Tag Archives: Hicks

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.

If We Can Just Get a Little More Chase

One hundred mile-per-hour stuff is a nice asset for a pitcher to have.  It doesn’t guarantee success, of course.  But it’s a great place to start.

The back of the bullpen for this year’s St Louis Cardinals features three high-octane right-handers.  To date, only Jordan Hicks has exceeded the 100 mph mark this season (32 of the 127 pitches he’s thrown have exceeded 100 on the gun), Alex Reyes and Ryan Helsley have both been in that neighborhood, though.  Helsley has been over 99 on three pitches this season – topping at 99.4.  Reyes has hit 98.5.

Of the three, only Helsley’s ERA has taken notable damage.  Allowing 6 runs over his first 10 innings of 2021, Ryan is currently saddled with a 5.40 ERA.  Hicks (1.29 in 7 innings) and Reyes (0.00 in 7.2 innings) have done superficially better.  But underneath, all three are experiencing a common problem.  They are constantly behind hitters.  It has led to a concerning number of walks (each pitcher has already walked 6 batters in their few innings so far) and elevated pitch counts.  Helsley’s 10 innings have cost him 190 pitches.  In 7.2 innings, Reyes has thrown 135 (17.6 pitches per), and Hicks (as mentioned) has already thrown 127 in 7 innings (18.1 per).  For guys who aren’t giving up hits (just 17 in their combined 24.2 innings) it’s a lot of pitches thrown.

There are two dynamics behind this.  First, of course, is the pure control issue.  A lot of times an elite fastball can be hard to command.  The average major league pitcher hits the strike zone with about 49.9% of his pitches.  The second dynamic – and the one that’s causing real problems for Helsley and Reyes – is something called chase rate.

Just outside of the strike zone proper is an area called the “shadow” of the strike zone.  Not technically strikes, pitches in this area (which extends roughly three inches all around the perimeter of the zone) are generally close enough to be called strikes, and – with two strikes on a batter – could be considered “too close to take.”  Just beyond is the “chase zone.”  Pitches in this region – which extends about another three inches – are far enough out of the zone that batters shouldn’t swing at them, but do with some frequency – the major league average is about 20%.

The impact of chase should be obvious.  The pitcher that can get the hitter to chase his 2-1 slider out of the zone has evened the count at 2-2 instead of falling behind 3-1 – dramatically altering the rest of the at bat.

The three Cardinal righties all rank in the bottom fourth in the league in chase rate, and this remains the next significant advancement for all of them.

Helsley

Ryan is actually in the strike zone slightly more than average, with 50.5% of his pitches hitting their mark.  But 41 of his 190 pitches have slipped into that chase zone.  Of those pitches, batters have chased just 3.  All three of the chases have come against Ryan’s cutter, but then his cutter accounts for 21 of his 41 pitches into the chase zone.  He has also thrown 1 changeup, 5 curveballs and 14 four-seam fastballs – all of them taken for balls.

Ryan has faced 45 batters this season and has finished the at bat behind 20 of them (44.4%).  Those batters are 5 for 14 (.357) with all 6 walks (.550 on base percentage).  These batters have accounted for 5 of the 6 runs Ryan has allowed.  The 12 batters that Ryan has managed to stay ahead of are 1 for 11 (.091) with a sacrifice fly.  (On opening night, Cincinnati’s Jonathan India opened the sixth by jumping all over Ryan’s 0-1 fastball and lining it into left-center for a single.)

Reyes

Alex is significantly less accurate from the outset, only hitting the strike zone with 43.9% of his pitches.  In his situation, the chase – or lack thereof – becomes more critical.

Alex has been in the chase zone with 32 of his pitches so far this season.  Only four have been offered at (although Alex did get a surprise called strike on a curveball well outside the zone).

Thus, Reyes has finished behind in the count on 16 of the 33 batters he has faced this season (48.5%).  These batters are 0-for-10, but also have the six walks (a .375 on base percentage).  Alex has only finished ahead of 6 batters this season.  They are 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts.

Hicks

Fully 70 of Jordan Hicks’ 127 pitches have missed the strike zone (55.1%).  The problem isn’t the hard stuff.  Seventeen of Jordan’s 32 100-mph pitches have been in the zone.  His problem is the secondary pitches that he can’t quite command.  He has thrown 29 cutters, finding the strike zone with only 6 of them.  He’s also missed on 2 of his 3 changeups and half of his 4 sliders.

Of all of these pitches, Jordan has found the chase zone with 34 of them.  He’s gotten swings on 9 of them – which works out to 26%, which seems like it would be above the 21% average, but the savant site that provides a gateway to the Statcast data still ranks him in the 26th percentile for chase (here).  The sinker and the cutter have each been chased 4 times.

I think it’s fair to say that Jordan’s issues are less with the chase than simply finding the strike zone with those secondary pitches.

Nonetheless, Jordan has finished behind in an at bat at a much higher rate than the other two.  Seventeen of the 28 batters Hicks has faced finished ahead in the count – (60.7%).  Only one of them managed a hit (Miami’s Jesus Aguilar bounced a 99.9 MPH sinker into right for a single), but with the 6 walks, that works out to a .412 on base percentage.  Jordan has only stayed ahead of 5 batters so far this year.  They are 0-for-5 with 2 strikeouts.

Combined, the three power right-handers have faced 106 batters this year, and have stayed behind exactly half of them.  Those 53 hold a slash line of .171/.453/.171.  The 23 that they’ve stayed ahead of are .045/.043/.045 – an amusing .089 OPS.

Clearly, you don’t want to get behind in the count against the explosive fire-ballers.  It’s incumbent, now, on Helsley, Reyes and Hicks to figure out how to get them in that position with more consistency.

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.

Winning Teams Still a Stumbling Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

Yairo Munoz

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

Paul DeJong

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

Jose Martinez

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

Harrison Bader

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

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

Adam Wainwright

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

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

Tyler Webb

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

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

John Brebbia

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

John Gant

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

Giovanny Gallegos

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

Jack Flaherty

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

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

Michael Wacha

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

Jordan Hicks

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

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

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

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

Cards Overcome Sputtering Offense in Shutout of Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

Paul DeJong

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

Yadier Molina

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

Harrison Bader

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

Miles Mikolas

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

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

Giovanny Gallegos

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

John Gant

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

Jordan Hicks

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Starters Rise to Occasion in Sweep of Cubs

So, it was another minimal offensive series for your St Louis Cardinals.  Granted, they faced three quality arms, but as the Sunday game ended, the Cards had scored just 11 runs during the three games, hitting .233 on just 21 hits.

Oh, did I mention that St Louis won all three games?  By scores of 2-1 in 10 innings (box score), 7-4 (box score) and 2-1 again (box score).

If this team is going to be special this year, it will be because of their pitching.  For the first fifty or so games, the rotation showed inconsistent flashes of potential.  For three games as May faded into June, and against their divisional rival from up North, the Cardinal starters were very special.

The Cards got 20 innings from their starters in this series – and might well have had a couple more, had Jack Flaherty’s Saturday start not been interrupted after five innings by rain.  For those 20 innings the Cubs dented St Louis’ starters for just 3 runs on 12 hits – a 1.35 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Yes, there was a bit of luck involved.  Especially on Sunday, when Chicago hit Adam Wainwright harder than the results showed.  Still, the club couldn’t have asked for more from the starters.

The bullpen was nearly as good, although hiccups from Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia threatened two of the games.

In fact, that might be the most satisfying element of the series.  Each game was tightly contested, and Chicago could very easily have swept the home team.  These were, in fact, the type of games that the Cards have repeatedly lost to Chicago over the last few years – the character games.  For one weekend at least, it was St Louis coming through with the clutch hit and the big defensive play.

To keep things in perspective, there is still a lot of baseball to be played – and many more contests against Chicago.  This was just one chapter in a very long novel.  But it was not insignificant.  Much like their season series against their other primary division competitor.  After losing 5 of the first 7 against Milwaukee, they came back to sweep the Brewers the last time they played them to even that series.  This sweep, though, does more than just answer the Cubs earlier sweep of the Cards.  Getting off the deck and answering these two teams provided a significant confidence boost.

And confidence, by the way, is not in short supply.  I don’t think I ever remember a more confident two-games-over team.

The rest of the summer will tell whether that confidence is warranted or just bravado.  One thing to remember, though.  Both of St Louis’ answering sweeps were at home.  If they have true designs on the division title, this team will have to find some way of coping with Miller Park and Wrigley Field – Wrigley as soon as this Friday.

Fifty-eight games into the 2019 season, this team is still a mystery.

Miles Mikolas

Three starts ago, Miles Mikolas endured a nightmare start in Texas – he gave 7 runs (and 2 home runs) in less than 2 innings.  That disaster stands in sharp contrast to Miles three starts before and his two starts since.  In those other 5 games, Miles has pitched at least 6 innings in all of them, (and 7 in the other 4) without giving up more than three runs in any of them.  In fact, he gave up as many as 3 runs in only one of those games.

Over the 34 innings that surround that Texas game, Miles has allowed as many runs (7) and home runs (2) as he did in that Texas game.  He holds a 1.85 ERA in those other games, holding those teams to a .213 batting average, while walking just 4.

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty followed Mikolas’ 7 strong innings (1 run on 6 hits) with a strong effort of his own.  After allowing solo home runs in the first two innings, Jack settled down and kept Chicago off the scoreboard till the rains came in the fifth.

The rain interrupted a streak of three consecutive quality starts from the young right-hander.  Over his last 4 starts, Jack has a 2.74 ERA over 23 innings with 26 strikeouts.  His last 4 opponents are hitting .182 against him.

Through the month of May, the 30 batters that swung at Flaherty’s first pitch ended up hitting .320.  On Saturday the 6 Cubs who chased after Jack’s first pitch finished 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts.

In fact, in that Saturday game Chicago’s hitters combined to go 0 for 11 when they swung at the first pitch.  For the series, the Cubs were just 3 for 32 (.094) in at bats where they swung at the first pitch (the major league average when swinging at the first pitch is .268).

John Gant

One of the bullpen heroes of the series, John Gant pitched in two of the games, winning the Saturday game and saving Sunday’s contest.  He allowed a walk, but retired the other five batters he faced.

John is on another streak of scoreless outings, as he has allowed no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks over his last 7 innings over 6 games.

Johnny has been much better than anyone could have expected.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks was the winner in the Friday game, pitching two innings.  He was brought back to save the Sunday game, but faltered.  Manager Mike Shildt says he isn’t concerned, but maybe he should be at least a little.

Hicks has now given runs in 3 of his last 6 games.  Over his last 5.2 innings, Jordan has given 6 runs on 7 hits and 5 walks.  The 29 batters he has faced over those appearances are hitting .292 against him – far too high for a kid who throws 104+.  With the walks, the recent on base percentage against him is .414.

Offensive Struggles

I began by referencing the recent offensive brown-out.  Even though the pitching (and defense, by the way) made what little offense they got stand up, the Cards have been a less than stellar offensive machine for quite a while now.

Over their last 16 games, this team is averaging 3.94 runs per game with a distressing .217 team batting average.

Kolten Wong

When Kolten Wong rolled to second in the second inning of the Friday game, he extended his current hitless streak to 22 at bats.

From that moment on, Wong owned the series as much as any non-pitcher could.  He got 6 hits in his last 9 at bats (two hits in each game), stole two bases, scored twice, drove in two – including the important first run in the Sunday game – and made the defensive play of the series to end the eighth inning of the Sunday game (you have probably seen the highlight of Wong racing almost into mid right-field and going full extension to gather in Anthony Rizzo’s soft liner.

Wong had himself a series.  Historically, Kolten is either icy-ice cold or broiling hot.  No one in this clubhouse would complain if Wong went on a substantial tear.

For the series, Wong was 2 for 4 in at bats where he swung at the first pitch.  For the season, that is when he is at his best.  He is still hitting .316 (18 for 57) when swinging at the first pitch.

Marcell Ozuna

Left fielder Marcell Ozuna didn’t get a hit in 3 at bats in the Sunday game, breaking a short but very loud five-game hitting streak.  During those previous 5 games, Marcell went 9 for 19 (.474).  He hit 2 home runs, drove in 6, and slugged .842.

Matt Carpenter

For much of the early season – for whatever reason – Matt Carpenter has been noticeably more aggressive on the first pitch.  In April, he chased the first pitch thrown him 22.4% of the time.  In May, it was 24.1%.  In all of this, the results weren’t much.

Lately, he has returned to the Matt Carpenter we remember, and his numbers have been steadily rising.  He had 10 plate appearances in the Cub series and took the first pitch 9 times.  He finished the series 3 for 9 with a walk.  Over his last 16 games, Matt has taken the first pitch thrown 81.7% of the time – and is slashing .310/.408/.548 when he does.

You would think this would make him all the more dangerous when he does swing at the first pitch, but that hasn’t materialized yet.  Over those same 16 games, Matt is slashing .200/.273/.500 in the plate appearances in which he chases that first pitch.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader hit a home run late in the Saturday game.  It was his only hit in the last two series (1 for 19 – .053).

Paul DeJong

And Paul DeJong’s tailspin continues.  He did get a late single in the Sunday game, but that represents only his second hit in his last 11 games (and 36 at bats).  Over the 16 games that the Cards have scuffled for runs, Paul is hitting .145 (8 for 55) with just 1 home run.

Paul swung at the first pitch only twice in his 11 plate appearances in the series.  In his red hot April, DeJong swung at the first pitch 24.3% of the time, and with devastating effect – a line of .438/.455/.719.

In May, he took the first pitch 86% of the time.  Over the last 16 games he has watched the first pitch 89.4% of the time – more frequently than Carpenter.

The numbers suggest a more timid approach at the plate, but that’s not what I see from him.  After his blazing April, pitchers seem much less anxious to challenge Paul early in the count.  He sees a great many first pitches just off the plate or just low – occasionally, these pitches cross the corners of the strike zone.

After they establish the outside, many pitchers are then able to jam DeJong later in the at bat.  They have had some success doing that.

Mostly, though, Paul appears to still be taking disciplined at bats.  I don’t see him chasing many pitches at all.  But he is missing his pitch when he gets it – or fouling it off.  Timing just a little off.  Or, when he does get into one, someone makes a great play on it – like Albert Almora did in the Saturday game.

DeJong, I think is close.  One thing he won’t have to worry about is opportunity.  As with Wong and Carpenter and all the other starters who went through extended slumps, he can depend that Shildt will continue to write his name on the lineup card even if he goes 2 for his next 50.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards did score first yesterday.  They have scored the first run in 5 of their last 7.

The Cardinals have won only 7 series all year, but 4 of them have now been by sweep.  Of the 5 series that St Louis was in position to sweep, only Washington – who faced a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cards – was able to avoid the redbird brooms.

The Cub series was also just the eighth series this year in which the Cards won the first game.  They are 5-3 in series when they win that first game.

With his 8 innings on Sunday, Adam Wainwright now has 66.1 on the season.  He pitched only 40.1 innings all last year.  He also now has 1,998.1 for his career – leaving him just 5 outs shy of 2000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

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

Harrison Bader

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

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

Hitless Against Atlanta

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

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

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

Fowler

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

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

DeJong

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

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

Wong

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

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

Cheers for the Rotation

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

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

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

Mikolas

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

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

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

Hudson

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

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

Flaherty

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

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

Andrew Miller

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

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

Jordan Hicks

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Struggles Against Winning Teams Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul DeJong

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

Dexter Fowler

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

Dexter is hitting just .226 this month.

Luke Gregerson

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

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

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

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

Dominic Leone

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

Jordan Hicks

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

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

Leadoff Homer from Carpenter Sparks Four-Run Inning

Vince Velasquez – the hard-throwing Philadelphia starting pitcher – had fallen behind the leadoff batter in the fifth by a 3-1 count.  He and the Phillies were already down 2-0, and a leadoff walk here would not help.

The 3-1 fastball (officially 91.8 mph) hugged the outside corner of the strike zone, but it was up a bit.  The batter – Matt Carpenter – flicked his bat and lofted a fly ball just deep enough into center to clear the wall (and the glove of Phillie center-fielder Obudel Herrera).  Before the inning would end, St Louis would add three more runs – enough to put the wraps on a 6-0 win (box score).

All season long, the Cardinals have led off innings as well as almost anyone in baseball.  Their .357 on base percentage leading off innings is tied with Atlanta for the best in the National League and fourth-best in baseball (according to baseball reference).  Consistently putting the leadoff man on base was a big part of the amazing offensive consistency that this team enjoyed in April – when they scored 5.45 runs per game.

The early games of May have been less impressive, with the offense struggling to manage 3.67 runs per game.  As far as putting the first batter of an inning on base, St Louis is still doing that at a high level.  Three of the 8 leadoff batters reached base last night – and the leadoff on-base percentage for the month is still .340.  But what has been lost lately is the ability to build on that momentum.  In April, 55% of the Cardinal leadoff hitters who reached base ended up scoring.  Thus far in May, leadoff batters who reach are only scoring 28% of the time.  Carpenter was the only one who scored last night.

Jose Martinez opened the Cardinal second with a walk, and moved into scoring position when he advanced on a long fly ball off the bat of Yadier MolinaKolten Wong followed with a hard hit out, and after an intentional walk to Harrison Bader, pitcher Miles Mikolas struck out looking.

Carpenter again led off the next inning and walked.  Nothing came of that, either, as the walk was followed by a strikeout and a double-play grounder.

Through St Louis’ first 53 offensive innings of the month, their leadoff hitters have reached 18 times.  Only 5 of those have scored – 2 of them on leadoff home runs.  They are applying the pressure, but failing – so far this month – to take full advantage.

Last night, two two-run home runs (by Molina and Paul DeJong) kept the offense on schedule, but until they can start to push their leadoff runners around the bases, the Cardinal offense will continue to be a hit-and-miss affair.

Yadier Molina

In addition to calling a terrific game behind the plate, Yadier Molina was also the offensive engine last night.  He finished with three hits, including the home run that put the Cards ahead.  Yadi has now hit in all of his last 5 starts, going 7 for 19 (.368).  He has also hit safely in 23 of his last 25 starts, hitting .337 over that span (33 for 98).

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna hit a couple balls hard last night, but results have been hard to come by lately.  Over his last 4 games, Marcell is hitting .125 (2 for 16).

Among his contributions to the April offense, Ozuna was one of the most effective Cardinals leading off an inning.  In the 26 April innings he led off, he hit .375 (9 for 24) with a .423 on base percentage.  He ended up scoring in 8 of the 11 innings that he began by reaching base.

Last night, he led off two innings, going 0-for-2.  He is 1-for-7 as a leadoff hitter so far this month.

Kolten Wong

The struggles continue for Kolten Wong.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night (although he also drew a walk and lofted a sacrifice fly), Wong is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, falling to .243 for the season.

Kolten has 2 hits (both singles) this month in 19 at bats (.105).

Miles Mikolas

The opening day starter, Miles Mikolas lasted only 5 innings in each of his first two starts, serving up 8 runs (and 4 home runs) in those efforts.

In his last 6 starts, Mikolas seems to be getting better each time out.  He went 7 scoreless against Philadelphia last night, allowing 3 hits.  In his two May starts, Miles has given just 1 run over 13 innings.  He has both the Cardinal wins this month, with an 0.69 ERA.

Since those first two starts Mikolas is 4-1, with a 3.16 ERA, walking just 6 batters over his last 37 innings.  He has thrown 67% of his last 532 pitches for strikes, holding opponents to just a .232 average.

Jordan Hicks

With one out in the ninth, manager Mike Shildt summoned closer Jordan Hicks into the game with a 6-run lead.  Hicks hadn’t appeared in a game in any of the last 6 days.  The reason for this inactivity was two-fold.  First, the Cards haven’t been presented with a save opportunity in quite a while.  Secondly, the Cards are monitoring the talented right-hander’s innings.  Hick responded by striking out both batters he faced – both on devastating sliders over 90 mph.

Jordan has now retired all of the last ten batters he’s faced – striking out 6 of them.  Since an early-season blown save, Jordan has an 0.75 ERA over his last 12 innings, holding batters to an .086 batting average in those innings.

Conquest of Reds Closes Out 7-2 Home Stand

Home has not always been where the heart is for the St Louis Cardinals over recent seasons.  In fact, during their three-year playoff absence, one of the galling factors has been their struggles at home.

Through the first 16 years of this century (2000-2015), the Cardinals were 835-519 (.617) at home (counting playoffs).  During that same span (including playoffs) they were only 694-668 (.510) on the road.

Over the last three seasons, though, that home field advantage has all but completely disappeared.  Between 2016 and 2018, your Cardinals have played just .514 ball at home (125-118).  This number includes the only season in this century when the Cards finished with a losing record at home (38-43 in 2016).  During those same seasons, they are 132-111 (.543) on the road.

The most apparent reason for the home issues seems to be the largeness of the ballpark.  Busch has always played large – especially as far as getting baseballs to sail over the wall.  As the Cardinals have become more and more reliant on the home run ball over the last few years, they have – at times – seemed out of place in their own ballpark.

From 2000-2015, St Louis averaged 4.75 runs per game at home and 4.73 runs per game on the road.  Home runs still came easier on the road (1 for every 31.93 at bats, vs 1 per 34.11 at bats at home), but a more diversified Cardinal offense was capable of finding other ways to score.  Over those 16 seasons, they hit 173 more home runs on the road (1492) than at home (1319) – an average of 10.8 more home runs on the road than at home per season.

Since 2015, The Cards have averaged 4.38 runs per game at home, against 5.08 runs per game on the road.  While they have improved to 1 home run per 28.92 at bats at home, those blasts are still significantly easier away from Busch – where St Louis managed a home run every 24.37 at bats.  Over the last three years they hit 72 more home runs on the road (349) than they did at home (243) – an average of 24 more road homers than home runs in their home park each year.

So, one of the most encouraging notes of the very early season has been the Cardinals prowess at home.  Sunday’s 5-2 conquest of Cincinnati (box score) concluded a 7-2 home stand that pushed the Cards to 12-4 at home so far this season.

The early results shows no more success hitting the ball out of their home park than in any past season.  In fact – if anything – the home runs at home have regressed a bit so far in 2019.  In the first 16 home games, the Cards have managed just 16 home runs – 1 every 32.44 at bats.  They have been home run machines on the road.  In 11 road games they have driven 23 balls over the wall – 1 every 17.17 at bats.

But – as a team – the Cards are hitting .277 at home, scoring 5.69 runs per game.  During the just-completed home stand, St Louis collected 90 hits and scored 54 runs while hitting just 9 home runs during the 9 games.  But they managed 6 runs per game on the strength of their .302 team batting average.

In spite of the home runs, St. Louis is hitting just .258 on the road, scoring a still-impressive 5.27 runs per game.

Yes, the season is still very, very young, and this is a trend that could completely disappear as the season rolls on.  The early read on this team is that they will certainly hit their share of home runs.  But this edition of the Cardinals may not be as dependent on the long ball as some of their predecessors.  That would be a huge step in the right direction for this franchise.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter – bedeviled for most of the season by the shifts that he has been trying to hit against – has picked up a few hits to the other side in recent games – some on bunts and some on floaters into short left.  This part remains a work in progress (Carpenter doesn’t have an extra-base hit in his last 7 games).  But the on-base part of his game is definitely coming back.  He has drawn 6 walks (and scored 6 runs) over his last 5 games – a span during which he holds a .455 on base percentage.  He was 2 for 5 against the Reds with 3 walks – reaching base in 5 of his 8 plate appearances.

In his first 61 plate appearances at home, Matt holds a .393 on base percentage.  All of his first three home runs this season have come on the road.

Dexter Fowler

The Dexter Fowler resurgence continued over the weekend against the Reds.  Dexter went 3 for 8 with 3 walks – a .583 on base percentage during the series.  Dexter basically tore things up during the home stand.  In his 32 plate appearances, Fowler contributed 7 singles, 3 doubles, 1 home run, 5 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, 5 walks and a hit-by-pitch.  This translates to a .423/.531/.654 batting line – a 1.185 OPS.

Dexter has hit in 13 of his last 15 games, batting .396 (21 for 53) with 6 multi-hit games.  He is also now hitting .333 at home (15 for 45) so far this year.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez wrapped up a 3-for-9 series against Cincinnati with 2 hits and the game-winning RBI on Sunday.  Finding his way back into the starting lineup, Jose has now started 11 consecutive games, and is hitting .400 (16 for 40) in that span.  In the 9 games of the home stand, Jose hit .438 (14 for 32).

Martinez is now the Cardinals’ leading hitter at home.  He is a .435 hitter (20 for 46) at his home ballpark.  Up next for Jose is a road trip into Washington and Chicago.  His early season struggles mostly came on the road.  In his first 24 road plate appearances, Jose has managed just 3 singles and 1 double, while striking out 9 times and grounding into 2 double plays.  Martinez carries 3 runs batted in and a road batting line of .167/.167/.208 into tonight’s contest against the Nationals.

Paul DeJong

Going 4 for 12 against the Reds, Paul DeJong has now pushed his hitting streak to 8 games.  Paul is hitting .382 (13 for 34) during the streak, with 6 of those hits going for extra-bases (5 doubles and a home run) – a .618 slugging percentage.

DeJong now carries a .397 batting average at home (25 of 63) with 13 extra-base hits (10 doubles, 1 triple and 2 home runs) – a .683 slugging percentage.  In just 48 road at bats, DeJong has 3 road home runs.

Kolten Wong

Not everyone prospered during the Cincinnati series.  After a very hot start, Kolten Wong continued to regress to his norms.  Wong finished the series just 2 for 11.  It has been 9 games since his last multi-hit game.  In that span, Kolten is hitting just .167 (5 for 30).  Only one of those hits (yesterday’s double) was for extra-bases.

Wong might be one of the few Cardinals looking forward to the road trip.  Almost all of his early success came away from Busch.  After this last home stand, Wong is now a .154 hitter in his home park (8 for 52).  His 8 hits include only 2 for extra-bases (both doubles), for a .192 slugging percentage.

On the road (through 11 games) it has been a different story for Kolten.  In his 44 plate appearances away from home, Wong has achieved 8 singles, 2 doubles, 1 triple, all 4 of his home runs, 7 walks (1 intentional) 2 hit-by-pitches, and 3 stolen bases.  Kolten has driven in 10 runs while grounding into no double plays in his 11 road games.  His batting line there is an impressive .429/.545/.886.

Pitching Better than the Numbers Suggest

In the conquest of the Reds, the Cardinal pitching numbers continued to suffer.  Cincinnati finished the set hitting 5 more home runs and scoring 17 runs – leaving the Birds with a 5.67 team ERA for the series.  The numbers – of course – are skewed by the beating the team took on Friday night – a 12-1 shellacking (box score) that featured all five of the home runs Cincy hit this weekend. 

In truth, the series showcased some of the finest Cardinal pitching to date.  Subtract three pitchers who struggled (Miles Mikolas, Dominic Leone and Tyler Webb) and the rest of the pitching staff posted a 1.33 ERA over 20.1 innings.

The 73 batters who faced the rest of the staff managed just 12 singles, 1 double, 3 walks, 1 sacrifice hit and 1 sacrifice fly – a .188/.219/.203 batting line.

Over the course of the home stand, the starters (3.73 ERA) out-performed the bullpen (4.75 ERA) for one of the few times this season.  During the upcoming road trip, the starters will be very much under the microscope.  In the early days of the season, they have been very much Jekyll and Hyde.  They are 9-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a .240 opponent batting average at home.  They are 1-4 on the road (for a 5-6 Cardinal road team).  They have served up 17 home runs in 52 road innings while struggling to a 6.58 ERA, a .307 batting average against, and a .628 slugging percentage against.

This will be a big opportunity for them.

Jack Flaherty

The clear pitching highlight for the weekend was the effort of Sunday’s starter – right-hander Jack Flaherty.  A revelation last year, Jack has been as inconsistent as most of the Cardinal rotation.  But on Sunday he shut out Cincinnati on 4 hits over his 7 innings, walking just 1.

Flaherty is now 3-0 at home with a 1.88 ERA.  He has walked just 4 batters in his 24 home innings, holding the rest to a .184 batting average.

Jordan Hicks

Closer Jordan Hicks came in to a 2-0 game in the eighth inning – ostensibly to record a four-out save.  After St Louis added three runs in the bottom of the eighth, Hicks was removed – as the game seemed well under control (it would get more interesting at the end).

Nonetheless, Jordan finished the series pitching in both the Saturday and Sunday games, retiring all four batters faced (with two strikeouts) and claiming a save (on Saturday) and a hold (on Sunday).  Hicks has been good all year long – but especially at home where he is 6-for-6 in save opportunities and has surrendered just one run in 6 innings.  Batters are hitting just .105 against him at home.

Dominic Leone

Dominic Leone, with a second chance to make a first impression, was really having a terrific year.  Having lost almost his entire first season in St Louis to injury, Dominic’s first 11 appearances of 2019 hinted at the pitcher the Cardinals believed they were signing.  After 11 innings, Leone held a 1.64 ERA and a .111 batting average against.

He appeared in two of the weekend games against the Reds and was batted around.  He entered the ninth inning of the first game, trailing 6-1.  Thirty-four pitches later, he left the mound trailing 12-1 with still only two outs in the inning.

He returned for Sunday’s ninth inning, this time holding a 5-0 lead.  Again, he couldn’t finish the inning as he gave hits to 3 of the 5 batters he faced and turned the game over to John Gant with the Cards still holding a 5-2 lead.  In all, he faced 14 batters over the two games who hit .692 against him and slugged 1.154.

It is hoped that these two nights against Cincinnati were a blip.  But his next trip out of the pen will certainly be worth noting.

Cards on Fire When Runners on Base

The game had been taut and tense all along.  After two-and-a-half scoreless innings, Atlanta rookie sensation Ronald Acuna gave the Braves an early lead with a home run.  In the top of the fourth, resurgent Cardinal shortstop Paul DeJong one-upped the Atlanta rookie.  His home run came with a runner on base (a recurring theme lately).

Now it’s the eighth inning, score still 2-1 Cards. But now St Louis is rising against the Atlanta bullpen.  A walk and a double put two runners on base ahead of an RBI single off the bat of DeJong (again).  Now its 3-1, but the inning isn’t over yet.  Another walk loads the bases and brings ex-Cardinal Sam Freeman out of the bullpen.  Sam got his first man – striking out rookie Patrick Wisdom.  He wouldn’t survive the next batter.

Catcher Yadier Molina smoked a grounder past diving shortstop Charlie Culberson.  Two runners scored on the hit, with the third also crossing the plate after the ball eluded Acuna (who at first glance looks more polished in the batter’s box than in left field).  Suddenly, it was a 6-1 Cardinal lead, and St Louis was on its way to a deceptively easy 8-1 victory (box score).  

For the game, the Cards were only 4-for-21 (.190) when they hit with no one on base.  But, lately runners on base have had the same effect on them that blood in the water has on sharks.

Over the last ten games, the Cards have pushed 62 runs across the plate in spite of the fact that they have only hit .245 as a team.  The difference has been that as a team they have hit .358/.424/.562 once a runner reaches base.  During that same span, they are hitting just .167/.233/.258 with the bases empty.

Last night, they were 7 for 16 (.438).

In no situation have they been more deadly than the situation that Molina found himself in – hitting with the bases loaded.  Over the last ten games, the Cards are 5-for-11 (.455) with the bases loaded.  In the 58 games since the All-Star Break (during which they have been scoring 5.24 runs per game) the Cards are 22 for 67 (.328) with the bases loaded.

It has been impressive to see.  Last night, doubly so as Atlanta has as many damaging opportunities.  Of their 40 plate appearances last night, 18 of them came with at least one runner on base – 5 of them with at least 2 runners on base.  The Braves finished the game 0-5 with runners in scoring position, and 2-for-15 (.133) with no runs batted in with any runners on base.

This last achievement was quite a relief compared to recent efforts.  For the month of September, opponents are hitting .286 (79-for-276) against Cardinal pitchers when batting with one or more runners on base.

A lot of times, it isn’t so much how many hits you manage, but when you do or don’t get them.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez was one of the Cardinal’s most proficient bats in the second half of last season, and is following along much of those same lines this year.  With a single and a double last night, Martinez is leading the team in batting average after the All-Star Break.  Jose is hitting .313 (56-for-179) over his last 54 games.

In his only opportunity to hit with a runner on base, Martinez set the big eighth inning in motion with a double.  Jose is now 6 of his last 14 (.429) and 33 for 89 (.371) since the break with at least one runner on base.

DeJong

More than a little lost for most of the season, Paul DeJong has been much of the driving force behind the recent offensive upsurge.  DeJong has two hits in each of his last two games, and has hit safely in 10 of his last 11, hitting .317 (13-for-41) in those games.  His hits include 2 doubles and 3 home runs.  Paul has 11 runs batted in and a .585 slugging percentage through those last 11 games.

DeJong could well serve as the poster child for the Cardinals’ recent split-personality with runners on base.  He was 0-for-2 last night with the bases empty and 2-for-3 with runners on.  Over the Cardinals’ last ten games, DeJong is just 3 for 19 (.158) with 1 extra-base hit (a double) when batting with the bases empty.  He is 9 for 18 (.500) with a double, 2 home runs, and 10 runs batted in in those games when batting with one or more runners on base – an .889 slugging percentage.

Wong on the Rise

Another element of the second half offensive revival is Kolten Wong.  Wong had two singles, a walk and a hit by pitch last night – bringing his season average back up to the .250 mark.  Wong is hitting .330 (35 for 106) in the second half.

Included in that second half resurgence is a .438 on base percentage when batting with the bases empty (21 hits in 57 at bats – a .368 batting average – 6 walks, and a hit by pitch).  He reached all three times he was up with the bases empty last night.  On a team that frequently doesn’t do much until someone gets on base, Kolten is a welcomed table setter.

Matt Carpenter

It was the fifth inning of the September 13 game against the Dodgers.  Facing nasty left-hander Clayton Kershaw, Matt Carpenter, the National League’s leading home run hitter, dropped down a bunt, beating it out for a hit.

He hasn’t had a hit since.

Carpenter – after his 0-for-4 last night – is now hitless in his last 17 at bats.  He has struck out in 8 of those 17 at bats, and is now hitting .169 for the month of September with no home runs.  Matt’s last home run came off of Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey in the second inning of the August 31 game.  That was 62 at bats, 77 plate appearances, and 332 pitches ago.  At one time in the MVP discussion, Carpenter has fallen back into the pack.

Time to Talk About Batting the Pitcher Eighth?

I’m not a big fan of batting the pitcher eighth.  All things considered, I think it handicaps the offense as much as it helps.  But there are some situations where it is worth the discussion.  In spite of his recent slump, Matt Carpenter still lists as the Cardinals’ most dangerous hitter.  But he can’t hit anywhere but leadoff.  Would it surprise you if I pointed out that Carp leads all Cardinal hitters in percent of plate appearances with the bases empty at 66.0%?  If he can only hit leadoff, maybe batting Wong ninth might get him at least a few at bats with a duck or two on the pond?

More Good Starting Pitching

Rookie starter Austin Gomber worked in and out of trouble all night.  His 5 innings cost him 98 pitches – too many.  But at the end of the day he had allowed just 1 run.  With the second half of the season now 58 games old, Cardinal starters have consistently given the team a chance.  With Gomber’s effort, Cardinal starters hold a 3.37 ERA in the season’s second half.

Throughout what has been a somewhat struggling month of September (and Austin has a 7.07 ERA after 3 starts this month), Gomber has had persistent trouble in keeping the bases clean.  Last night, the Braves were 5 for 10 with a double and a home run when hitting with the bases empty.  For the month, now, the 29 batters that have had their shot at Austin with the bases empty are hitting .385 with a .448 on base percentage.

John Brebbia

Earlier this season, John Brebbia went on a streak where he started to look like a top-echelon reliever.  I pointed that out in a post, and he immediately started to get hit.  At the risk of jinxing him again, I will note that Mr. Brebbia is once again stringing together quality bullpen innings.  Since the All-Star Break, John has thrown 13.1 innings over 14 appearances with a 1.98 ERA and a .191 batting average against.

He threw a 1-2-3 sixth inning last night, striking out 2.  He has 20 strikeouts, now, over his last 13.1 innings – an impressive 13.17 per 9 innings.

Jordan Hicks

In spite of apparent over-use, Jordan Hicks has been one of the bright spots in the second half bullpen.  He threw a 1-2-3 seventh last night.  In 26 innings over 25 second half games, Hicks holds a 2.08 ERA, a .227 batting average against, and a .268 slugging percentage against.  With his strikeout last night, Jordan has struck out 18 over his last 11.2 innings.

Mike Mayers

Mike Mayers pitched the ninth inning last night in a mop up role.  He ran into trouble (again) but worked his way out of it.  Mayers’ recent efforts haven’t filled anyone with overwhelming confidence, but the hard-thrower is starting to miss some bats – an encouraging sign.  With his 2 strikeouts last night, Mike has 19 in his last 11.1 innings.

After striking out the first two batters, Mike surrendered a walk, bringing Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis to the plate with a runner on.  This has been a sore spot recently for Mayers.  He would get Markakis on a pop fly to center, but not until Freeman had put two runners in scoring position with a double.

In the season’s second half, batters are hitting .371 (13 for 35) against Mayers when hitting with runners on base.  They are now 6 for 11 (.545) against him this month in those opportunities.