It’s fairly difficult to think of the Cardinals on any kind of “roll,” but last night’s 8-1 victory was their fifth in the last eight games – and the first of the season for Mike Leake. The “streak” includes two humbling losses at home against the Pirates and a 1-0 loss to Aaron Nola and Philadelphia, but there have been hopeful moments in between.
Let’s point out, first of all, that half of the Cardinals last eight games (including last night’s) have come following a loss. St Louis has won all four of them, scoring at least five runs in each game and allowing no more than 4 runs in any of them. In these “response” games, the offense has contributed a .322/.393/.644 slash line with 11 home runs and 7.25 runs per game while the pitching staff has contributed 3 quality starts and a 2.75 ERA.
Among the most hopeful developments is the progress of the pitching staff. Believed to be the team’s greatest strength coming into the season, they have been less than hoped for so far. But, since the end of the Washington series, there have been positive signs. Two quality starts from Adam Wainwright, dominant starts from Jaime Garcia and – finally – Mike Leake last night, and a well-pitched effort by Michael Wacha in the tough loss to Nola have all been very encouraging.
After managing just eleven quality starts through the first 25 games of the season, last night’s effort was the fifth QS in the last eight games (and the first for Leake in seven starts). The team ERA over that span is a very serviceable 3.25.
Matt Holliday was in the middle of most of the offense last night with 3 extra-base hits. Even better is that Holliday went 2-for-3 against left-handed pitching. He is now 5 for his last 12 (.417) against lefties.
One of the recent catalysts has been leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter. Matt provided the ninth-inning home run that claimed our only victory over Pittsburgh this season, and was one of the big bats in last night’s win – hitting two more home runs. In what has been an uneven season so far, Carpenter may finally be rounding into form. He now has 10 hits in his last 30 at bats (.333), and seven of those hits have been for extra bases.
In his last plate appearance of the night, Carpenter finally got to hit against a right-hander. He jumped AJ Achter’s errant pitch and drilled it for his second home run of the night. Carpenter now has 7 hits in his last 16 at bats against right-handed pitching (.438). Five of those hits are for extra-bases (3 doubles and 2 home runs).
In 2015, Yadier Molina started 131 of the 162 games behind the plate. One of the goals heading into this season was to lighten the load on the veteran catcher. The difficulty here, though, is that St Louis went 85-46 when Yadi started and just 15-16 when he didn’t.
In the “best laid plans” department, the Cards acquired a quality backup in Brayan Pena to help keep Yadi’s work-load to 120 games or less. Pena, of course, went down in spring training with an injury and hasn’t seen the field yet. Eric Fryer has found himself thrust into the backup catcher role – and he hasn’t done badly. St Louis is 2-1 in the three games he’s started. The problem is he’s only started 3 games. With St Louis scuffling a bit in the early going (and still trying to keep in sight of the steam-rolling Cubs), Eric hasn’t been trusted with too many opportunities. At his current pace, Yadi will start 147 games. Pena is expected to be back at some point in the semi-near future, so that pace will certainly lighten. But St Louis has still lost the opportunity to give Yadi early season rest.
Yadi’s double last night came on a 2-2 pitch (in the eighth pitch of the at bat). Molina now has 5 hits in his last 12 at bats when hitting with two strikes on him (.417) and his fourth hit in his last 7 at bats that have lasted more than four pitches.
As Jeremy Hazelbaker has cooled off after his impressive start, he has found at bats more and more scarce. His 0-for-4 last night still leaves him at .282 for the season, but only 2 of his last 14 (.143). It’s starting to look like Jeremy’s will be the roster spot that Tommy Pham will claim when he is deemed ready to return. Hazelbaker, I expect, will profit from more regular playing time.
During his shaky first six starts for St Louis, considerable discussion centered around Mike Leake’s struggles pitching with runners on base. Last night, the Angels managed two hits (both singles) in 13 at bats (.154) against Leake with runners on base.
Leake also did a more than adequate job of putting hitters away once he put them in 2-strike counts. Those batters went 1-for-14 (.071) against him. Over his last two starts, batters with 2-strikes are only 3-for-25 (.120) against Mike.
Leake is the only starter to have worked more than once with Fryer as the catcher. In those two starts, Leake threw 12 innings, serving up 4 home runs and lost his only decision. His ERA in the games Fryer started is 6.75. Last night was his fifth start with Molina behind the plate. Mike Leake is now 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in those games. He has pitched 30.1 innings in those games allowing just 2 home runs.
Batters were 0-for-3 against Tyler Lyons last night once they got two strikes on them. Lyons has now put 25 batters into 2-strike counts this season. They are 0-for-24 with one walk.
The Cardinals punctuated their victory with four more home runs. They now have 48 after 33 games and 1150 team at bats. It took them 63 games and 2,119 at bats to hit 48 home runs last year. Matt Reynolds hit that home run in the fourth inning of a June 15th game off of Minnesota’s Trevor May.
Last year they never hit more than 4 home runs in a game (and only did that once), while managing multiple home runs in a game just 36 times. They had 7 other games where they hit three home runs. Last night’s game was the Cardinal’s 13th multiple home run game of the year, the sixth time already this year that they have hit at least 3 home runs, and the fourth time that they have hit at least four. They also have had a five home run game and a six home run game.