Tag Archives: Helsley

Another Lead Slips Away

In April, the blast would probably have been decisive.

In last night’s game, Nolan Arenado threatened to do to Atlanta what they had done to us the night before.  In the first game of the final series between these two teams, the Braves scored five times in the first inning and never looked back.

In game two last night, Nolan launched a three-run, first-inning home run, and, for a moment, it looked like the Cardinals were on their way to answering.

Had this happened earlier in the year, there would have been little doubt.  Believe it or not, at one time this season, a three-run lead was nearly an iron-clad lock.

As the season wears on, it’s beginning to look more and more like the highpoint of the year occurred on May 19.  St Louis took down Pittsburgh that evening by an 8-5 score, with Jack Flaherty earning his eighth victory of the season (against no losses).  At that point, the Cards were 25-18 and 3.5 games ahead in their division.

Moreover, they were 18-0 in games in which they had managed a lead of at least three runs, and they were doing so with a pitching staff that clung ferociously to whatever slender leads the offense would provide them.

To that point of the season, the Cardinal pitching staff had pitched 117.2 innings holding a lead of three runs or less.  They allowed just 2 home runs in those innings, and pitched to a 1.45 ERA, with a batting line against of .151/.261/.198.  In 14 games in which they held a lead at some point – but never more than a three-run lead – this team was an impressive 10-4.

That, of course, was then.  In 64 games since that conquest of the Pirates, things have come apart a bit.  The last 31 times that they have managed to take a lead in a game, but couldn’t press that lead to at least four runs, they are 13-18 – part of an overall 28-36 skid that has dropped them at the start of today’s play 11 games behind the division-leading Brewers.  It is their largest division deficit since the 2016 team ended the season 17.5 games in arrears.

Yes, there have been some injuries – and the offense has been thready at best all season.  But one of the most troubling developments has been that this team has lost the ability to pitch with small leads.

Last night, new Cardinal J.A. Happ held onto the lead for a while, but Atlanta chipped him for single runs in the fourth and fifth to trim the Cardinal lead to one.  They then took the lead with two more in the sixth.

It took the pitching staff just 4.1 innings to go from the point that St Louis opened up their 3-0 lead to the point where they had frittered away all of it – an 8.31 ERA.  In 19 at bats, the Braves peppered Cardinal pitchers for 3 singles, a double and 2 home runs – a batting average of .316 with a .684 slugging percentage.

Sadly, this inability to close the door is consistent with the 63 games that immediately preceded it.  In the last 133 innings that this pitching staff tried to protect a lead of one, two or three runs, they have only a 5.08 ERA to show for it.  Since the All-Star Break, that number is 5.63 over 40 innings.

It’s one of maybe half-a-dozen red flags that concern me regarding the character of this team.  Yes, there have been a lot of injuries – 724 player games worth.  But there have also been a lot of winnable games that got away.  Last night’s winnable game became a damaging 7-4 loss (box score).

Helsley

Entrusted with the sixth inning and a one-run lead, Ryan Helsley couldn’t finish the inning.  Before he could get that third out, he surrendered the two-run home run that put the Braves on top.  Ryan has pitched in 27 of St Louis’ last 64 games, and now has 2 of the 9 blown saves the team has suffered during those games.  His ERA since that day in May is 5.04.  He’s given 5 runs in 7 innings in the second half.

Cabrera

In the midst of some recent bullpen struggles, Genesis Cabrera has rediscovered his dominance.  He pitched a clean seventh, and has thrown 7 innings of 2-hit shutout ball over his last 8 appearances.

Gallegos

Last night wasn’t the first time that Giovanny Gallegos has scuffled in the late innings of a tie game.  Over the last 64 Cardinal games, Gio has pitched 10.1 innings in a tied game – allowing 7 runs and 3 game-winning hits in those innings.

Arenado

The lone real bright spot on offense was Arenado, who followed his home run with a double his next time up.  Over his last 8 games, Nolan is hitting .357 (10 for 28) and slugging .679 (1 double, 1 triple and 2 home runs).

Nolan’s double came with St Louis already ahead by three runs.  Arenado is one of the few Cardinal hitters who has thrived when hitting with small leads.  When batting with the Cards ahead by two or three runs, Nolan is hitting .386 (22 for 57) and slugging .737 (9 doubles, a triple, and 3 home runs).

DeJong

Paul DeJong sent his season batting average back below .200 last night with another 0-for-4.  Since a home run on July 27, Paul is 0 for 14 with 7 strikeouts.

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.

Helsley’s Evolving Role

Like Cardinal fans the world over, I thought “this time, for sure.”

Sporting an 0-8 record, talented 23-year-old right-hander Johan Oviedo took the mound in Cincinnati yesterday afternoon, making the eighteenth start of what has been a premature major-league career.

After losing the first two games in Cincinnati – and falling behind 3-2 in the first inning on Sunday – the Cardinal offense came to life, scoring 7 times in the fourth inning.  So as Johan jogged out to the mound to pitch the bottom of the fifth with a 9-3 lead, he was three outs away from that first win.

The Cards would go on to win the contest, 10-6 (box score), but Oviedo wouldn’t end up as the pitcher of record.  In a messy fifth inning, Johan would throw 20 pitches to four batters, retiring only one.  When he walked Tyler Naquin on a 3-2 fastball that wasn’t close to the strike zone to load the bases (his sixth walk in 4.1 innings), manager Mike Shildt had no choice.  Oviedo’s first win would have to wait for yet another day.

For the forty-fifth time this season (and second time in the series) Shildt turned to Ryan Helsley to stifle the uprising.  Ryan possesses an elite fastball.  Of the 65 pitches thrown by Cardinal pitchers that have attained at least 100 miles-per-hour, Helsley has 9 of them, reaching a top speed of 101.3 – the top speed of any Cardinal pitcher not named Jordan Hicks (Jordan had 52 of the 65 before he was placed on the injured list).

With the great speed, though, comes questionable control.  Of the 702 pitches Ryan has thrown this season, only 346 (49.3%) have ended up in the strike zone.

Control issues notwithstanding, Ryan has gone through several stretches of sustained excellence out of the bullpen.  Sunday’s game displayed Good Ryan.  Coming in with the bases loaded and only one out, Helsley needed just six pitches to strike Aristides Aquino out and force Kyle Farmer to pop out – both on high fastballs (at 98.5 and 98.3 mph, respectively).

With the Cardinals struggling to get innings from their starters – and Sunday’s game was the thirty-third time in St Louis’ first 100 games that the starting pitcher failed to last at least 5 innings, Helsley’s importance to the team as an arm that can help cover the innings between the short efforts of the starter, and the seventh inning, when Shildt can turn to the solid back end of his bullpen has been ever increasing.

Frustratingly, though, the combination of Ryan’s sustained stretches of excellence and his high-caliber fastball have tempted Shildt to use Helsley in high-leverage situations late in the ball game.  His talent notwithstanding, Helsley has mostly stumbled in this role.

Ten times this season Ryan has come into the game in the seventh inning or later, with the game either tied or the Cards holding a lead of no more than three runs.  Helsley has given up runs in 4 of the 10 games, and has allowed a total of 8 runs in 8 total innings in that situation.

The most recent of those opportunities came in the first game of this series against the Reds on Friday night.  Ryan entered the game in the seventh inning with a 5-3 lead.  The results this time were notably different.  Ryan gave two singles and a double to the first three batters he faced, and then surrendered the tying run on a wild pitch.  Cincinnati went on to take that game, 6-5 (box score).

In general, it has been just at the point when Mike is ready to believe in him that Helsley backtracks.

In the Friday game, Helsley found himself pitching on consecutive days for the fifth time this season.  With at least one day of rest in between appearances, Ryan holds a 3.72 ERA over 36.1 innings.  In his 4 innings pitched on zero rest, Helsley has been batted around for 7 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks.

The bullpen has paid the price all year for the short outings by the starters.  And now – with several important arms out of the mix – the leaks in the pen are becoming fairly constant.  In 11.2 innings against the Reds, the bullpen allowed 7 earned runs (5.40 ERA).  The relievers other than Giovanny Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera, and Alex Reyes held a 9.00 ERA (7 earned runs in 7 innings).  For the month, the relief corps holds a 5.92 ERA over 65.1 innings.

Cabrera

Just before the All-Star Break, Genesis went through a hiccup, allowing runs in three straight games and four out of five.  Since then, he has been better – but results over his last 7 games have been strangely mixed.  The good: over his last 6 innings, Cabrera has given no runs on just 2 hits with 7 strikeouts, and a .100 opponent’s batting average.  The last 25 batters to face him are missing on 41% of their swings against him.  The troubling: he’s walked 5 batters in those 7 innings, has thrown only 56% of his last 104 pitches for strikes, and allowed 2 inherited runs to score on Sunday.  Genesis is one of the big three at the back of the pen.  Much depends on him.

Bader

Although they lost two of three in Cincinnati (and fell to 8 games behind the Brewers), the offense did have its moments, scoring 18 runs, hitting .283 and slugging .538.  And no one had a better series than centerfielder Harrison Bader, who battered the Reds with six hits (including a double and 2 home runs) in 11 at bats.  This big series is part of a longer hot streak for Bader, who now has hits in 10 of his last 12 games, with 7 of them being multi-hit efforts, including 2 three-hit games.

Harrison is hitting .463 (19 for 41) over those games, with a .707 slugging percentage (4 doubles to go with the 2 home runs).  He is now hitting .362 (25 for 69) in July with 5 doubles, 4 home runs, 15 runs batted in, and a .609 slugging percentage playing in all 19 games this month.

Arenado

With hits in all three games, Nolan Arenado heads to Cleveland riding a six-game hitting streak.  It’s been a mostly quiet hitting streak – 1 hit in each of the first 5 games – but may be starting to get a little noisy.  Nolan had 3 hits on Sunday, including a triple and a home run.  Nolan is now hitting .308 (8 for 26) with 5 extra base hits (1 double, 1 triple and 3 home runs) – a .769 slugging percentage during the streak.

Carlson

After a brief flourishing against the Cubs, Dylan Carlson suffered another down series against the Reds.  He did add one of the four home runs in the Sunday game, but it was his only hit in 12 at bats in Cincinnati.  Dylan’s average is down to .203 (16 for 79) for the month.

Umpiring

Chad Fairchild’s crew (which includes the infamous CB Bucknor) did little to augment America’s opinion of them – or of umpiring in general – with Mike Shildt’s frustrations boiling over a little by Sunday.  Using Statcast’s determinations of balls and strikes, the crew’s handling of home plate breaks down as follows:

Cardinal batters took 285 pitches during the series.  Of those – according to Statcast – 62 were in the strike zone and 223 were not.  Fairchild’s crew called 5 of the should-have-been strikes, balls (8.1%) and a whopping 23 of the pitches that were out of the zone as strikes (10.3%).

Reds batters took 243 pitches during the series – 69 in the zone, and 174 out.  The umpiring crew called balls on an astounding 11 of the 69 pitches that were in the zone (all of 14.5%).  They called 10 of the 174 out of the zone as strikes – a still pretty bad 5.7%.

As you can see, the crew made plenty of mistakes both ways, but the slanting against both Cardinal batters and pitchers is noteworthy.  It’s understandable why Mike hopes he doesn’t have to see this crew again.

NoteBook

At 89 degrees, the Saturday game was the hottest the Cards have played in since July 4 when it was 90 degrees in Colorado.  The entire series averaged 87.0 muggy degrees, making it the hottest series by average temperature since they played 4 games in Arizona from May 27-30.  That series averaged 91 degrees.

After playing the first two games before crowds of 30,000, the final crowd in Cincy was a disappointing 21,947 – the smallest crowd to see the Cards play since July 7 in San Francisco when only 19,067 showed up.

While St Louis scored 18 runs during the series, they also surrendered 17 – the most they’ve allowed in a series since they allowed 21 runs while losing 3 of 4 to Pittsburgh at home from June 24-27.  It was the most allowed in a three-game series since May 31-June 2, when they lost two of three in LA, allowing 25 runs along the way.

Fourteen times this season, the Cards have matched up against an opponent that had lost its previous series (Cincinnati was the fourteenth).  In five of those series (including this one), St Louis has taken the field for the last game in danger of being swept.  They have now avoided that sweep in four of the five series.

In the Sunday finale, Helsley stranded the bases loaded, and Gallegos stranded his inherited runner.  For the season, Ryan has stranded 24 of 28, and Giovanny has left 16 of 18.

Their 10 runs on Sunday pushed the Cards back over the 4 runs a game mark to 4.03.

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.

A Tale of Two Bullpens

Not too surprisingly, the implosion happened quickly.

Billed as a battle of high-profile starters, the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty and the Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer did all they could to live up to the expectations.  Flaherty served up two solo home runs in the second, but gave no other hits.   Bauer shut the Cardinals out for five innings, yielding just one hit to that point.

But Trevor blinked a bit in the sixth – allowing two home runs of his own – and suddenly St Louis was in front, 3-2.  Flaherty, though, didn’t get to enjoy the lead.  The Cardinals removed their talented right-hander for precautionary reasons after he felt a pull in his side – trusting their precarious one-run lead into the hands of a bullpen that has been more than a little precarious itself lately.

When Trevor re-took the mound for the seventh inning, his 3-2 deficit had magically evolved into a 6-3 lead.  More about the struggles of the Cardinal bullpen in a moment.

Los Angeles’ own bullpen came into play before Bauer could get out of the seventh.  With one out, he served up a third home run, and surrendered a single with two outs that brought up the tying run, occasioning his departure from the game.

In stark contrast to the Cardinal bullpen, the three Dodgers called upon to close out the game came in throwing strikes.  While the LA batters continued to pad their lead (and they mounted a total of seven runs over the three innings that St Louis’ relievers worked), Victor Gonzalez, Nate Jones and Phil Bickford had the Cardinals seven up, and seven retired.  Along the way they threw 20 of their 25 pitches for strikes (80%), including first-pitch strikes to all seven hitters.

They were the mostly overlooked heroes of Los Angeles’ convincing 9-4 win over the Cards (box score).  Including Bauer, the Dodger pitching staff combined to throw first-pitch strikes to 24 of the 33 Cardinals who came to the plate last night.  St Louis was 3 for 23 (.130) with a walk in those at bats.

With the loss, St Louis officially surrenders first place in its division.  Following a two-game sweep of Pittsburgh on May 18-19, the Cards sat 3.5 games ahead in the NL Central.  But over the last 11 games, the caliber of the opponents faced has risen sharply, and the Cards to this point have not risen to the challenge.  Their recent 5-6 skid includes losing two-of-three to the Cubs, two-of-three to the White Sox, and now the first game of their current series to the Dodgers.

At the heart of the stumbled has been a collapsing bullpen.  But their exploits have been heightened by fading contributions from an offense that has scored just 3.64 runs per game over their last 11 games – a streak in which they have seen some aggressive pitching, with 63.5% of the batters seeing first-pitch strikes.

Goldschmidt

One of the hitting stalwarts for most of the month, Paul Goldschmidt faded toward the end.  Hitless in three at bats last night, Goldy finished May in a 1-for-13 skid.  Over the last 11 games, Paul is just 8 for 39 (.205).  He is hitting .182 (4-for-22) in those games with one extra-base hit when thrown a first-pitch strike.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado – who was terrific overall in May – also faded during the Cardinals’ recent downturn.  Nolan (0-for-4 last night) has played in 10 of the last 11 games, hitting .175 (7-for-40) with a .205 on base percentage (1 intentional walk and 1 hbp).

Throughout the season, Arenado is one Cardinal you don’t want to fall behind.  In 87 at bats this year when the pitcher starts off with ball one, Nolan is a .356 hitter with 8 home runs.  Lately, though, that dynamic is changing.  He was 0 for 2 last night after the pitcher missed with the first pitch, and is now just 1 for his last 14 after getting ahead 1-0 in the count.

Molina

Yadier Molina also went hitless in four at bats (the 3-4-5 spots in the Cardinal order combined to go 0-for11), bringing to an end his five-game hitting streak.  Yadi hit .391 (9 for 23) and drove in 5 runs (including 2 game-winners) during the streak.

The Bullpen Goes Boom Again

When Flaherty was deemed unable to pitch the sixth, Mike Shildt sent Ryan Helsley to the mound.  I’ll admit that my heart sank a bit.  Helsley – whose struggles I’ll document below – hasn’t pitched well enough lately to merit a high leverage opportunity.  But, in Shildt’s defense, who else could he send out there?  Excellent for much of this early season, one by one all of the talented set-up arms in the bullpen have hit on hard times.  If this team can get to the eighth, Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes are still performing at high levels.  Everyone else has just been spreading line drives around the stadium (and walks, of course).

After Flaherty faced 18 batters over five innings (leaving with that 3-2 lead) four relievers faced 20 batters over the last three innings, serving up 7 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks.  The Los Angeles batting line after Jack left the game was .471/.550/.882.

Over the last 11 games, Cardinal relievers have sunk to a 5.26 ERA – while unintentionally walking 5.26 per nine innings.  They ended the month of May with a 4.55 ERA and 5.75 unintentional walks per nine innings.  During the just concluded month, Cardinal relievers allowed 39 of 72 inherited runners to score – a distressing 54.2% that includes all 3 of last night’s inherited runners.

Helsley

Ryan Helsley faced 68 batters over his first 17 appearances this season without allowing an extra-base hit.  He’s given 6 to the last 31 to face him.  In the fateful sixth inning last night, Ryan faced 3 batters, allowing a double and a single after getting the first batter to ground out.  Both of those runners came home to score.

Helsley has now allowed runs in 5 of his last 7 games, giving 10 total runs on 10 hits and 5 walks in his last 5 innings.  The last 31 batters to face him have prospered to the tune of a .400/.500/.720 batting line.

The only batter that Ryan didn’t throw a first-pitch strike to was the last batter he faced – Justin Turner – who stroked a 3-1 pitch into left for a single.  When Ryan misses with his first pitch this season, batters are 10 for 30 (.333) with 13 walks – a .535 on base percentage.

Ponce de Leon

The Dodgers salted the game away against Daniel Ponce de Leon in the eighth.  Just a two-run game at that point, LA chased Daniel with a home run, a double and a single – with that runner eventually coming around to score after Ponce de Leon left the game.  Daniel has now given runs in 3 of his last 4 games, giving 6 total (5 earned) on 7 hits over his last 4.2 innings.  The last 24 batters to face him have prospered to the tune of a .350/.458/.650 batting line.

Of the 9 batters he faced last night (he had taken over in the seventh), 5 saw ball one on the first pitch to them.  For the season, Daniel has thrown ball one to 43 batters and strike one to 43 others.  The league-wide average shows pitchers getting that first pitch in as a strike about 60% of the time.

Of the 20 batters the pen faced last night, 11 saw ball one on the first pitch to them.

Elledge

Seth Elledge came in to get the final out – which he did, but not until he had given the double that drove in the final run.  Seth has now let all 7 runners that he’s inherited cross the plate.

Seth got ahead of both batter to face him 0-1 before allowing the double and getting the final groundout.  For the season, batters are 7 for 14 against Elledge when he throws a first-pitch strike.

NoteBook

St Louis had a string of five straight games in which they scored the first run of the game snapped last night.

The sixth-inning comeback means that the Cards have now led at some point in 6 straight games.

The game-time temperature of 70 degrees was the coolest temperature the Cards have played in since May 18 when they also played in 70 degree temperature at home against Pittsburgh.  The last road game they played that was cooler came two days before that when they played in 64 degrees in San Diego.

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.

They Can’t Pitch Every Day

The game was still quite close.  As the Friday game against the Cubs moved into the eighth inning, it was just a 4-3 lead for the Northsiders.  And there on the mound was Kodi Whitley.

This probably wasn’t the arm Cardinal fans were anticipating.  A one-run game against their ancient rivals, eighth-inning.  Probably the faithful were expecting Giovanny Gallegos – or perhaps Genesis Cabrera.  These are the elite late-inning arms the Cards have ridden for most of the year.

Whitley, however, was not a poor choice.  Gradually, Kodi had been earning more and more trust for late-inning, high-leverage situations.  On May 11, Kodi had entered in the seventh inning against Milwaukee in a game the Cards trailed 1-0 at the time.  Whitley allowed an infield single, but no further damage.  The Cards went on to win that one in 11, 6-1.

Three days later, St Louis was in San Diego, trailing the Padres 5-3 in the eighth inning.  Manager Mike Shildt entrusted that inning to Whitley as well.  Kodi invited a bit of trouble by walking the first two batters of the inning, but recovered to keep it a two-run game.  St Louis’ late rally fell short, but Kodi had done his job.

Now he was getting a shot at the Cubs.

He faced three batters and didn’t retire any of them.  In fairness, he didn’t get a lot of luck.  Ian Happ flared a single into left, and after a damaging walk to David Bote, Nico Hoerner hit a chopper to third that should have resulted in at least one out.  But Nolan Arenado couldn’t field the bounce cleanly, and the bases were loaded.

With Eric Sogard (a left-hander) coming off the bench for the Cubs, Shildt wanted a lefty.  But not Cabrera.  He chose this moment to tab a struggling Tyler Webb to face Sogard and then the top of the order.  Three batters later, the bases were still loaded, there was now one out, but Chicago had pushed its lead to 6-3.  Into the game, now, came Seth Elledge.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Seth.  Most Cardinal fans probably assumed he was no longer on the team.  He had pitched just once over the last two weeks.  And here he was in a critical situation, trying to keep the game in striking distance.  In quick succession, he allowed a walk, a double, a single, another double, and another single.  And now it was a 12-3 game.

Elledge, by the way, got credit for two-thirds of an inning pitched even though he didn’t directly retire any of the five batters he faced.  Luckily (or perhaps mercifully) the Cubs ran into two outs on the bases.

After the game – when asked why Cabrera and/or Gallegos weren’t on the mound in that spot – Mike noted accurately enough that he can’t pitch “those guys” every night (those guys included closer Alex Reyes).  And with that, he put his finger on one of the great current concerns of this team – bullpen depth.

In the wake of the Cub series – and in spite of the fact that Reyes served up the game-winning homer on Sunday – the big three of Cabrera, Gallegos and Reyes had already combined for 75.2 innings with an aggregate 1.55 ERA.  Everyone else who has only appeared as a reliever for the Cards (phrased this way to eliminate the one inning from Matt Carpenter and the relief efforts of sometimes starters Daniel Ponce de Leon and Johan Oviedo) has pitched 73 innings with an aggregate 7.27 ERA.

Pitching at their present rates, Cabrera would finish the season with 82 innings pitched, Reyes would throw 88 and Gallegos would be on the mound for 96.  Of the 1423 the Cards are on pace to pitch, these three relievers are on pace to throw 18.7% of them.  It’s too much.  Someone else has to effectively handle some of this load.  This team has to find someone they can trust with this situation.

This must be a frustrating development for the front office.  Leaving spring training, they counted bullpen depth as one of their strengths.  But the normally reliable pen has been rocked a bit by injuries to Jordan Hicks and Andrew Miller and the surprising struggles of Tyler Webb.  And all of a sudden, you have a bullpen in crisis.

But before they start scouring the trade market – which I’m not necessarily saying is a bad idea – let’s look at a couple of the internal candidates.  There are a few arms in the tent that shouldn’t be given up on just yet.

Helsley

Ryan Helsley has hit a hiccup in his season.  Ryan was the actual losing pitcher of the Friday game (box score).  He came into a 2-2 game in the seventh and promptly served up the two runs that put the Cards in the hole.

Helsley has now allowed runs in three of his last four games.  The last 19 batters to face him are slashing .357/.500/.786 – a distressing run.  But over the 14 outings prior to this, Ryan held an 0.66 ERA and a .116 batting average against.  None of the 50 batters he faced in that stretch managed an extra base hit off of him.

While he’s had some recent struggles, my belief is that he is still more the pitcher that he was during the previous 14 games than he is the pitcher we’ve seen the last four.  With legitimate 100 mph stuff, he certainly has the tools.

Whitley

As mentioned, Kodi has earned his way into higher leveraged situations, and – also as mentioned – the catastrophe of Friday night that started on his watch wasn’t entirely his fault.  Whitley has the minor league pedigree to suggest that he should have success in the majors.  In the last minor league season that there was (2019) Kodi managed a 1.52 ERA in AAA (part of a 1.60 ERA over three levels and 67.1 minor league innings that year), and then pitched to a 1.64 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.

Ponce de Leon

It’s a small sample size, but Daniel Ponce de Leon – who began the season as a starter – has done much better in relief (2.70 ERA and a .130 batting average against).  This pattern has held true through the early part of his career.  In 22 starts, Daniel is 2-8 with a 4.66 ERA.  In 18 relief appearances he has 1 save and a 2.60 ERA (with a .172 batting average against).

Ponce de Leon pitched twice in the Cub series, throwing a total of 2.2 scoreless innings.  He was hugely responsible for the only win the Cards managed in the series on Saturday (box score) as his 1.2 innings bridged the gap between Miles Mikolas’ early exit and the seventh inning when Shildt turned to Cabrera.

Daniel may well be a successful starter someday, but for now he is one of the more promising options in a surprisingly needy bullpen.

Fernandez

Obviously looking here more at potential than production, Junior Fernandez is another flame-thrower who hasn’t quite figured things out yet.  Sometimes it is this very situation – a bullpen in need of arms – that provides the opportunity that a sleeping giant like Fernandez needs.

The point here is that there are internal options, as well as the likelihood that Webb will re-discover his command at some point.  For the month of May, the starter’s fine 3.10 ERA has been frequently betrayed by a bullpen with a ragged 4.39 ERA.  This is frustrating, but not incurable.

Whether from within or through an acquisition, the Cardinal bullpen will rise again.

Wainwright

I make it a point now – every time Adam Wainwright starts a game – to thoroughly drink in every moment, realizing that there won’t be all that many more of them.  Although it ended disappointingly (box score) Sunday’s first eight innings were a pure joy, as Waino shut the Cubs out on one hit.

Typically, though, Adam’s teammates neglected to score any runs for their long-time ace.  In the nine games he’s started this year – and while he’s been the pitcher of record – here is the game-by-game run support he’s received: 1,0,0,2,1,6,2,1 and 0 on Sunday.  It works out to 2.14 support runs per every nine innings pitched.  It’s notably difficult to win a lot of games without runs to work with.

Sosa

It’s difficult not to be enamored with Edmundo Sosa.  He was about the only bat that showed up against Chicago.  Even granting that most of his hits were less that rocket shots, Sosa was still an impressive 7 for 11 (.636) with a double and a triple (.909 slugging percentage) against the Cubs.  Sosa carries a five-game hitting streak into Chicago tonight – a streak in which four of the five games are multi-hit games.  Edmundo is hitting .588 (10-for-17) and slugging .824 (2 doubles to go with that triple) during the streak.

Sosa, of course, has spent the year buried on Mike Shildt’s bench.  On the roster for every game this year, Edmundo was awarded just two starts and 17 plate appearances until Paul DeJong landed on the injured list.  This is the first real look we’ve gotten of him, and there’s a lot to like.

You’d like to think that Edmundo would continue to play after DeJong heals, but my advice is to not hold your breath.  Shildt and the organization fully believe in DeJong, and – good or bad – he will be in there pretty much every day that he is healthy.

Carlson

The Cardinal chances weren’t helped by the loss of Dylan Carlson (back issue) for the last two games of the series.  Dylan was 2-for-4 in the first game, and now has multiple hits in three of his last four games.  Dylan – who is back in the lineup tonight – has multiple hits in three of his last four games – hitting .438 (7 for 16) over that span.  He is up to .306 for the month, with a .408 on base percentage.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado entered the Cub series scorching hot (riding a six-game hitting streak).  He left it ice cold, going just 1-for-11 (.091) in his first taste of this great rivalry.  Under the steady diet of changeups that baffled the entire lineup, Nolan’s discipline began to erode and his strike zone steadily began to expand.

Bader

Late in the Sunday game, Harrison Bader snuck a ground-ball double down the third-base line.  It was the only thing that stood between him and a hitless series – Harrison finished 1-for-12 (.083).  It was also his only hit over the last 5 games, leaving him 1 for his last 19 (.053).  Off to a hot start when he returned from the injured list, Bader is now down to .221 for the month.

NoteBook

The Cubs were the fifth of the previous six teams to play St Louis after having won their previous series.

The 6 runs St Louis managed in the series were their fewest in any series so far this year.  They won two of three their last visit to Milwaukee in spite of scoring just 9 runs during the series.

Lasting just 2:47, the Saturday game was St Louis’ quickest game since a 5-0 victory over Colorado on May 7 took only 2:42 to complete.

The weekend series was also the hottest of the season so far.  Two of the games began in temperatures over 80 degrees – including 88 for the Sunday game, the hottest of the year so far.  The series averaged a season-high 81.3 degrees.  The previous hottest series was the Pittsburgh series that just preceded the Cub series.  Those games averaged 73.5 degrees.  The previous hottest game was the 82 degrees that they played in while beating the Mets 6-5 on May 3.

The three games played in San Diego earlier this month all drew 15,250.  Until this weekend, those were the largest crowds that the Cards had played in front of this season.  With the relaxing of the COVID regulations last weekend, St Louis saw its first crowds of over 20,000 since the 2019 playoffs.  The Saturday game drew the most (26,027) and the entire series averaged crowds of 24,797.

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.

RISP Woes Stymie the Brewers

The game had a promising beginning for the Milwaukee Brewers.  When Kolten Wong led off the game with a double, the Brewers had a golden opportunity to take an early lead.  Instead, it was the beginning of another frustrating evening for the Milwaukee offense.  Wong didn’t move as Cardinal starter Kwang Hyun Kim retired the next three hitters (Lorenzo Cain, Tyrone Taylor and Travis Shaw) on two strikeouts and a pop fly.

More than three hours later – the game well decided at this point – Milwaukee’s Billy McKinney (batting with the bases loaded) waved helplessly at Alex Reyes’ 0-2 slider to bring an end to the proceedings.  The final score of 6-1 was more than a bit deceiving (box score).  Milwaukee held a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning, and the game went into extra-innings tied at one run each.  Milwaukee had myriad opportunities to bury St Louis, but McKinney’s strikeout concluded a 1-for-15 effort on Milwaukee’s part with runners in scoring position (RISP).

This has been much the norm for the Brew-Crew this year.  Their .209 team RISP batting average is the National League’s worst.  The Brewers and Cardinals have now split their first four contests of the new season, with both St Louis wins looking eerily similar.

St Louis hosted Milwaukee to open their home season on April 8.  On that evening, Brewer ace Corbin Burnes simply dominated for 6 innings, shutting out the Cards on just 1 hit, walking none, and striking out 9.  But he left with just a 1-0 lead.  St Louis would come back to tie the game in the seventh, and win it on a two-run home run off the bat of Nolan Arenado in the eighth.

Milwaukee was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on that evening.

Now fast-forward to last night.  This time it is Freddy Peralta dominating the Cards.  He throws seven innings of one-hit shutout ball against them – but also leaves with just a 1-0 lead.  This time the Cards scratched out the tying run in the eighth, and the game-winning, two-run homer came off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt in the eleventh.

No one expects Milwaukee to remain at the bottom of the league stats in this category all season.  Not helping them, though, is their present matchup against a pitching staff that has been very hot – especially in RISP situations.

With the win, St Louis is now 8-2 in May, and 14-4 over their last 18 games.  Over their last 20 games, the St Louis pitching staff holds a 2.75 ERA and a collective .191 batting average against them.  The last 722 batters to face them over the last 177 innings have just 38 extra-base hits (28 doubles, 1 triple, and just 9 home runs) for an aggregate slugging percentage of just .281.

Opposing hitters are just 27-for-148 (.182) against this staff over their last 20 games with runners in scoring position.  If Milwaukee is going to shed this monkey on their back during this series, they will have to do so against a tough opponent.

Kim

Kwang Hyun still doesn’t have a quality start on the season, in spite of the fact that that he has a 1.80 ERA over his last 4 starts, never allowing more than one run in any of them.  But completing that sixth inning has proven elusive for Kim – his longest outing of the year so far lasting just 5.2 innings.

St Louis has, nonetheless, won all five of his starts.

Milwaukee was 4-for-14 against Kwang Hyun, with 3 doubles, when they hit against him without a runner in scoring position.  One of the reasons Kim has had trouble getting deep into games is that clean innings are a rarity for him.  The league is 22-for-68 (.324) against him this season when there are no runners in scoring position.  Once he finds himself in trouble, Kwang Hyun has been much more effective.

The double from Travis Shaw that drove home Lorenzo Cain from second with Milwaukee’s lone run broke an 0-for-21 that the league had against Kim with runners in scoring position.  For the season, they are 2-for-23 (.087) in their RISP at bats against Kwang Hyun.

During his stay in St Louis, batters are 8 for 57 (.140) against Kim with runners in scoring position.  Shaw’s double was the first extra-base hit Kwang Hyun has surrendered as a Cardinal in RISP situations.

More Good Work from Helsley

Ryan Helsley relieved Kim in the sixth, extinguishing the threat.  Ryan has now authored 9 consecutive scoreless outings (7.1 innings with just one hit allowed) and over his last 13.2 innings has yielded just 1 run on 5 hits – an 0.66 ERA with a .116 batting average against.  Ryan still hasn’t allowed an extra base hit this year.

Ryan has allowed only 1 of 10 inherited runners to score.

Reyes

All 9 of the batters Alex Reyes faced last night came to the plate with at least one runner in scoring position (remembering that all extra-innings this year begin with a man at second).  Those batters were 0-for-6 with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts.  This year, batters are 1-for-29 against Reyes with the ducks on the pond.  They are just 13 for 106 (.123) against him in those situations during Alex’ career.

Carlson

One of the casualties of the evening was Dylan Carlson’s hitting streak.  Although he drove in a critical run with a sacrifice fly, Dylan finished the evening 0-for-3, ending his hitting streak at seven games.  Carlson batted .476 (10-for-21) during the streak.

DeJong

Paul DeJong just can’t turn the corner.  After a scuffling start, Paul has looked on several occasions like he was about to find his stride.  But it hasn’t taken just yet.  Recently, he put together a five-game hitting streak.  In the five games since the last of those games, Paul is 2 for 18 (.111).  In spite of the hitting streak, DeJong is hitting .216 (8 for 37) for the month.

Production with runners in scoring position has been a special focus for DeJong this year.  He was 0-for-1 in RISP opportunities last night, and he is 7 for 39 (.179) in those situations for the year.

Bullpen Home Run Watch

Although it certainly seemed like they trying their best to serve up a home run last night, the Cardinal bullpen made it through another evening without allowing the long-ball.  Going back to the seventh inning on April 16, when J.T. Realmuto took Kodi Whitley deep, the bullpen has gone 23 total games (22 in which the bullpen made an appearance), 70 innings, 244 at bats, 295 plate appearances and 1214 pitches without allowing a home run.

NoteBook

At 3:55 (understandably enough, since the game took 11 innings to decide), last night’s game was the Cards longest of the season so far.

St Louis has now won the opening game of four straight series, and 6 of the last 7.

Goldschmidt’s game-winning, two-run homer ties him with Nolan Arenado for the team lead in game-winning hits.  They both have 5.

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.

Any Lead Will Do

With one out in the top of the first inning on Saturday, Colorado’s Ryan McMahon lined a double down the right-field line.  It was a watershed moment on two levels.

In the first place, it was the first extra-base hit allowed by a Cardinal pitcher in 84 at bats.  If that wasn’t enough, it drove home Raimel Tapia from first base, giving Colorado a 1-0 lead.  In three games last weekend, in what has become something of a house of horrors for the Rockies, this would be their only lead of the weekend.

And it wouldn’t last long.

Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez would strand McMahon at second, retiring Charlie Blackmon on a grounder and Garrett Hampson on a fly ball.  Of the 108 Rockies who would come to the plate last weekend, these would be the only two to bat with a lead.

Batting against Colorado’s Chi Chi Gonzalez in the bottom of the first, the top of the Cardinal lineup made short work of the lead, as singles from Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt quickly tied the game.  St Louis would tack on two more before the inning ended, putting the Cardinal pitching staff back in its comfort zone – protecting a small lead.

Even though the Saturday game turned into a sloppy affair (as far as the pitching was concerned), the weekend sweep (5-0 on Friday) (9-8 on Saturday) and (2-0 on Sunday), followed the pattern of most of the Cardinal wins going back to April 20.  Over the last 19 games, St Louis is 13-6, supported by the starting rotation’s 2.42 ERA and .201 batting average against.  Against Colorado, the rotation finished with a 2.21 ERA and a .169 batting average against.

On display throughout the series, though, was just how difficult it is to take a small lead away from the Cards once they’ve gotten ahead.  For 13.2 innings during the weekend, St Louis nursed leads of one, two or three runs.  Although they flirted with disaster in many of those innings (they gave 8 walks), the team ERA with those small leads was 1.32, combined with a .130 batting average and a .152 slugging percentage.

It was evident against Colorado, but the pitching staff has been doing this all season.  For 97.1 innings so far, St Louis has clung to small leads of no more than three runs.  The team ERA in these innings is 1.66, with a .156/.264/.207 batting line (and, yes, some significant stress has been added by 41 walks and 8 hit batsmen).

A hallmark of the pitching staff in the early months of 2021 is that they have generally done their best pitching during the game’s tightest moments.  This would be a very productive trend to hold on to.

Flaherty

Jack Flaherty came two outs away from winning the season opener.  Alas, although his offense put up 11 runs for him, Jack gave 6 of those runs back and couldn’t scuffle through the 5 innings necessary to qualify.

Since that shaky outing, Jack has been every inch the elite pitcher the Cards have been expecting him to be.  In six starts since then, Jack is 6-0 with a 1.70 ERA.  He has pitched at least 5 innings in all of the games, throwing at least 6 in five of them.  He went seven scoreless in the Friday game, allowing just 3 hits.

Over his last 37 innings, the 141 batters who have faced him are hitting .172 and only have 6 extra-base hits – just 1 of them a home run – for a .234 slugging percentage.

Over the course of his seven starts, Flaherty has yet to face a single batter trailing in the contest.  Jack has pitched 11.1 innings with the game tied without yet giving up the first run.

Martinez

The starter in the Saturday game, Carlos Martinez scuffled through five innings to get the win.  Even though his streak of quality starts ended at three, Carlos, nonetheless, won his third game in a row – and now hasn’t allowed a home run in five straight starts.

Wainwright

With 8.1 innings of shutout baseball, Adam Wainwright was the star of the Sunday game.  It was his third quality start in his last 4 games.  Waino holds a 2-1 record, a 2.40 ERA, and a .198 batting average against over those starts.

Helsley

The Rockies broke through against both Giovanny Gallegos (who allowed runs in the Saturday game for the first time in a long time) and Alex Reyes (who gave up his first run the year – also, of course, in the Saturday game).

Ryan Helsley, however, keeps plugging along.  Appearing twice in the series, Ryan retired 4 of the 5 batters he faced (he allowed a walk) while picking up a save in the Sunday game.

Ryan has allowed one hit over his last 6.2 innings, and holds an 0.69 ERA over his last 13 games (13 innings).  He has allowed only 5 hits over those innings, holding opposing batsmen to a .122 average.  Ryan has yet to allow an extra-base hit this season.

Carlson

Dylan Carlson stretched his hitting streak to seven games, getting two hits in each game of the Colorado series.  Dylan finished the series 6 for 10, and is hitting .476 (10-for-21) over the course of his hitting streak.  Carlson currently sits at .367 (11-for-30) for the month, and .355 (22-for-62) since moving to the second spot in the batting order.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado is also riding a seven-game hitting streak after a very solid series against his old team.  Nolan was 4 for 12 (.333) with 2 doubles and yesterday’s home run.  Nolan is 9 for 25 (.360) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.680 slugging percentage) during his streak.  He is up to .364 for the month of May, with a .697 slugging percentage.  His 12 hits (in 33 at bats) include 3 doubles, and a triple to go with the 2 home runs.  He has driven in 8 runs in the 9 games this month.

During the series, Arenado was 2-for-3 when batting with the score tied – his hits were a double and the home run.  For the season, Nolan is a .343 batter (12 for 35) when he hits in a tie game.  Half those hits have gone for extra-bases (3 doubles and 3 home runs), giving him a .686 slugging percentage in those at bats.  He has 7 RBIs – including 5 game-winning hits – when the game is even.  Nolan is the first Cardinal to reach 5 game-winning hits this season.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt had hits in 4 of 9 at bats over the last two games of the series, leaving him 4-for-13 (.308) for the series.  Paul has looked much more locked in during May.  He is hitting .355 (11-for-31) and slugging .581 (1 double and 2 home runs) this month.

Recent Scoring Change (for those keeping score at home)

In the fifth inning of the April 29 game against Philadelphia, Andrew Knizner blooped a hit into center field in front of the on-charging Odubel Herrera.  On the dead run, Herrera tried to catch the ball on the short hop, and couldn’t handle it cleanly.  Knizner took advantage and hustled into second ahead of the throw.  Originally ruled a hit and an error, the scorers have decided that Andrew would have made second regardless (Odubel was falling as he caught up to the ball), so Knizner gets awarded a double and the error on Herrera disappears.  (And change the unearned run that Andrew eventually scored to an earned run against Aaron Nola.)

NoteBook

The attendance on Saturday (13,425) was the largest of the year – helping the series against Colorado to average 13,401.7 (also the highest of the season so far).

Exactly what the attraction of the Rockies is, I can’t say.  But it certainly wasn’t the weather.  Sunday’s game temperature of 48 degrees was the coldest since opening night in Cincinnati checked in at 37 degrees.  The entire series averaged 57.3 degrees – the coldest since opening weekend here against Milwaukee was also played in 57.3 degree average temperatures.

Friday’s win gave the Cards victories in 5 of their last 6 opening games of series.

Their win on Saturday made St Louis the first team in the National League (with San Francisco) to 20 wins.

Alex Reyes (as mentioned) was touched for his first run of the season on Saturday.  He also struck out 3 in 1.2 innings.  The second of those strikeouts (Dom Nunez) was the one-hundredth of Alex’ career, coming in just 89.1 innings.

St Louis scored first in two of the three games, and have now done so in 8 of their last 10.

In the seventh inning of the April 16 game in Philadelphia, J.T. Realmuto jumped a fastball from Kodi Whitley and launched it for a two-run homer.  That was the last home run served up by the Cardinal bullpen.  St Louis relievers have had their moments of weakness – mostly caused by control problems.  But they are also on a remarkable run of 22 games, 64.1 innings, 227 at bats, 273 plate appearances and 1132 pitches since the last home run they allowed.

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.

No Clear Front-Runners So Far

If you were to ask me how the Cardinals are doing against winning teams, then I would have to tell you that the answer would depend on which day you ask.  Records against winning teams are one of my litmus test numbers – it’s the stat that, to a large extent, defines what your actual strengths and weaknesses really are.

Much of the murkiness of the beginning of the Cardinal season derives from the uncertainty of the level of the competition they have faced so far.  Every single team they have played has been at or above .500 at some point of the season.  Granted, for Miami you have to go back to April 17 when they were 7-7.  Still, that was after a 1-6 start.  Cincinnati got off to a 6-1 start and has faded since.  Pittsburgh was 12-11 as recently as April 27.  From an 8-12 start, Washington’s recent four-game winning streak pushed their record to 12-12 on May second.

For all of the various ups and downs, as play began on this morning of May 7, only three of the Cardinal opponents so far had managed at least as many victories as defeats – the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies (both 17-15) and the New York Mets, who escaped with a split of their four-game series in St Louis and stand at 13-13.

But the shades-of-grey nature of the Cardinal early season isn’t unique to them.  All over baseball, parity is the norm.  In fact, while they have hardly been world-beaters, at 18-14 the Cardinals are tied with San Diego for the National League’s second-best record – a half-game behind the surprising 18-13 San Francisco team.

Going into the season, we all knew who the super-teams were supposed to be.  But 32 or so games into the season, none of the seeming-invincibles have managed any kind of separation from the rest of the league.  Of the hyped teams of the pre-season, the Padres have done the best with that 18-14 record.  The defending champion Dodgers are 17-15.  Atlanta is a surprising 15-16.

None of this is suggesting that these teams will finish with mediocre records for the season.  With still 130 games left, everyone, I think, shares similar expectations for them.  But the longer these teams hover around .500, the more emboldened teams like San Francisco become.

Baseball’s best record belongs to the Boston Red Sox.  At 19-13, they are only one game better than the Cards.

The four games against the Mets are a sort of microcosm of St Louis’ performance in their 14 games against .500-or-better opponents.  They managed to split the four games against New York, hitting for a decent enough average (.261) but scoring only 13 runs (3.25 per game); and the starting pitching – frequently dominant during the early season – struggled mightily against the Mets.  They managed only 18 innings, walked 12 batters in those 18 innings and hit 2 others while sinking to a 5.50 ERA.  The entire staff walked 25 Mets in 32 innings.

In two series against Philly and one each against the Mets and Brewers, the numbers are very similar.  To go along with a 6-8 record, St Louis is scoring just 3.43 runs per game, while receiving a 5.24 ERA in 68.2 innings from the rotation.

At least the areas that need improvement are pretty obvious.

Arenado

With a couple of fortunate hits against the Pirates sparking his resurgence, Nolan Arenado has started to heat things up.  He was 5-for-13 (.385) in the series with a .615 slugging percentage, and through the first 6 games in May, Nolan is 8 for 21 (.381).  The hits include 1 double, 1 triple and 1 home run.  Nolan has driven in 7 runs in 6 games in May with a .667 slugging percentage.

Edman

The Mets were the latest team that has been less than successful in slowing down Tommy Edman.  Tommy hit in each game of the series, and finished 6 for 16 (.375).  Tommy’s hits included 2 doubles and a triple – good for a .625 slugging percentage. 

Edman has started off May with a .400 batting average and a .600 slugging percentage.  He is 10 for his first 25 this month, with 3 doubles and a triple.  Going back to the end of April, Tommy has hit safely in 8 of his last 10 games, hitting .366 (15 for 41) over that span.

Edman has been the team’s most consistent against the .500 teams.  In the 14 games, he carries a .310 batting average (18 for 58).

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill has launched a few home runs recently, even pushing his average as high as .270 at one point.  But he was 1-for-9 against the Mets, and is hitting just .214 on the season (6 for 28) against the .500 or better teams he’s faced so far this year.

Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos contributed a couple of perfect innings in two appearances against the Mets.  So far in May, opponents are 9-up and 9-down with 4 strikeouts against Gio – who has been as dominant as they come recently.  Gallegos has thrown 8 scoreless innings over his last 7 appearances.  The last 25 batters to face Gallegos have managed one single and one hit batsmen, while 9 others have struck out – a .042/.080/.042 batting line.

Giovanny has pitched 6.1 innings against the Phillies, Brewers and Mets, giving no runs, two singles and no walks.  He has 9 strikeouts in those innings.

Helsley

If not quite as dominant as Gallegos, Ryan Helsley has been on quite a roll of his own.  He worked two of the games against the Mets, retiring 4 of the 5 batters he faced (he allowed a walk).

Over his last 11 games, Ryan has been touched for 1 run in 11.1 innings, allowing just 5 hits and striking out 13.  During those innings, his ERA has been 0.79 with a .135 batting average against.

In 5.2 innings against the .500 teams, Ryan has allowed 1 run on 2 hits.

Webb

Tyler Webb was just starting to settle in.  After a shaky first few outings, Tyler had gone 4 appearances and 2.2 innings without allowing a run.  Then, he went 9 days without an appearance between April 19 and April 28.  He’s been a bit of a mess since then. Allowing runs in all of his 4 appearances, and allowing 2 runs in each of his last 3.  Over his last 2.2 innings, Tyler has been battered for 7 runs on 4 hits and 7 walks.  The last 19 batters he has faced hold a .579 on base percentage.

NoteBook

A problem earlier in the season, St Louis has now scored first in six of their last 7 games.

Until the second game of the Wednesday doubleheader, St Louis had held the lead at some point in eight straight games.

The bullpen has allowed 6 of their last 11 inherited runners to score.

With no extra-base hits on Thursday, the team slugging percentage, once again, slips below .400 to .398.

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.

Early Offense Always Welcomed

When Tyler O’Neill slashed Joey Lucchesi’s sinker into left-center field to drive in what turned out to be the game-winning run, you wouldn’t normally have thought that the scoring was over for the day.

There were – at that point – two outs in the bottom of the third inning, and the batters had owned the evening.  The first 32 batters to the plate had combined to go 11 for 26 (.423), the hits including 4 doubles, 1 triple and 3 home runs (an even 1.000 slugging percentage).  They were also awarded 4 walks (1 intentional) and a hit batsman (an even .500 on base percentage).

But the slugfest ended abruptly there.  Forty-two more batters would come to the plate before the game ended.  They would muster just 5 hits in their final 37 at bats (4 singles and a double) with 5 more walks – a much more subdued batting line of .135/.238/.162.

By getting that final run in before the relievers closed the doors, St Louis secured its fifth straight win (box score), and its ninth in the last 11 games.  They wake up this morning tied for first in their division.

The last 11 games have earned acclaim for the consistency of the starting pitchers (whose combined ERA over the 11 games is still 2.33).  That element of the formula was a little lacking last night, as Adam Wainwright scuffled through 5.2 choppy innings (he gave all 5 runs).

On this evening, though, Waino was picked up by his offense, as they continued a less heralded trend that has been equally elemental to the team’s recent success – early run support.

The previous homestand began against Cincinnati.  In the first game, the Cards scored 1 in the second and added 4 more in the third for a 5-0 lead.  They wouldn’t score again, but it was enough as they held on for a 5-4 win.

The second game was an equally tight 2-0 Cardinal win, with the first run scoring in the first inning before St Louis added the second in the sixth.

Single runs in the first and second sent the Cards on their way to a 5-2 victory that Sunday.

Philadelphia was the next in town.  St Louis was held off the scoreboard until the ninth inning in the first game of that series, and lost that game, 2-1.

The birds evened the series with a 5-2 win the next day, scoring a run in the first and 2 more in the second to secure another early lead.

St Louis jumped out to an early 3-1 lead in the third game, with 2 in the second and another in the third – but didn’t score again in a 5-3 loss.  They wouldn’t score until the fifth on Thursday afternoon, but would manage a 4-3, 10-inning victory anyway.

Against Pittsburgh last weekend, they scored single runs in the first, third and fourth before pulling away late in the opener.  A four-run first (and another run in the third) set the stage for a 12-5 win in the Saturday game, and Harrison Bader’s three-run home run in the second inning on Sunday was the only scoring done all day.

After the early outburst yesterday, 30 of the Cards last 52 runs (57.7%) have scored in the first three innings.  Over the last 11 games they have hit 13 home runs – 8 of them in the first 3 innings, where they hold a .321/.356/.600 batting line.  From the fourth inning on they hit .182/.262/.295.

All things considered, I think management would like to see a bit more consistency late in the game.  But there’s nothing wrong with early offense.  I doubt that any of the starters that have benefitted will complain.

Edman

Tommy Edman continues to key the offense.  With a triple and a double, Edman now has multiple hits in 4 of his last 7 games.  He is hitting .379 (11-for-29) over that span.

Batting leadoff all year, Tommy has come to the plate in each of the 29 first innings the Cards have played.  He has started the games off with 5 singles, 1 double, 2 triples 4 walks and a hit-by-pitch – a .333/.448/.542 batting line.

Wainwright

If Waino is going to get in trouble, for whatever reason, it is most likely to be in the third inning.  Six starts into his 2021 season, Adam has been saddled with a 19.06 ERA and a .500/.556/.884 batting line in that inning.  Three of the 6 home runs he has allowed have come in the third.

In all other innings, Waino holds a 1.88 ERA and a .202/.259/.327 batting line against.

Helsley

One of the “under-the-radar” developments from last night’s game came in the seventh inning.  St Louis was, of course, clinging to its one-run lead when Dominic Smith worked a two-out walk from Genesis Cabrera.  With the dangerous Kevin Pillar coming to the plate (he had homered earlier), manager Mike Shildt turned to Ryan Helsley to close out the inning – which he did, getting Pillar to pop out.

It’s noteworthy because this was Ryan’s first “hold” opportunity of the season.  In 8 of his previous 12 appearances, the Cards were behind when he came into the game.  The other four times, Helsley came in with leads of 5,6,4 and 4.

Over his last 10.1 innings (covering 10 appearances) Ryan has allowed 1 run on 5 hits, walking 3 and striking out 12.  His 0.87 ERA in those games is matched with a .147 batting average against.  Helsley has still not allowed an extra-base hit all season.

Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos hit a little hiccup in mid-to-late April, allowing runs in 3 of 4 games.  Since then, Gio has regained his stature as one of the most unsolvable relievers in the game.  He has 7 shutout innings over his last 6 appearances.  The last 22 batters to face him have 1 single, 1 hit batter and 8 strikeouts.  They have a cumulative batting line of .048/.091/.048 while striking out 42% of the time.

NoteBook

The multiple extra base hits yesterday pushed the Cardinals’ season slugging percentage back over .400 to .402.

St Louis has won the opening game in four of their last five series.

At 82 degrees, Monday’s game was the first time this season that St Louis has played in temperatures north of 80 degrees.  It won’t be the last.

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.

Molina Among the Sluggers

There’s a spot that you throw to with significant caution when the big thumpers are at the plate. It’s that high fastball about two inches inside of the plate, about level with the hitter’s biceps. With the ordinary hitters, they’ll jam themselves on the pitch – if they can get around on it at all. But the big guys will turn on that pitch and soar it over the wall.

If you can jam it in there at very high velocity – say 98 mph or higher – you’ve got a chance. But Cincinnati’s Sonny Gray doesn’t have that kind of gas. Last night against St Louis, Sonny threw 86 pitches – none faster than 93.5 mph. This one – the dangerous inside pitch – rode in at 93.1 mph. Not enough.

St Louis’ powerful slugger launched the pitch 400 feet down the left-field line for the home run that set the Cardinals on the path to their 5-4 victory (box score).

And who was this slugger that Gray was so careless with? It was probably Nolan Arenado – a multiple 40 homer man. No? Well, both Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong have 30 homer seasons on their resumes. Surely it would be – no? Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill both hit a lot of home runs in the minors. It guess it could be either of them.

No. It was St Louis’ most dangerous power hitter – thirty-eight-year-old catcher Yadier Molina. Molina, whose fifth home run of the season tied DeJong for the team lead. Yadi – whose .661 slugging percentage leads the team by nearly .150 points. Yadier Molina – who has never hit more than 22 home runs or slugged higher than .501 in any major league season.

Gray can perhaps be forgiven for this one. Maybe he didn’t get the memo that Molina has joined the mashers of the league.

With early season numbers – and, yes, it’s still just April – you always wonder if it’s real or a mirage that will dissipate as spring devolves into summer. Time will tell, but everything about Yadi’s swing and approach at the plate so far this season suggest that Molina – now in his eighteenth major league season – has worked to re-invent himself. On his page at baseball reference (which I will link again here), below the “Standard Batting” and “Player Value – Batting” sections, they have a section called “Advanced Batting.”

I can’t vouch for the collection of these numbers (I think there is a fair amount of subjectivity in determining – for example – what is a line drive and what is a fly ball), but I do consider them useful and probably more accurate than not.

The big takeaway from this section is that Yadi is pulling the ball more frequently than any time in his career. His groundballs and line drives are also way down, and his fly-balls are way up. He is also striking out a lot more than he has previously in his career.

This is a slugger’s profile. Yadi even looks thicker – somehow more barrel chested than I remember him. My feeling is that this is not accidental or a little hot streak. It looks to me like Molina has prepared for the 2021 season with the intent of being a legit middle-of-the order power source for this team.

Whether he can sustain this remains to be seen. Can he adjust as the pitchers adjust? Will he hold up during the heat of the end of the season? All great questions.

Molina, by the way, is not in the lineup today after turning his foot on a swing last night. Durability at baseball’s toughest position is also a concern for his 38-year-old body.

There are a lot of good questions, but for however long it lasts I could get used to seeing this new Yadi at the plate.

More Molina

If Yadi has, in fact, made the leap from slap hitter to slugger, he has done so keeping all his former aggressiveness. Yadi has never been a great taker of pitches. He swung at 7 of the 11 thrown him last night – including both first pitch curveballs he saw from Gray. Nobody swings at first pitch curves – but Yadi did twice, fouling off the first one before hitting his home run. His second time up he slapped that curve into the gap in right-center for an RBI double.

In the National League so far this year, only 28.9% of plate appearances are over before the pitcher can throw ball one, and only 57.4% don’t make it to ball two. Fully 35.3% of Yadi’s PA’s are over before he has seen ball one, and 67.6% don’t make it to ball two. When Yadi is hot, this works very well for him. Thus far he is 11 for 23 when hit hits before seeing ball one (.478) with 3 doubles and 3 home runs (a 1.000 slugging percentage). His home run and double last night came on an 0-1 pitch and an 0-0 pitch, respectively.

There are a lot of sluggers around the league who like to work the count and get the pitcher in trouble. However much Yadi has re-invented himself, I don’t well ever see him morph into that kind of hitter.

Edman

Torrid early in the season, leadoff hitter Tommy Edman has cooled of late. In the 5 games since the last game of his 12-game hitting streak, Tommy is 3 for 19 (.158).

Helsley

He allowed a seeing-eye single, but otherwise Ryan Helsley – one of the fire-ballers I wrote about yesterday – turned in another fine inning. Before his 2021 season was 3 innings old, Ryan had already served up 5 runs. Since then, though, he’s been as advertised.

In his last 7 appearances, Helsley has given just one additional run over 8.1 innings, during which he’s walked 2 and struck out 10. The 31 batters he’s faced in those games are hitting .172 against him – all singles, as Ryan has yet to allow an extra-base hit this year.

Cabrera

Similarly, Genesis Cabrera has strung together a series of excellent outings after he was knocked around a little in the opening series against the Reds. Genesis has pitched 7 innings over his last 7 outings, giving just 1 earned run on 4 hits, walking just 1 and striking out 10. 69 of his last 98 pitches have been strikes (70%). The last 28 batters to face Cabrera are hitting .148 with a .179 on base percentage. 18 of the last 59 swings taken against him come up empty (31%).

Hicks

In a kind of follow up to yesterday’s post, Jordan Hicks got himself in trouble again with control. Half of the 4 batters he faced worked him into three-ball counts, and both walked. And both scored.

Jordan has faced 32 batters this season. 13 have worked him into three-ball counts (40.6%) and 8 of the 13 have ended up walking. It’s a concern.

Reyes

Likewise, command issues from closer Alex Reyes turned a comfortable win into a nail biter. Alex, in a 23-pitch two-thirds of an inning, went three balls to 3 of the 4 batters he faced – and is going deep in the count to almost every batter he faces. Of the 37 he’s faced so far, Alex has gone to three-ball counts 16 times (43.2%). Almost 60% of the batters he faces (22 of 37) have gone to at least two-ball counts.

Alex has also tossed 4 wild pitches in his last 5 innings.

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.