasted just 2:39.  That was a home game.  They haven’t played a road game this quick since they were in Colorado on July 1.  Their 5-2 loss to the Rockies that day also took just 2:47.

At 77 degrees the weather in Cincinnati was the coolest the Birds have played in since August 10 in Pittsburgh.  That game was played in 73 degree weather.

The Cards have now scored first in six straight games.

Goldschmidt’s home run held up as the game-winning hit – his eleventh of the season.  That ties him for second on the team with Nolan Arenado, just behind Molina’s 13.

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.

Still Relevant

For eight games over nine days the St Louis Cardinals tried to convince all interested that they would be irrelevant to this season’s playoff chase.

Fresh off a 6-0 road trip, the Cards opened an eight-game home-stand on August 17 that was rife with opportunity.  The first three games were against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers – a team that they had closed to within ten games of.  After the Brewers, they had second-division teams in Pittsburgh and Detroit.  In addition to their ten-game deficit for the division lead, they opened that home-stand just four games out of the final wildcard spot.  There was a lot of good this seemingly hot team could do for itself over that next week-and-a-half.

That home-stand ended yesterday afternoon on a winning note – a 3-2, 10-inning easing past the Tigers (box score).  It was, though, just the third win in the eight games.  The Cards managed to salvage only the final game of each series.

A 3-5 home-stand at this point of the season would seem to be a critical setback – and as far as the division goes, it was.  St Louis opens a ten-game road trip tonight with a 13-game gap between them and the Brewers.  However, they actually gained in the Wildcard chase.

You see, while St Louis was occupied losing 5 of 8, the San Diego Padres – who had held that final wildcard spot – were losing 6 of 7; Cincinnati – the team in between the Cards and the Padres – split their 8 games; and the Phillies and Mets – the two teams just behind the Cards who stood to make the most of St Louis’ stumble – each went 2-6.

The resulting scrum now has Cincinnati (69-59) holding that last playoff spot, with San Diego (68-60) falling a game behind them.  The Cards sit just behind them at 64-61 – two-and-a-half games behind the Padres, and just three-and-a-half games out of the final playoff spot.  The Phillies are now a game-and-a-half further back, with the Mets (now 61-65) a full 7 games out of the playoff picture, and 3.5 behind the Cardinals.

So, in spite of themselves, St Louis takes back to the road, still relevant – for now.

The Good

In the midst of the losing homestand, there was a positive to take away.  Even though the rotation lost another starter (as Jack Flaherty returned to the injured list), the pitching staff – and especially the bullpen – caught its much-needed second wind.  In 74 innings at home, St Louis registered a 3.19 ERA, while giving just 2.98 un-intentional walks per nine innings.  The bullpen’s share of that (over 31.2 innings) showed a 1.99 ERA.  This number includes shaky outings from closer Alex Reyes and seventh-inning man Genesis Cabrera – who combined to serve up 8 runs (5 earned) in 8 combined innings over the 8 games.  Everyone else out of the pen (in 23.2 innings) posted an 0.76 ERA with a .188/.250/.288 batting line against.

As the Cards turn their attention to the final 37 games of the season, they are riding (currently) a patchwork rotation that is holding together better than anyone had any right to expect, and a hand-full of previously unheralded relief arms who are rising to the challenge.

The Bad

As soon as their plane landed on the tarmac at Lambert airport, the reviving Cardinal offense (which had averaged 6.17 runs per game on the road-trip) went back into hibernation.

During their eight games at home, St Louis scored more than four runs just once – finishing the homestand averaging 3.13 runs per game with a .227/.316/.341 batting line, and spiraling down as the homestand went on.  After scoring 12 runs against Milwaukee, they managed 7 against the Pirates.  They scored 6 in two games against Detroit with a humbling batting line of .169/.299/.323.

Offensive inconsistency has been one of the hallmarks of this team, and it damaged them greatly during this most recent homestand.

The Frustrating

There are any number of frustrating aspects to this that I could point out, but just to pick one at random (which is kind of our meme here) let’s look at batters leading off innings.

Putting their leadoff man on was an early season struggle for the Cards.  During a scuffling first half, Cardinal leadoff men were slashing but .219/.281/.362.

This number has improved dramatically since the All-Star Break.  As the offense in general has perked up in the season’s second half – and the Cards are scoring 4.26 runs a game with a .257/.331/.419 batting line since the break – they have done so with an important assist from the batters leading off the innings.  Cardinal leadoff hitters have hit .282/.338/.496 over the last 35 games.

During the last two series of the homestand, the Cards put every third leadoff man aboard (15 of 45).  But now that they’ve finally figured out how to get that first guy on base, they’ve forgotten how to get him home – doing so only 5 times during the last 5 games.

Historically, the leadoff batter who gets aboard scores about 50% of the time.  During the shaky first half, St Louis was still scoring that runner 51% of the time.  During the previous roadtrip, they chased home 10 of 14 leadoff batters who reached.

But over the last 5 games, only 5 of 15.  In the Detroit series, they put that leadoff man on 7 time in 19 innings (a .368 on base percentage).  Only 2 came home to roost.

It has been the dependable pattern of the season.  As soon as one problem seems patched, something else starts to leak.

For those of you have been on this ride all season, I don’t need to tell you that the boat leaks.  And yet – with 37 games to go – it is somehow still relevant.

Edman

In a light-hitting series against Detroit, Tommy Edman led the way with 3 of the 11 hits the Cards managed.  Tommy has hit safely in 9 of his last 10 (getting two hits in 6 of the games).  He is hitting .349 (15 for 43) over those ten games.

Tommy was the leadoff batter for 14 of the 72 innings during the homestand, reaching base in 6 of those innings (a .429 on base percentage).  But he only scored on 2 of those occasions.  In the season’s second half, Edman has an on-base average of .381 when leading off an inning (16 of 42).

The Resurgent Bullpen

Left to shoulder 12 of the 19 innings against the Tigers, the Cardinal bullpen responded in championship fashion as they put up zeroes in 11 of the 12 innings.  The only run surrendered by the group was the run off of Reyes in the ninth inning on Wednesday that cost Jon Lester his first Cardinal win.

The re-constructed bullpen features two key cogs who weren’t with the organization when we broke camp – Luis Garcia and T.J. McFarland.  These two are about as opposite as can be imagined – but their results are thankfully alike.

Garcia

Luis Garcia is the fireballer – one of many hard throwers that inhabits the St Louis bullpen.  He pitched an important sixth inning on Wednesday, hitting 100 mph on three different occasions during that inning (giving him 5 100 mph pitches this season).

Over his last 13 games Luis has been mesmerizingly brilliant.  In the 16.1 scoreless innings he’s thrown in those games, Garcia has faced 57 batters.  They have managed 5 singles, 3 doubles and 1 – just 1 – walk, for a .143/.158/.196 batting line.  133 of his 186 pitches have been strikes (72%) and when they swing, batters are missing his pitch 33% of the time.

Nothing about this looks lucky.  Garcia is a guy who can throw his 100 mph fastball on the edges for strikes and follow it up with a nasty slider.  There is much, much to like here.

McFarland

Where Garcia is the hard-throwing righty, TJ is the soft-throwing lefty.  His fastest pitch has been recorded at 91.0 mph.  Twenty-five of the thirty Cardinals who have pitched for the team this year have recorded a faster pitch at some point.

But McFarland gets his outs at nearly the same rate that Garcia gets his.  TJ is unscored against over his last 12 games (12 innings) during which he has walked just 2.  Batters have managed just a .214/.250/.262 batting line against McFarland, and 19 of the 34 batters who have put the ball in play against TJ have hit the ball on the ground (56%).

McFarland’s scoreless streak includes the tenth inning on Wednesday when he stranded Detroit’s “ghost-runner” by getting a double-play.  He was the winner when St Louis scored in the bottom of that inning.

NoteBook

While the Birds haven’t won an overwhelming number of games, they have usually stayed pretty close.  When they went into the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game trailing 4-0, it was their first four-run deficit after six innings since August 8.  When that deficit persisted into the eighth, it was the first time they trailed by that many after seven since August 3, when they trailed 6-0 after seven on their way to a 6-1 loss to Atlanta.

On that August 3 evening, the temperature in St Louis dipped down to 79 degrees – perhaps hinting at an early fall.  Not so fast.  The Tuesday game was played in sweltering 94 degree heat – the hottest Cardinal game since May 29 when it was 96 degrees in Arizona.

It was the hottest home game of the season – weighing in 4 degrees hotter than the June 14 game against Miami.  At 93 degrees, the Wednesday afternoon game became the second hottest home game this season.

The two games combined for an average temperature of 93.5 degrees – the hottest series of the season.  The Arizona series referenced earlier checked in at 91.0 degrees.  The previous hottest home series was the three-game set against Kansas City from August 6-8.  Those games averaged 88.0 degrees.

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.

Waino Deserved Better

It was the second inning of last night’s game, and Adam Wainwright had his old buddy Kolten Wong set up at 0-2.  As he has done hundreds (if not thousands) of times during his career, Adam spun a “chase me” curve.  It started over the heart of plate and then just tumbled, so that by the time Kolten chased it, the pitch had dropped just below the strike zone.  It was about as well executed as any curve Wainwright tossed that evening.

The resulting hit – which left the bat at 71.1 mph was popped down the left field line at a too-high launch angle of 55 degrees.  The expected batting average on the ball was a pretty miniscule .087.  Tonight, that would be good enough as the ball found no-man’s land – just barely fair and just beyond the glove of Nolan Arenado – the closest of three Cardinals who were converging on the play.

Wong’s bloop double drove home Rowdy Tellez – whose own two-strike double fell just beyond the grasp of center-fielder Harrison Bader.  In the next inning, Christian Yelich stayed back on another two-strike curve, getting enough of it to dribble it past first and into the corner for another double.  He would later score the second run of the game.

That would be all of the scoring, as Milwaukee took game one of this mini-showdown against St Louis by a 2-0 score (box score).

The three, two-strike doubles that essentially accounted for the difference in the game had an aggregate expected batting average of .907 – meaning that the three of them together should have been worth one hit.  Baseball can be bizarre like that.

Coming into the game, there were few pitchers out there that you would dread a two-strike count against more than Wainwright.  In his first six starts in the season’s second half, Adam put 69 batters into two strike counts.  Those batters managed 2 singles, 3 doubles, a triple, 1 walk, and 1 hit batsmen – a .090/.116/.164 batting line – while 38 others struck out.

Last night, the Brewers had nearly as many two strike hits in the game (5 in just 13 at bats) as Adam had allowed since the break – and they doubled the number of two-strike doubles against him.  Many were not terribly well hit.

On the other hand, several of the outs that Adam recorded were hit much harder than some of the hits.  His last two outs in the fifth – for example – left the bat 97.3 mph and 104 mph.

All of this is, of course, why you can never read too much into any single baseball game.  On any given night, the pop-ups will fall in and the line drives will be caught.  The problem now, though, is that these remaining games against Milwaukee (and the Cards still have 12 to play against them), have taken on an exaggerated importance.  Entering the series trailing Milwaukee by ten games in the division, this is the worst imaginable time for pop-flies to drop and dribbling grounders to find the right-field line.

The issue, though, is deeper than that.  The last time this team played a team over .500, they were swept by Atlanta.  They came into this series having won 8 of 9 – but all against last-place teams in Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  There has been an attempt to spin that success into something more than it was.  As much as anything, this team wants to be taken seriously – by its own fans at least.  We were promised that these guys “would be ready” for the series against Milwaukee.

Hopefully, this is not what “ready” looks like.

Until they actually win some of these games, it’s hard not to connect this team to the team that recently had no answer for the Braves.  Losing this series to Milwaukee would be damaging.  It would leave them 11 games out with just 42 games left.  Being swept by the Brewers (a very real possibility) would be nearly back-breaking.

Like many of their critical losses this year – including all three against Atlanta – this game was winnable.  But in the at bats that spelled the difference, Milwaukee came through and St Louis – fresh off of scoring 51 runs in 9 games against the Royals and Pirates – failed to capitalize on the few opportunities they had.  They were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Round two is tonight.  Splitting these final 12 with the Brew-Crew won’t be enough.  If this team is serious about contending, it’s not too early for them to start to make their move.

More Waino

Although last night’s losing pitcher, Adam tossed another quality start – working around 9 hits (5 of them doubles) 2 walks and a hit batsman to allow just two runs over six tumultuous innings.  Since the All-Star Break, Adam has 6 quality starts in 7 games with a 2.57 ERA.  He has 4 wins and now 2 losses.  Adam is the only pitcher on the team to have enough innings to “qualify” among the league’s starting pitchers.  He has pitched 154.2 innings for the team this year.  The next highest total is the 91 pitched by Kwang Hyun Kim.

Waino has been the team’s most indispensable player this year – and he deserved a better fate last night.

McFarland

T.J. McFarland led another solid bullpen performance.  He threw a scoreless seventh.  The bullpen as a whole kept Milwaukee off the scoreboard for the final three innings.

TJ is unscored on in 8.1 innings over 8 appearances this month.  He has walked only one of the last 32 batters to face him – a marvelous achievement for this bullpen.

Garcia

After TJ continued his scoreless streak, Luis Garcia pitched the eighth and continued his.  In his most important opportunity so far, Garcia allowed a couple of hits, but held the score where it was.  Luis now has allowed just 6 hits (5 singles, one double) to the last 43 batters he’s faced over 12.2 scoreless innings.  He has given no walks in those innings, so those 43 batters have a line of .140/.140/.163 against him.  He has thrown 72% of his last 138 pitches for strikes.

Goldschmidt

Not many Cardinals carried their hitting proficiencies from the Kansas City series with them, but Paul Goldschmidt did.  Paul had 2 of the 4 St Louis hits, pushing his hitting streak to six games.  Paul now has multiple hits in 4 of the 6, and is hitting a robust .455 (10 for 22) during the streak.

Goldschmidt also has hits in 10 of his last 12 games, with 7 of the games being two-hit efforts.  He is hitting .378 (17 for 45) during that stretch.  The hot stretch raises Goldy’s average to .340 for the month (18 for 53) and .315 for the second half (35 for 111).

In the eighth inning, Goldschmidt got a two-strike hit of his own, flipping a 2-2 fastball from Devin Williams into right-center field.  Goldschmidt is now 9 for 30 this month (.300) with two-strikes on him.  The league average in a two-strike count is .162.

Arenado

Goldschmidt’s hitting streak lives on.  Nolan Arenado’s does not.  Hitless in 3 at bats, Nolan’s baby hit streak ends at 5.  It was a very loud five games though, as Nolan hit .350 (7 for 20) and slugged .900.  Five of the 7 were for extra bases (including 3 home runs) and he drove in 10 runs during the streak.

Bader

Hitless in four at bats last night, Harrison Bader is scuffling through August at the plate.  He is hitting .189 this month on 10 of 53 hitting – all singles.

Recent Scoring Changes

Edmundo Sosa’s four-hit night against KC was downgraded to a three-hit night.  In the fifth inning he hit a dribbly grounder that managed to get under the shortstop’s glove.  Should really have been scored as an error all along.

While Sosa loses a hit, Yadier Molina gains one.  In the sixth inning of the August 10 game in Pittsburgh, St Louis scored two runs to extend their 2-1 lead to a 4-1 lead.  The first of those runs scored when Yadi’s hard-hit ground ball shot past the glove of shortstop Kevin Newman.

This was originally scored an error – and I kind of thought it would stay an error, as I pretty much expected Newman to make that play.  Nonetheless, it was very well struck (106 mph off the bat), and on re-consideration, Molina has been awarded the hit and the RBI.

On August 4, the Cards dropped a 7-4 decision against Atlanta.  It was 4-4 in the eighth, when the Braves broke the tie with a sacrifice fly.  They made it a 7-4 lead with a little Keystone Kops action.  Joc Pederson, the next batter, drilled a shot into medium-short right off of Giovanny Gallegos that Dylan Carlson charged and slid for.  But the ball hit off his glove and rolled away from him.  He scrambled to his feet and chased after it – eventually colliding with Harrison Bader, who was also coming over to retrieve the ball.  Pederson ended up on third with what was originally ruled a double and an error (charged to Bader).  On re-consideration, they decided that neither outfielder was really at fault – it was just one of those things that happens.  Pederson gets a triple – and the error on Bader vanishes.

NoteBook

The Cards had led at some point in 11 straight games before last night.

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.

Working Through Some Credibility Issues

Well, you have to admit that they did make it look convincing.

Eleven days ago, the St Louis Cardinals absorbed the final loss of a three-game sweep at the hands of Atlanta.  They were 53-55 at that point, and trailed Milwaukee in the division by 11.5 games.  They also languished 8 games out of the last Wild Card spot.

The sweep at the hands of the Braves seemed to confirm everything we feared about this team – in particular, concerns about their character.  Atlanta has a long way to go to establish themselves as one of the elite teams in the league, but they had little difficulty brushing away the Cardinals.

Immediately on the heels of that humbling series, St Louis has won 8 of their last 9 games – pulling themselves within 4.5 games in the Wild Card race, while shaving a little bit off of the Brewers division lead.  And they’ve done it in more-or-less dominating fashion, outscoring their last 9 opponents 51-23.

This refreshing run was capped by a nearly immaculate road trip.  Not only did they win all 6 games, they did so in mostly overwhelming fashion, by a combined 37-13 score. 

Before Friday’s game, they hadn’t won a game by as many as six runs since the very last game before the All-Star Break.  Before Saturday, it had been 44 games since they had managed an eight-run lead against anyone.

But over the just concluded road trip, they were world beaters.

They led at some point in every game by at least three runs, and only once during the trip was the final score closer than three.  They led by as many as six runs in three of the games, ending up winning those by 5 or more runs.  They hit .277/.343/.488 (an .831 OPS) during the trip, while their opponents hit .202/.245/.306 (a .551 OPS).  They out-homered the other teams 10-5 over the course of the excursion.

Yes, my friends, they were impressive indeed.

Here, of course, is the rub.  The entirety of this 8-1 run – including the 6-0 road trip – came against Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  If you have not seen the standings recently, Kansas City is 49-67, while Pittsburgh is currently 42-76.

This has been a trend that has haunted this team all year.  Against teams that began this morning at or over .500, St Louis is just 20-32 (.385).  They are 42-24 (.631) against teams that began the morning with losing records.  This is a topic that I will look into more in depth after the upcoming Milwaukee series, but suffice it to say that their consistent struggles against the better teams (like Atlanta) robs this team of a lot of credibility.  A lot of teams have pushed around the Royals and the Pirates this year.  Whether or not they can beat the Brewers starting tomorrow is the question.

Sosa

The flare-up with Paul DeJong’s back opened the door for Edmundo Sosa to start all three games against KC.  He was 5 for 7 over the last two (and if you haven’t heard yet, his 4-for-4 game on Saturday was reduced to a 3-for-4 by the scorer).  Edmundo is hitting .324 (12 for 37) in the second half.

Like most of his teammates, though, Edmundo’s road/home splits are fairly extreme.  Since the break, Sosa is hitting .409 on the road (9 for 22) and .200 at home (3 for 15).

The Cardinal team as a whole has played 16 home games in the second half, during which they have hit 18 home runs and averaged 3.94 runs per game while creating a batting line of .261/.328/.409.  In 11 road games since the break, they have hit 19 home runs and scored 5.55 runs per game with a .269/.343./486 batting line.

For the season, St Louis is scoring 3.89 runs per game at home, with a home run every 35.3 at bats.  They are scoring 4.33 runs per game on the road, with a home run every 25.6 at bats.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado was one of several Cardinals who had a lot of fun in Kansas City.  He was 5-for-12 against the Royals with a double and 3 home runs.  Nolan heads home riding a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .350 (7 for 20) and slugging .900 (2 doubles to go with the 3 home runs).  Nolan has 10 RBIs in his last 5 games – 9 of those in KC.

Arenado has also been a different hitter away from Busch.  Since the break, Nolan has had 51 plate appearances on the road – with All-Star level production.  He has turned those 51 plate appearances into 5 singles, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 8 walks and a hit-by-pitch – a batting line of .317/.431/.732.  At home he has been a .233 hitter (14 for 60) with only 3 walks (a .270 on base percentage) – although he also has 4 home runs.

Goldschmidt

In tandem with Arenado for, perhaps, the first time this season, Paul Goldschmidt also enjoyed great success against the Royals, hitting .385 (5 for 13) during the series.

Like Arenado, Goldschmidt also carries a five-game hitting streak into the Milwaukee series.  He is hitting .421 (8 for 19) during the streak.  Goldy has also hit in 9 of his last 11, with six of the games contributing multiple hits.  Paul is hitting .357 (15 for 42) with 11 runs batted in in those 11 games.

This recent hot streak has Paul hitting .320 for the month (16 for 50), and .306 (33 for 108) in the season’s second half.

Time for a Nootbaar

Rookie outfielder Lars Nootbaar popped out of his shell a bit over the trip.  He went 4 for 10 in Pittsburgh and KC, with a double and 2 home runs.  He is now 5 for his last 11 overall (.455) with a 1.091 slugging percentage.

His opportunity was created by Dylan Carlson’s wrist injury.  This is the way it’s always been in the past with this team.  Someone goes down, and the next man up picks up the slack.

Bader

Harrison Bader had a splashy series in the field, making, perhaps, a half-dozen gold-glove caliber plays.  He was also very steady at the plate, going 4 for 13.  Harrison actually leads the team in batting average in the season’s second half.  Over his last 27 games, Bader is hitting .313 (31 of 99).

Now, like many other Cardinals, Harrison will have to keep it up on his home turf.  For the season, Bader is a .300 hitter on the road (33 for 110) with a .536 slugging percentage (5 doubles, 7 home runs).  He’s just a .240 hitter at home (23 for 96).

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter didn’t enjoy the prosperous road trip that some of his teammates did.  Matt finished the jaunt to Pittsburgh and KC hitless in 8 at bats.  Carpenter is 5 for 31 (.161) since the Break with a .226 slugging percentage.  He has 2 doubles and 1 run batted in in the second half.

Those second half numbers include a 1 for 17 mark (.059) on the road.  Back in 2018, Matt hit 23 home runs on the road and slugged .611 in 342 road plate appearances.  Over the last 3 seasons, Carp has had 471 road plate appearances with a .188 batting average and 11 home runs.

Garcia

With every outing, Luis Garcia is looking more and more like the next great discovery in the Cardinal bullpen.  He pitched in 2 of the 3 games against the Royals, retiring all 7 batters he faced.

Garcia now has 11.2 scoreless innings pitched in his last 8 games.  The last 38 batters to face him have 3 singles, 1 double and no walks – a batting line of .105/.105/.132 to go along with his 0.00 ERA.

McFarland

A very different pitcher from Garcia, T.J. McFarland is also raising eyebrows.  He hasn’t been scored on in 7 straight games (7.1) innings, while allowing 5 hits (4 singles and 1 double) and 1 walk.  The last 27 batters to face him have a line of .192/.222/.231.  He’s gotten ground balls from 15 of the last 23 batters to put the ball in play against him (65%).

NoteBook

The team’s streak of scoring first reached 7 straight games before ending on Saturday.  They have now scored first in 8 of their last 9.

Among his 9 RBIs in the series, Arenado drove in the winning run twice during the KC series.  He now has 11, one behind Yadier Molina’s team-leading 12, and one ahead of Goldschmidt’s 10.  The other game-winning-RBI in the series went to Tommy Edman.  He is now fourth on the team with 5.

The Cards have won the first game of a series 20 times this year.  They are now 15-3-2 in those series.

The 22 runs scored in KC were the most St Louis scored in a series since they also scored 22 in four games against Arizona from May 27-30.  They last scored 22 runs in a three-game series when they swept Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh from April 30-May 1.

Meanwhile, the 6 runs allowed by the pitching staff was the fewest the Cards have surrendered in a series since Miami managed 3 runs in three games against them from June 14-16.

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.

Doing Just Enough

His first hit wasn’t much to write home about – a little swinging bunt that trickled up the third baseline.  But now Paul Goldschmidt was up in the ninth inning with a runner at second, facing the hard-throwing David Bednar in a 6-4 game.  Bednar’s fastball flew in at 98 miles-per-hour over the heart of the plate where it was squarely met by Goldschmidt’s exquisitely short stroke.  Paul drove it right down the right-field line for a double and a run batted in.  At the time, it was an extra run, pushing the St Louis lead to 7-4.  By the time the game’s final out was recorded, that final run stood all important in a 7-6 Cardinal victory (box score) that gave them a much-needed sweep of the fading Pirates.

In the end, it was just enough.

The season is 114 games old, and the Cardinals have never actually looked like contenders.  They did hit the 43-game-mark in first place with a 25-18 record, but to that point they were largely untested as their early schedule was quite soft.  Besides, every year there are pretenders that put on a good show for the first fifty games of the season.  That generally means very little.

After the hot start, the Birds faded pretty quickly.  They lost 23 of their next 35 games, dropping to 37-41 (.474) on June 27.  They were 8 games out at that point.

On that June 28 morning, as they prepared to host a struggling Arizona team, the talk was how they were going to go on this hot streak and put together a lot of wins any time now.  It never happened.  Going into tonight’s game, the post-June 27 Cards hadn’t managed to win more than three consecutive games – a feat they’ve managed only three times in the last 36 games.  The most wins they’ve managed in any ten-game stretch since then is seven – which they’ve done once (July 17-27).  In that same time frame, they’ve had four ten-game stretches in which they’ve lost six of the ten.

No, there just hasn’t been any extended period of the season where you could say that this team had the look of a playoff contender.

At yet, out of the ashes of June and that 37-41 record, with little flash or attention, the Cardinals have quietly started to win games.  Not at a record clip, but in a slow, mostly consistent grind.  They’ve lost a couple of seemingly crucial games since then.  They dropped two of three in Cincinnati in July, and last week they were swept at home by Atlanta.  But each time they’ve stubbed a toe, they’ve kept quietly creeping back.

The sweep over the Pirates gives them wins in 5 of their last 6 games, 6 of 10 this month, 14 of 24 since the break, and 21 of the 36 games played since that low-point – a .583 winning percentage.

And pushing this team forward (as much as anyone else) has been Goldschmidt.

Goldy

Among the top-tier players in the game today, there is no one less flashy that Paul Goldschmidt.  I have yet to see him flip the bat after a home run, or beat his chest, of flex his muscles.  To the best of my knowledge, Goldschmidt has never done any cheerleading from the base-paths, much less engaged in any of the self-worship that a great many of the modern athletes are given to.

Recently, Cardinal reserve infielder Edmundo Sosa tripled high off the center field wall.  When he got to third, he mimed pulling open his shirt, as though to reveal the Superman “S” underneath.  Goldy doesn’t do that kind of shtick either. (Note to Sosa: you’re not Superman.  Superman wouldn’t be hitting .253 with just a .677 OPS.  For that matter, Superman would have hit the ball over the wall, not off the top of it.)

In fact, you rarely see emotion of any kind from Goldschmidt.  He doesn’t slam bats or punch water coolers.  You have to look very carefully to catch the subtle look of disappointment on his face when he pops out.  As much as any player in the game today, Paul Goldschmidt plays under control.  At the end of a victory, when the team is out shaking hands, you will see Paul smile.  Much more than that you won’t get.

Goldschmidt’s game is beautifully unadorned.  There is almost something self-conscious about him as he plays the game – almost as though he doesn’t want you to notice him as he’s beating you.  And beat you he does.

Over the mini-revival this team has enjoyed over its last 36 games, Goldy leads the club in batting average (.317), runs batted in (24), walks (18) and OPS (.903).  He is tied for the team lead in home runs (7) and runs scored (21).

And the thing is that even if you watched all the games, you might not notice him.

Is It Enough

Will all of this “just enough” that the Cards have been playing lately be enough?  Sadly, no.  At some point – and quickly – they will have to find that extra gear.

If they keep winning at the rate that they have over the last 36 games, they will finish the season with a record of 86-76.  In order for them to catch Milwaukee with that record, the Brewers would have to finish the season 16-30.  Highly unlikely.  The final WildCard spot is more likely, but even then the San Diego team would have to finish 20-25 – which is also pretty unlikely.  Add in the fact that there are three other teams in between the Cards and the Padres, and you begin to get a sense of what this team is up against.

For the last 48 games to matter, St Louis is going to have to find a way to do more than just enough.

Carpenter

Inserted into the clean-up spot last night, Matt Carpenter did draw two walks, but also went 0-for-2.  Matt still hasn’t ignited his season.  Since the break he is hitting .192 (5 for 26) with two extra-base hits (both doubles) good for a .269 slugging percentage.  He has 1 second-half run batted in.

McFarland

One of six relievers used last night to cover the game’s final 7 innings, T.J. McFarland was awarded his first Cardinal win when he tossed a scoreless third and was the pitcher of record when St Louis rose up for 4 in the fourth.  McFarland is unscored on over 5 appearances this month (5.1 innings) during which he has allowed just 1 hit and 1 walk.

Garcia

The dramatic turnaround in Luis Garcia’s season should be noted.  His first three appearances in a Cardinal uniform were disastrous.  He cobbled three total outs from the 11 batters he faced in those first three games, but not before giving up 6 runs on 5 hits, a walk, and a hit batter.

Over his last 6 appearances, Luis and his high-90’s fastball has given us 9.1 scoreless innings, allowing 4 hits and no walks.  He threw 60% strikes during those first three games.  He is throwing strikes 73% of the time since.  He tossed a scoreless fifth last night.

Cabrera

I’ll be honest, I was a little concerned about Genesis Cabrera after a meltdown against the Cubs back on July 9.  He faced four batters, walking 2 and hitting 1 – with all three coming around to score.  It was the third straight game that Genesis had allowed runs in (he gave 7 in just 2 innings), and the fourth time in 5 games that he had been scored against.

Since then, it’s hard to imagine that anyone has been better.  Genesis has 12 scoreless innings in his last 12 games, during which he has given just 3 hits.

Reyes

Alex Reyes held on to last night’s save, but not without a little more drama – he allowed a two-run ninth-inning home run that narrowed the gap to one run.  The second half of the season has been more than a little dicey for the Cardinal’s All-Star closer.  In 13 second-half games, Alex has managed just 11.1 busy innings in which he has allowed 9 runs (7 earned) on 6 hits, 2 hit batsmen, and 10 walks.  He has also allowed all 4 of his inherited runners to score.  Alex is 0-2 with saves in 7 of 8 tries, and a 5.56 ERA since appearing in his first All-Star game.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 6 consecutive games.

The 7 runs they allowed to the Pirates during the sweep were the fewest runs scored against the Cards in a series since the last time they swept a series.  The Diamondbacks also scored just 7 runs while losing three straight to the Cards from June 28-30.

The three games drew an average of 9,093.3 – the poorest attended Cardinal series since the last time we were in Pittsburgh.  An average of only 6,875.7 attended that series played from April 30 to May 2.

The Royals will be the second consecutive Cardinal opponent, and sixth of the last seven, to have lost its previous series.

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.

Position Wars – Through 34 Games

With wins in the first two games of the road trip – and the team back to two games over .500, let’s look at the position wars for the first time this season. This is something we’ll do every month or so.

Position wars looks at the players starting at each of the defensive positions and develops the team trends associated with that player in that position.

Position: First Base

First base has been the most contested position on the team through the first 34 games.  As the season started, it was thought that erstwhile left fielder Matt Holliday might edge out the other contenders to take the majority of the starts here.  Tommy Pham’s opening day injury re-wrote that plan, sent Holliday back to left field, and opened up a straight-up competition between Matt Adams and Brandon Moss for playing time there.

As of right now, both have made 14 starts at first.  St Louis is 8-6 when Adams starts and 6-8 with Moss.  Defensively, the team has been better with Adams – posting a 2.90 ERA in his games there vs the 4.52 ERA when Moss starts.  However, the offense has been as noticeably better with Moss (5.93 runs per game) as opposed to Adams (4.29 runs per game).

Holliday has started four games at first, with a 2-2 record.  Matt Carpenter and Yadi Molina have each started once at first, with the Cards winning both of those games.

First base was a messy position for the team last year, too.  Mark Reynolds ended up leading the team is starts there with just 72 – leading the team to a 47-25 record in those starts.  Adams – the presumptive starter there last year – saw his starts limited to 42 games by an injury, but also saw the team win 27 of those starts (.643 percentage).  Moss, coming off his own injury, only made 24 starts at first last year – St Louis winning only 11 of those.

At the moment, Adams seems to have the upper hand.  He’s started 5 of the last 9 games, with Moss starting 3 of the other 4.  The Cards have won 4 of Adams’ 5, but just 1 of Moss’ 3.  This is a back and forth that looks like it will last the whole season (unless some circumstance pushes Holliday back into the picture).

Position Second Base

Second base is the only other position that is at all contested.  Kolten Wong has started 20 of the 34. But only 5 of the last 9 as both he and Jedd Gyorko are struggling to find any consistency at the plate.  At this point, St Louis is 11-9 when Kolten starts, scoring 5.4 runs per game with a 3.31 team ERA.  With Gyorko at second, the record is 7-7.  The scoring is a bit higher (5.71) but the team ERA significantly higher (4.31).  The momentum, however, may be turning in Jedd’s direction. They have won 3 of Gyorko’s last 4 starts scoring 21 runs.  They are 3-2 in Wong’s last 5 starts, scoring 24 runs in those games.

Wong made 140 starts at second last year, with St Louis winning 91 of those games.

Position: Shortstop

Jhonny Peralta held this position for 147 games last year, leading the Cards to a 93-54 record in those games.  His backups were Pete Kozma (4-4) and Greg Garcia (3-4).  Of all of those players, only Garcia has seen starts at shortstop this year.  He has two (both Cardinal wins).  Kozma is elsewhere and Peralta has missed the entire year so far with an injury.  Reuben Tejada was acquired as a stop-gap, but his season has been curtailed by an injury of his own.  Jedd Gyorko was supposed to make some starts there as a back-up.  Those two players have combined to make 7 starts at short. St Louis is 2-5 in those games.

In spite of all these injuries, Aledmys Diaz began the season at AAA.  For one day.  Tommy Pham’s opening day injury not only shuffled the plan at first base, but opened the roster spot that finally went to Diaz.  The injury to Bobby Bonilla that opened the door for a rookie named Albert Pujols is one of the great injury-opportunity stories in Cardinal lore.  For Diaz to get his chance, three other players had to go down.

Now Diaz is here, hitting .382 at this moment, and has taken over at short.  In his 25 starts there, the team is 14-11, scores 6.24 runs per game with a 3.77 ERA.

Position: Third Base

Third base is the only current position (other than catcher, which we discussed yesterday) on the team where last year’s uncontested starter is also this year’s uncontested starter.  A 141-game starter there last year (91-50), Matt Carpenter has made 31 of the first 34 starts there this year.  Reynolds was the primary backup there last year.  In his absence, Carpenter may play 150 games there.  Gyorko was thought to be a useable backup at third – and he may turn out to be.  So far, he has only started there once.  Tejada has made the other 2 starts there.

St Louis is in an unusual position at third, as none of their first base candidates (Adams, Moss, Holliday) can double as a third baseman.  All most every other team has at least one “corner infielder” on their roster.

Position: Left Field

Matt Holliday – his injury notwithstanding – still made the most starts of anyone in left field last year.  That number was just 64 starts (41-23).  Seven different players made starts there (Piscotty – 40, Grichuk – 37, Moss – 9, Pham – 5, Reynolds – 4, and Jon Jay – 3).  Thirty-four games into this season, and already four different players have started in left.  But mostly (for 23 games, anyway) it has been Holliday.

The results, however, with the season now more than a fifth over, are a cause for some concern.  St Louis is 9-14 (.391) with Holliday starting in left, scoring 4.78 runs per game with a 4.32 ERA.  The numbers for the others: Jeremy Hazelbaker – 6 starts, 5-1 record, 8.67 rpg, 2.67 ERA; Brandon Moss – 4 starts, 4-0 record, 6.25 rpg, 1.75 ERA (although 5 unearned runs have scored against the team in those four games); and Tommy Pham, who started the season-opening 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh.  In the 23 games that Holliday has started in left, the pitching staff fashioned just 9 quality starts.  They have 8 in the 11 games that someone else has started in left.

Is it too early to draw conclusions from these numbers?  I think so.  But it is a little jarring to note that we have as many wins without Matt in left as we do with him (in less than half the games).  This is a trend we will keep an eye on.

Position: Center Field

Randal Grichuk has made 25 of the first 34 starts in center field.  He would probably have five or six more starts there, but his early-season offensive struggles have bought him a few more days off than he would have liked.  Standing in for him have been Hazelbaker (7 games) and Piscotty (2 games).  Even though Randal has yet to find his hitting groove, the numbers still show that he is the best option in CF.  The Cards are 14-11 with him and 4-5 without.  They score 5.72 runs per game with Grichuk in center and 5.00 with someone else.  The team ERA is 3.51 with Grichuk in center.  When the other two are out there, it rises to 4.33.  Randal – though off to a slow start – is a big-time talent.  The plan is for him to be in center field in St Louis for a long time to come.

Position: Right Field

Stephen Piscotty started the second most games in right field last year.  He started 11 there.  Over the off-season, his name was floated as an option at first base (where he started 9 times last year).  But with the defection of last year’s starting right fielder, it was clear that the talented Mr. Piscotty would be ticketed for the right field position.  Stephen has started 29 there already this year, with the Cards winning 16 of them.  Other right fielders have been Moss (1-2) and Hazelbaker (1-1).  Stephen has some versatility.  He can play first as well as all the outfield positions.  But for the foreseeable future, expect to see him in right field pretty much every day.

Last Night

Meanwhile, last night’s victory added more credibility to the recent Cardinal turn around.  Yes, yes, it’s mostly against Philadelphia and the Angels (although I remind you that the Phillies are 19-15), but encouraging nonetheless.  In winning, now, six of their last nine, St Louis has fashioned a 2.89 ERA and pitching-wise is starting to resemble a little the staff we saw last year.

Stephen Piscotty

With two more hits and an RBI last night, Piscotty is now hitting .421 (16-for-38) over his last nine games, with seven RBIs.

Stephen was also 1-for-2 with runners in scoring position.  He now has 6 hits in his last 10 RISP opportunities.

Moreover, Piscotty added a couple more two-strike hits.  Over the last 9 games, Piscotty is now 6-for15 (.400) with two strikes on him.

Piscotty’s hits last night came in the fifth and seventh innings.  Through his last nine games, Piscotty is only hitting .167 (3-for-18) through the first four innings.  From the fifth inning on, Piscotty has 13 hits in his last 20 at bats (.650)

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina shows little signs of slowing down, in spite of his heavy early season work load.  Two more hits last night raise his season average back up to .325.  He has hits in 10 of his last 32 at bats (.313).

Molina also added a 2-strike hit.  He is now 6 for his last 14 (.429) with 2-strikes on him.

Yadi’s third-inning double was his only 2-out at bat of the game.  Molina is 4 for his last 10 (.400) with two-outs.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk’s bat continues to heal.  His two hits last night raises his average to .308 (8-for-26) over the last 9 games (including 2 home runs and 6 RBIs).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter is 5 for his last 8 first-inning at bats.  Thereafter, he is 5 for his last 24 (.208).

Matt Holliday

Holliday still can’t seem to put together any kind of streak.  After a 3-hit game yesterday, Matt went 0-for-4 last night.  He has just 7 hits in his last 33 at bats (.212) and is now down to .243 for the season.

Jaime Garcia

Jaime Garcia was in charge again last night.  Over his last two starts (both wins), Jaime has allowed 6 hits and no earned runs in 14 innings.

Mike Scioscia loaded his lineup with right handed batters against the lefty Garcia.  Thank you Mike.  All his righties went 3-for-22 against Jaime (.136).  Garcia – who always has dominant reverse splits – has now held right handed batters to a .173 average this season (22-for-127).

Jaime is also a nasty pitcher to hit when you have to protect the plate.  Last night, batters with 2 strikes on them were 1-for-14 (.071) against Garcia.  Over the two starts, batters are just 2 for 25 (.080) when hitting against Jaime with two strikes on them.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal needed 22 pitches to get out of the ninth inning.  He has now thrown 76 pitches in his last three innings.

From Wacha to Siegrist: Random Pitching Observations

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha struck out 175 batters last year.  Only 32 went down looking at strike three.  This year, Wacha already has caught 16 batters looking (out of 38 strikeouts).

Wacha is also getting the double play at an accelerated rate compared to last year.  Of the 144 batters he faced in DP opportunities last year, he only got the DP from 9 of them (6.3%).  This year, he already has 6 ground-ball double-plays in just 27 chances (22.2%).  The team ratio has been pretty consistent – 11.6% last year and 11.7% so far this year.  Jaime Garcia’s 18.3% lead the team last year.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright has already faced runner-at-third-less-than-two-out situations 18 times in his first 40 innings.  The run has scored 11 times (61.1%).  Michael Wacha has already allowed 5 of 6 to score, and Mike Leake has allowed all five of his.  These three pitchers have allowed that runner in from third 21 of 29 times (72.4%).  The entire rest of the staff has only allowed 14 of 36 to score (38.9%).

Jaime Garcia

Of the 253 swings batters have taken at Jaime Garcia’s pitches this year, they have missed 63 (24.9%).  He currently holds the starting staff’s highest swing-and-miss percentage.  Carlos Martinez is second, getting misses on 20.2% of the swings against him.  Carlos led the staff last year, getting 23.4% misses.  Garcia was at 19.9% in 2015.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake has the fewest strikeouts of any of the starters with 22 in 34.1 innings over 6 starts.  Thirteen of those strike outs have been looking.  His 59.1% is the highest percent on the team, with Wacha ranking second at 42.1%.  Of course, Leake is only carrying an 11.3% swing-and-miss ratio, so his strikeouts would almost have to be looking.  Leake also leads the rotation in percentage of pitches that are strikes (67.1%) and fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.46).

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh has faced 65 major league batters in his first 32 team games.  Their approach to him has been cautious at the start as only 15 of those batters have swung at the first pitch (a team-low 23.1%).  It hasn’t seemed to help them too much yet.  Of the 136 of his pitches that they have swung at, they have missed 58 – a team-leading 42.6%.  The next highest on the staff is Kevin Siegrist, who is missing bats at a 30.1% rate.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan Broxton has faced the most double-play opportunities on the staff without getting a double-play.  He is 0-for-14 thus far on the season.

Tyler Lyons

Opponents have come up swinging against Tyler Lyons so far this season.  24 of the 57 batters he’s faced (42.1%) have swung at his first pitch – a more aggressive rate than anyone else on the staff.  Only 25.1% (64 of 255) swung at his first offering last year.  Trevor Rosenthal is next highest at 38.6%.

It does make for faster at bats, though.  Tyler is throwing a team-low 3.32 pitches per plate appearance.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist has been the most enticing pitcher on the staff so far.  Nobody is getting batters to swing at half of their pitches, but Siegrist is closest at 49.3% (103 of his 209 pitches).  Siegrist, not coincidentally, also throws the highest percentage of strikes overall (68.4%).  You would think, therefore, that his pitches per plate appearances would be relatively low, but he checks in third highest on the team at 4.02 (behind Rosenthal’s 4.77 and Oh’s 4.43).

Perhaps no number conveys the unsettled nature of the pitching staff (and, in fact the team) than this.  Last season, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal ranked sixth and seventh on the team in batters faced (just behind the guys in the rotation) with 312 and 287.  Through 32 games so far this season, they rank eleventh and twelfth – the lowest totals on the staff – with 52 and 44 respectively (Matt Bowman is tied for eleventh with 52).  So high a percentage of our games have been relatively noncompetitive (on one side or the other) that our presumptive back-of-bullpen weapons have become the least used pitchers on our staff.

Garcia Dominates Milwaukee

In the best game of his career (a 7-0 domination of Milwaukee), Jaime Garcia pitched the Cardinals to their fifth win in the last six games.  A look at some of the numbers from the hot streak.

Matt Carpenter

While much credit for the recent surge in offense has deservedly gone to Hazelbaker and Diaz, let’s not overlook the turnaround from Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot.  Billed in the offseason as baseball’s most dynamic leadoff man, Carpenter has been among the many to thrive since the team left Pittsburgh.  With two more doubles yesterday (and another hit by pitch), Matt is 8 for 23 (.348) in his last 6 games.  5 of the hits have been for extra-bases (3 doubles, a triple, and one home run).  Add in 3 walks and 3 HPB, and Carpenter’s slash line for his last 29 plate appearances is .348/.483/.696 with 8 runs batted in.

With his RBI double, Carp is now 5 for his last 7 with runners in scoring position.  Four of the five hits are for extra-bases.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

The league hasn’t quite caught up with Jeremy Hazelbaker yet.  With two more hits yesterday (including a home run), Jeremy now has hits in 11 of his last 22 at bats (.500), with 5 of them being extra-base hits (including 2 home runs).  He now has 6 RBIs in his last six games and a .955 slugging percentage since the team left Pittsburgh.  After going 7 for 12 with 4 extra-base hits and 3 RBIs in his first home series, the Brewers, for one, will be glad to be rid of him for a while.

Jeremy’s home run came on a 1-0 pitch.  Over the last six games, Jeremy is 9 for 12 (.750) when he hits one of the first three pitches thrown to him.  He is just 2 for his last 10 when the at bat stretches beyond 3 pitches.  The home run also came in the seventh inning.  Jeremy is 4 for his last 7 (including 2 home runs) in the seventh or eighth innings.

Randal Grichuk

It’s good to see the ball jumping off Grichuk’s bat.  Lucky two ways on his home run yesterday (lucky it wasn’t caught and lucky he wasn’t called out for passing Brandon Moss on the bases) Randall was nonetheless 2 for 3 and hit the ball hard.  He is now 3 for his last 4 with runners on base, and is 5 for 10 with a home run and 5 RBIs on the home stand so far.

Randal’s hits came in the second and third innings.  So far this year, Grichuk is 4 for 8 before the fourth inning and 2 for 16 thereafter.

With another walk yesterday, Randal Grichuk is now second on the team with 6, behind only Steven Piscotty, who has 7.  Randal hits mid-April with a .387 on base percentage and an .827 OPS.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina stayed hot with another 2 for 4 yesterday.  He is now 9 for 26 (.346) since the end of the Pirate series.  Molina was also 7 for 12 in the Milwaukee series.

Both of hits came with a runner on base.  Over the last 6 games, Yadi is 2 for 11 with the bases empty and 7 for 15 with at least one runner on.

Yadi’s seventh-inning single came on the first pitch thrown to him.  He is now 4 for his last 5 when hitting the first pitch.  That hit, coming with 2 outs, left Yadi 1 for 2 with 2-outs yesterday, and 5 for his last 10 when hitting with 2 outs.

Matt Holliday & Kolten Wong

Combining to go 0 for 6 yesterday, Matt Holliday and Kolten Wong haven’t prospered as much as the rest of the team has in these post-Pittsburgh days.  Holliday is now 5 for his last 22 (.227) with a .261 on base percentage, and Wong is 4 for 21 (.190) with a .190 on base percentage.  Kolten went 0 for 7 against Milwaukee.

Especially glaring for Holliday has been his recent struggles with runners in scoring position.  After ending the fourth inning by popping out with runners at first and third, Matt is now just 1 for his last 10 in RISP situations.

Kolten Wong did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly, but also flew out to end the seventh with runners on the corners.  He is now 0 for 11 this season with RISP and 0 for 16 with any runner on base.  He was 0 for 2 with 2-outs yesterday and just 1 for his last nine while trying to extend an inning.

Jaime Garcia

Twenty-four of the 29 batters that Garcia faced yesterday hit right-handed.  They went one for 23.  For the season, so far, righties (who hit only .218 against him last year) are just 5 for 39 (.128) – all singles – against Jaime.

Only 6 of Jaime’s starts last year came after a Cardinal loss.  He gave us 5 quality starts, a 3-0 record, and a 1.11 ERA in those games.  He is 1-0, 2.40 so far this year, as both of his starts so far this year have come after losses.

Only 3 of the 29 batters that Jaime faced extended the at bat for more than 5 pitches (they all struck out).  Through his first two starts, batters hitting his first pitch are 3 for 13 (.231).  Anyone who hasn’t hit Jaime’s first pitch is just 3 for 38 resulting in a slash line of .079/.163/.079 with 19 strikeouts.

Garcia, of course, had that rugged third inning in Atlanta when he gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and a walk.  In the 14 other innings that he’s pitched so far this year, he has allowed 1 single in 44 at bats (.023).  He has struck out 18 for the 47 batters he faced in those innings.

Overall

During their series’ against Atlanta and Milwaukee, the Cardinals have combined to hit .327, slug .576, reach base at a .404 clip, and score 8.67 runs per game.  After a 3 for 8 day with runners in scoring position, St Louis has punctuated its 5-1 run by hitting .375 (27/72) and slugging .639 with RISP.

Nine of the 11 Cardinal hits came in the 15 at bats that lasted 3 pitches or fewer (.600).  This included 5 of the 6 extra-base hits.

The late inning hitting continued yesterday as well.  With 3 hits in the seventh inning and another in the ninth, the Cards have a team slash line of .378/.459/.757 after the sixth inning of their last six games, scoring 20 runs in those innings.

With two more home runs yesterday, St Louis now has 11 for the season in 318 team at bats.  Their eleventh home run last season didn’t happen until game #15 (April 24), a sixth inning shot by Peralta against Garza in the team’s 501st at bat.  The Cards also added 4 more doubles (they now have 24 for the season), to push their team slugging percentage to .481.