Tag Archives: Hudson

Texas Lefty Leaves Cards Less than Smyly

After an encouraging 8-2 victory on Saturday (box score), the St Louis Cardinals faced the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon, needing any kind of win to halt a four-series losing streak.  They would give the ball to young Jack Flaherty (who would turn in a strong effort).

But, standing in the way was veteran Texas left-hander Drew Smyly.

It’s funny how some tendencies follow a club over the course of decades – regardless of the makeup of the club.  In St Louis, the boogeyman has been almost any flavor of left-handed pitcher, but especially the soft-tosser.  In this context, Smyly isn’t the softest of soft tossers, but with a fastball that topped out at 92.6 (according to Brooks Baseball), Drew doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters with sure speed.  But it’s enough fastball to tantalize and to set up his curve and changeup.

On a superficial level, you tell yourself that it doesn’t just happen to the Cardinals – that these guys are getting other teams out as well.  But someone is hitting these pitchers.  Smyly entered the game with a 6.85 ERA.  And, in the early going, it looked like the Cards had him solved.  In quick succession, Drew allowed a double, a walk, and a two-run double.  Quickly, it was 2-0 St Louis.

But that would be it.  Smyly would face 16 more batters before ending his four-inning stint.  St Louis would score no more runs and manage just one more hit against him.  Drew wouldn’t figure into the decision, of course (a 5-4 Texas win in 10 innings – St Louis’ thirteenth loss in its last 17 games).  Along the way, he would walk 3, but he would also strike out 4 of those last 16 batters faced.

It doesn’t stand as a dominant game, per se, but by the end it fell along familiar parameters.  St Louis finished 3 for 15 (.200) against Drew, and just 5 for 29 (.172) during the three-game series against Texas’ left-handers.  They are down to .235 against them for the season.

Offensive Struggles

While losing two of three in Arlington, St Louis did manage to score 15 runs in the series, but hit only .236 (26 for 110) and couldn’t cash in on other opportunities.  The Cards are hitting just .241 this month.

Harrison Bader

St Louis’ complex outfield picture got more complex over the weekend.  With Jose Martinez moving into the DH slot in the American League park, Harrison Bader was able to start all three games in center.  Bader was nothing but spectacular.  He, of course, made several sparkling plays in center.  He also went 7 for 12 (.583), including a home run and 2 doubles (a 1.000 slugging percentage) at the plate.

Harrison started the season as the regular centerfielder.  But he started off slowly at the plate, and when he went down briefly with a hamstring pull, Martinez found his way into the lineup and hit his way into a permanent spot.

While his opportunities have been infrequent, Bader has hit .326 (15 for 46) since his return, and is now hitting .306 (11 for 36) for the month.

Bader had multiple hits in all three games in Texas, and it seems hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup when the season resumes Tuesday night.

Harrison was only 1-for-4 against left-handed pitching in the series, but was 6-for-8 against the righties.  While not qualifying, yet, as a regular, Bader is hitting .357 this month (10 for 28) against righties – the highest on the team for anyone with more than 20 plate appearances against them.

Paul DeJong

As you might suppose, St Louis isn’t overburdened with batters who are flourishing against left-handed pitching.  One who has been succeeding all year is Paul DeJong.  The righty was 2-for-3 against Texas’ left-handers in the series – his hits being a double and a home run.  For the season, Paul has the team’s second highest average against lefties.  In 32 plate appearances against southpaws (and there haven’t been an awful lot of lefties to face the Cards so far this season), Paul now has 2 singles, 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 6 walks.  He has driven in 7 runs against lefties so far, with a .346/.469/.769 batting line against them.

Yadier Molina

Everyday catcher Yadier Molina – who has been so consistent all season – had a tough series in Arlington.  He was just 2 for 13, going hitless in two of the games.  Over his last 5 games, Yadi is hitting just .150 (3 for 20) with no runs scored and one run batted in.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler had his one big moment.  Capping a nine-pitch at bat in Sunday’s ninth inning, trailing by one, Dexter lined a game-tying home run into the upper deck in right.  The home run (clutch as it was) broke an 0-for-15 streak.  Fowler – over .300 for much of the season – is hitting just .195 this month (8 for 41).  Bader had almost as many hits in the Texas series as Dexter has had all month.

Fowler – a switch hitter – is getting fewer and fewer opportunities against lefties.  He is hitting .208 against them this season (5 for 24) with no extra-base hits.  Lately, though, he has been struggling against right-handers as well.  He is 6 for 32 (.188) against them this month.

Kolten Wong

In the Saturday victory, Kolten Wong was held hitless in 5 at bats – breaking his encouraging little five-game hitting streak.  Wong – who has struggled lately – was 6-for-18 (.333) during that streak.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt walked 4 times in the 3 games in Texas.  He subsequently scored 3 runs and drove in a run with a ground ball.  But he had no hits in the series (0-for-10).  Paul hasn’t had the best of starts.  He is 16 for 65 (.246) this month with 2 extra-base hits (1 home run).  He has driven in 5 runs in 18 games in May.  He is 6 for 28 (.214) this season against left-handed pitching.  Paul has 1 home run against lefties this year.

It’s safe to say that there is an explosion coming from Mr Goldschmidt.

Cheers for the Rotation

As we approach the end of May, almost any good news from the pitching staff in general and the rotation in particular is cause for celebration.  The overall numbers from the Texas series are not particularly warm or fuzzy.  The staff finished the series with a 4.73 ERA, and the starters finished at 7.43 and a .327/.383/.582 batting line.

The actuality wasn’t as bad as the numbers.  Game One starter Miles Mikolas was driven from the mound after 1.1 innings, having allowed 7 runs on 9 hits (including 2 home runs).

From the moment Mikolas left the mound through the end of the series, the Cardinal pitching staff contained the Texas offense to just 7 more runs in 25.1 innings.  Their 2.49 ERA was backed by a .195 batting average against.  Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty followed Mikolas with quality starts, and the bullpen – pitching as many innings as the starters in this series – were flawless (until the end of the Sunday game).

As I said, any hint of light at the end of the tunnel is welcome.

Mikolas

Miles Mikolas had tossed three consecutive quality starts – throwing a total of 20 innings – before his meltdown in the first game.  He had pitched three straight games without allowing a home run.

Hudson

Dakota has also been steadily improving.  He served up 8 April home runs in just 24 innings – contributing to a 5.63 ERA.  In 23 innings over 4 starts (3 of them quality starts) in May, Hudson has allowed just 1 home run and holds a 3.13 ERA (that ERA figure is a little deceptive in that it doesn’t include the 6 unearned runs he allowed a couple of starts ago).

Among the most encouraging notes from the Saturday win was Dakota Hudson dominating lefties.  Until that night, the 101 lefties to face Hudson had owned him to the tune of a .388/.475/729 batting line with 8 home runs.  Saturday night they (lefties) finished with just 4 singles in 21 at bats against Hudson (.190).

NoteBook

In the Saturday game, Paul DeJong – in addition to getting two hits – drew a walk.  It is already his twenty-fifth walk of the season.  All last year he drew 36 – his current career high.

Then in the Sunday game, Paul drilled his seventeenth double of the season.  All of last year, he only hit 25.

With their fifth straight series loss, St Louis (holding a 10-14 road record) is now 2-5-1 in road series.  They are also 2-5-1 in series when they lose the first game.

This was also their eighth series so far this year against a team that had won its previous series.  They are also, now, 2-5-1 in those series – going 11-13 in those games.

(This post was originally composed Monday, May 20).

Miklas and Waino and Three Days of Raino?

Back in 1948 a sports editor for the Boston Post coined the enduring phrase (“Spahn and Sain and two days of rain”) adopted for more than half a century by teams that don’t seem to have enough starting pitching to safely make it back to the top of the rotation (in 1948 baseball teams used four-man rotations).

It seems a little strange to be adapting the ancient ditty to the 2019 St Louis Cardinals.  Questions certainly abounded as the team came out of spring training.  Mostly questions about offense and defense.  More than a bit of insecurity regarding the bullpen.  But where most felt the team would certainly be the strongest was in the rotation.

Jack Flaherty emerged through the midst of the 2018 season as one of the most exciting young prospects in baseball.  Joining him in the rotation was Dakota Hudson – who had been one of the top starters in AAA last year until he spent the last half of the season pitching with great effectiveness out of the Cardinal bullpen.  And, of course, there was Michael Wacha – finally healthy.

In fact, if there were questions about the rotation at the beginning of the season, they might have centered on Miles Mikolas and especially Adam Wainwright.  Mikolas had been brilliant (18-4) in 2018, but in some ways he kind of came out of nowhere – and baseball history is full of these kind of one-year wonders.  They have a brilliant year, and the league makes an adjustment to them.

Wainwright, of course, has been in a perpetual battle against injuries and father time for the last several seasons.  Now 37, there were serious concerns whether there was anything left in Waino’s tank.

Fast-forward to the end of the first quarter of the 2019 season, and the Cardinals are enjoying (if that is the correct word) their first off day in the month of May.  They are coming off a brutal 1-3 series against the Pittsburgh Pirates that closed out a disappointing 2-5 homestand – which, in turn – was the centerpiece in a 2-9 stretch that dropped St Louis from being in first place, three games ahead of the pack, down now to fourth place, 3.5 games behind the surging Cubs.

The offense and bullpen – though hitting an inconsistent patch of late – have proven to be mostly capable.  But that rotation.  The spring pride of the Midwest, the Cardinal starting five have fallen to fifteenth out of baseball’s 30 teams with a 4.35 ERA.  The struggles have been general, except for Mikolas and Wainwright.

One of the highlight’s of course, of the recently concluded Pittsburgh series was the 17 runs the Cards scored in the Thursday contest (their only win of the series).  Immediately after that outburst, the Birds lost consecutive 2-1 games (box score 1, box score 2), in which they wasted consecutive excellent starts from the twin lynchpins of the rotation.  Mikolas has tossed 5 quality starts out of his 9 starts.  Waino also has 5 in 8 starts.  The rest of the team, in 24 starts, has 6.

Adam Wainwright

Six pitches into the Friday night game, Waino trailed 1-0, courtesy of Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run.  That would be all the damage surrendered by the great Cardinal veteran.  He would leave after 7 innings, allowing just that single run on 5 hits.  He walked no one and struck out 8.

Of the 8 strikeouts, 5 were called third strikes.  It’s the curveball, of course – a nasty thing to contend with when you’ve got two strikes on you.  But it’s more than that.  All year, Adam has been confidently throwing that cutter to the corners of the zone.

To this point of the season, Waino leads the team in called strikeouts with 17 and in percentage of strikeouts coming on called third strikes (45.9%).  The team average is 24.6% of their strikeouts being called third strikes.

Of Waino’s 92 pitches on Friday, the Pirates only offered at 35 of them (38%).  This has been another benchmark of Waino’s renaissance season, as opposing batters only offer at 39.5% of his pitches this season – also the lowest percentage on the team.

Miles Mikolas

The afternoon after Wainwright tossed his gem, Mikolas answered with one of his own – 7 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts and no home runs.  The result was similar as well.

Miles actually staggered a bit out of the gate.  His first 6 starts were less than encouraging.  Over his first 34 innings, Miles allowed 21 runs (20 earned) on 34 hits – including 8 home runs.  He was 2-2 at that point, with 5.29 ERA.  He was only getting ground balls from 48% of the batters who put the ball in play against him, while those same batters missed on only 14% of their swings against him.

Over his last three starts, though, Miles has fully resembled the pitcher that took the league by surprise last year.  Over his last 20 innings, there have been only 3 runs scored on 13 hits and 2 walks (and no home runs).  He is 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA his last 3 times to the mound.  Batters are now hitting .183/.205/.225 against him, hitting the ball on the ground 58% of the time and missing on 20% of their swings.

Dakota Hudson

Slowly but surely, Dakota Hudson seems to be turning the corner.  He had some early-season difficulties, but he is 2-1 with a 3.57 ERA over his last 4 starts.  Granted, those numbers include 6 un-earned runs scored against him two outings ago.  Dakota – who didn’t allow a home run all last season – gave up 8 in his first 18.1 innings this season.  There has only been 1 hit against him over his last 22.2 innings.

Even though he allowed 3 first inning runs on Sunday, Dakota still finished 6 innings giving up no more runs.  In so doing, he gave the Cards their third consecutive quality starts for only the second time all season (Waino, Mikolas and Hudson had earlier turned the trick in Washington from April 30 through May 2).

When he’s right – and Dakota has been closer to that recently – he is as severe a ground ball pitcher as the Cardinals have.  Over his last 2 games, batters are hitting ground balls 72% of the time.  On Sunday, he was able to make it through 6 in spite of allowing 9 hits, walking 2 and hitting another batter because he didn’t nibble with the batter at the plate.  He faced 28 batters throwing just 84 pitches – 3.00 per plate appearances.  Opposing hitters missed on only 9.1% of their swings, and put the ball in play 52.4% of the time they swung at Dakota’s pitches.

This month, he is averaging just 3.35 pitches per plate appearance – the lowest of any Cardinal starter.

Michael Wacha

The date was April 6.  It was opening weekend against San Diego.  After Flaherty had started the home opener, it was Michael Wacha’s turn in the second game.  But Michael found himself in a bit of first-inning difficulty.  After an RBI double from Hunter Renfroe put San Diego up 1-0, Wacha found himself facing Wil Myers with the bases loaded and one out.  Michael got out of it, when Myers grounded the first pitch to Paul DeJong, starting a 6-4-3 double play.

That was the last time this season that Michael Wacha has induced that double-play ground ball.  Wacha has now pitched to 26 consecutive batters with an opportunity to get a double play, and has been unable to get a ground ball.  (One of those opportunities, by the way, came against the Cubs’ Taylor Davis in his last start in Chicago.)  He faced 8 batters in his 5.2 inning struggle against Pittsburgh on Thursday who could have eased his labor by grounding into a double play.  He got none of them.

Wacha – who throws that heavy sinking fastball – was helped last year by only 4 double-play grounders in 65 such opportunities.  If Michael could figure out a way to get the occasional ground ball, it could make a noticeable difference in his season.

John Gant

John Gant – who earlier this season pitched a relief no-hitter – has now gone 7 straight appearances and 6.1 innings without being scored on – although he has surrendered all of 3 hits in those innings.  He has struck out 11 in those innings.  Gant – who hasn’t walked a batter in his last 11 games – covering 11.2 innings – is throwing 72% strikes over his last 174 pitches. 

He worked in two of the Pirate games – tossing 1.1 innings.  In those innings, the 5 Pirate batters he faced swung at 11 of his pitches – missing 5.  In the month of May, John has the team’s highest swing-and-miss percentage – 44.0%.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller also pitched in two of the Pirate games – earning the game two loss.  Very different with Miller in May is that everything he is throwing either is a strike or looks enough like one to compel the batter to swing.

He threw 22 pitches to the 8 Pittsburgh batters he saw this weekend.  They swung at 14 (63.6%).  Of the 8 that they didn’t swing at, 5 were called strikes.  Only 3 of his 22 pitches ended up being called balls.

For the month of May, Miller has thrown 31 pitches to 11 batters, getting 17 swings (54.8% – the highest on the team), and getting 9 of the 14 taken pitches called strikes (64.3% – best, again, by far on the team).

It’s kind of two steps forward, one step back, but there is some evidence of Miller returning to form.

John Brebbia

After allowing just 1 run over his first 18.1 innings, John Brebbia has given up runs in 2 of his last 4 games – losing both.  The damage is 4 runs in 4.1 innings – including 2 crushing home runs.  The last 21 batters to face him have a line of .316/.381/.737.

Offensive Roller-coaster

In losing three of four to Pittsburgh, the offense turned in their most Jekyll and Hyde performance of the season.  After a 17-run eruption on Thursday, they totaled 2 runs in the next two games combined.  Sunday they scored 6 times in the first two innings and then nothing after that (on their way to a 10-6 defeat).  They finished outscoring Pittsburgh for the series 25-18 – for all the good that did them.

Still, there are positive signs for some hitters who have been struggling recently.

Paul Goldschmidt

One of the most encouraging signs to come out of the otherwise lost weekend were the hits off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt.  It’s no secret that he has been frustrated with his contributions so far.  In the Pirate series, he hit safely in all four games – getting multiple hits in three of them.  He finished the series 9-for-17 (.529) with a double a home run and 4 runs batted in – pushing him to .298 for the month.

Jedd Gyorko

A big part of the team the last few years, Jedd Gyorko is finding it hard to get at bats.  He did get a few against Pittsburgh, going 3-for-6.  Jedd is now 5-for-14 (.357) for the month.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz is another of the bench players who gets infrequent opportunities that had some moments in the Pittsburgh series.  He went 3 for 9 in the four games, and is 9 for his last 19 (.474).

Jose Martinez

The defensive limitations of Jose Martinez showed up again a few times over the weekend.  Pretty much any line drive hit to right field is going to be an adventure.

But Jose continues to hit.  After his three-hit game on Sunday, Martinez has started 24 of the last 25 games, hitting .365 (31 for 85) in those games.

Behind a Lot Lately

There is this moment in Groundhog Day.  Phil (the Bill Murray character) has just driven his truck off a cliff, where it landed upside down at the bottom of a gorge.  Andie MacDowell’s character (Rita) shudders a bit at the horror, and Larry (played by Chris Elliott) tries to comfort her by saying, “He . . . might be okay.”  One second later the truck explodes in fire.  Larry then adds quietly, “Well, no.  Probably not now.”

There was a moment like that in last night’s game.  The Cardinals began the top of the second by throwing the ball around a bit, and gift-wrapped the first two runs of the game for Philadelphia.  The bases were now loaded with one out, but with the score still just 2-0, one could reasonably think “we might be okay”.  Of the 20 batters to put the ball in play against Cardinal starter Dakota Hudson on this evening, 17 would hit the ball on the ground.  A well-placed ground ball here could very well stop the bleeding.

But Philadelphia’s next hitter – Bryce Harper – turned out to be one of the three who got the ball in the air.  When it finally came down (in the right field bullpen), the Phillie lead grew to 6-0.  Well, no, probably not now.

May has been playing a little like Groundhog Day for the Cardinals.  Especially the last week or so.  In losing 5 of their last 6, the Cards have been falling behind early and often.  Thursday night in Washington they fell behind 2-1 in the fourth and never recovered.  Friday in Chicago, it was 3-0 Cubs after 3.  The Cards went quietly after that.  On Sunday, it was 1-0 Chicago after 2.  St Louis would never catch up in that one either.

Up until the point that they were waxed by Cincinnati 12-1 on April 26, this edition of the Cardinals had never trailed by as many as ten runs in a game, and had faced a deficit as large as five runs only once.  They have now trailed by double-digits three times in the last 12 games.  Last year’s team – on its way to a modest 88-win season – only trailed by as many as ten runs three times all season (a 13-5 loss to Jon Lester and the Cubs on June 15, an 11-4 loss to Max Fried and Atlanta on June 30, and a 17-4 spanking at the hands of Rich Hill and the Dodgers on September 15).

By way of comparison, the 2018 Cardinals pitching staff faced 6,246 batters.  They faced 2,558 of them while holding a lead (41.0%), faced another 1,671 (26.8%) with the game tied, and 2,042 (32.7%) while trailing in the game.  All last season, the pitchers faced just 21 batters (0.3%) with a deficit of ten runs or more.

In March-April of this year – even including the blowout against Cincy, the Cardinal pitching percentages were: ahead – 44.1%; even – 22.3%; and behind – 33.6%

Over their last six games, they have one win – the 6-0 win on Monday during which they never trailed – and have had brief leads in 2 of the 5 losses.  All included during this losing skid, the Cards have only been ahead 16.9% of the time and tied another 29.6% of the time.  Cardinal pitchers have trailed in the game 53.5% of the time.  In just the last six games, they have already pitched to 4 batters (1.9%) while trailing by at least ten runs.

I have quoted the pitching staff numbers.  The hitters in all these cases, of course, will be similar.

One of the immutable baseball truths is that you are never as good as you look when you are winning and never as bad as you look when you are losing.  Truly, this team isn’t as helpless as it has seemed over the last week or so.  But the losing is taking, I think, an emotional toll on this young team.

In April, this team hit .281 when they were trailing in a game.  They erased one four-run deficit, and came close to doing that on two other occasions. 

Recently, though, the bats have been very quiet once the team has fallen behind.  Over the last six games, they are hitting just .231 while trailing in games.  Over their last 5 defeats, they have scored just 7 runs after they have fallen behind.  Only three of those runs scored while the games were close enough to matter.

Of course, you would like to see the team stop falling behind early.  You would also like to see some of that early season bounce-back from the bats on those occasions when they do fall behind by a few runs.

Dakota Hudson

In spite of last night’s debacle, Dakota Hudson has been trending upward over his last several starts.  After beginning the year with a 6.08 ERA, a .350 batting average against, and a .633 slugging percentage against (courtesy of 5 home runs allowed over his first 13.1 innings), Hudson has been better over his last 4 starts.  He still surrenders more home runs than he should (4 over his last 21.2 innings), but with a more palatable 3.74 ERA.

Paul Goldschmidt

Things will certainly start looking better once Paul Goldschmidt figures things out a bit.  After another hitless evening (0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts), Goldschmidt has sunk to .245 for the season.  Over his last 10 games (9 starts) Paul has had 41 plate appearances.  He has 6 singles, 15 strikeouts and a groundball double play to show for it – a disappointing .146/.146/.146 batting line.  It has been 12 games since Paul’s last extra-base hit, 13 games since his last run batted in, and 14 games since his last home run.

Marcell Ozuna

After a torrid early-season streak, Marcell Ozuna is another Cardinal who has fallen on hard times of late.  After his 0-for-3 last night, Marcell is now 2 for 19 (.105) over his last five games.  He falls to .222 for the month (6 for 27).

Marcell did have a first-inning opportunity – while the game was still scoreless – with a runner at first and two outs.  He grounded out to end the inning.  Over the last 6 games, Ozuna is 0-for-9 when the game is tied, and 6 for 31 (.194) for the season in that situation.

Harrison Bader

When he first returned from the injured list, Harrison Bader provided a little pop with his bat.  Lately, though, he has been affected by the general offensive downturn.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Bader is 3 for 16 (.188) so far this month.

Kolten Wong

The disappearing act of second baseman Kolten Wong also continued.  Hitless, again, in 3 at bats, Wong is now 0 for his last 13 and is hitting .091 (2 singles in 22 at bats) this month.

Finished Birds Show Much Promise

The bottom – when it fell out – fell quickly.  A sensation in August (winning 22 of 28 games), the now very young St Louis Cardinals unraveled in September.  Entering the month, they sported the National League’s second best record, and sat just 3.5 games behind the Cubs for the league’s best mark.  At that point, they were a half-game ahead of Milwaukee for the first wildcard spot, and 3 games ahead of the Dodgers for the last playoff spot.

But at the first hint of September in the air, the delicate flower began to fold.  After winning two of three in early September from Washington, they were still third in the league (and the division) and still had a two-game grip on the last playoff spot.  As they began their last home stand, they still had control of their own destiny – holding that last spot, still, by 1.5 games.

As Milwaukee came into town – with six games left in the season – St Louis sat 87-69, not only still 1.5 games ahead for the second wildcard, but just two behind those Brewers for first wildcard, and just 4.5 behind the Cubs (who they would end the season against) for the potential division title.

The remarkable August had offered them no shortfall of opportunities.

All of these finally wound to an end in the pre-October chill of Wrigley Field as the too young Cardinals were exposed again by the Cubs, 10-5 (box score).  The loss finished a string where the baby birds lost 5 of their last 6 (and that on the heels of a three-game winning streak), 12 of the last 22 following the Washington series, and 15 of the 27 games in September.  Needless to point out, they will not be one of the clubs who will be playing in October.

It is easy, at the end, to be disappointed – and even easier to see where this club needs to get better.  And in future posts, we will look at all of this.  But I think, if we can take a step back and look at this little run in totality, I think we would have to admit that this not-quite-ready-for-prime-time team did more than hold its own.

Remember that of those 16 critical end-of-season games, only 3 were played against a team (San Francisco) that did not make the playoffs.  Of their 27 September games, 19 were against teams that finished with winning records.  Of the 68 games they played after the All-Star Break, fully 50 were against teams that finished the season over .500.  They were 29-21 in those games.  For the season, they lined up 93 times against teams that won more than they lost this year.  Through myriad injuries and significant upheaval, the 2018 St Louis Cardinals fought their way to a 50-43 record against these opponents.

Yes, at the end of the day, the youngsters – the pitchers especially – were not up to the September challenge.  But there was certainly enough promise on display to paint a very hopeful picture for much winning in 2019 and beyond.

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty’s tremendous rookie season ended with something of a thud.  He lasted just 2.2 innings during the finale, serving up 4 runs on 4 hits.  His September ended with just 1 quality start in his last six, an 0-3 record, 18 walks and 2 hit batsmen in his 28.2 innings, and a 5.34 ERA.  There are better things ahead for young Mr Flaherty.  In spite of his shaky September, Jack started 19 games this season against teams that would win more than they lose.  His record in those games was only 5-7, but with a 3.35 ERA and a .198 batting average against.  He struck out 124 in 102 innings – 10.94 per nine innings against winning teams.

Jack is an arm to keep an eye on for next year.

As for his recent struggles, they pretty much mirrored the entire rotation this month.  Cardinal starters finished the month with a 4.60 ERA and just 7 quality starts among their 27 games.

Bullpen Sputters to the End.

The game was still close when Mike Shildt went to get Flaherty.  It was just 3-2 Chicago at the time.  So one last time, for 2018 anyway, Shildt entrusted the game to his bullpen.  The results were consistent with the performance through the rest of this month.  Five-and-a-third innings later, Chicago – in addition to scoring one of the runners that Flaherty had left on base – had scored 6 additional runs (4 earned) on 8 hits – including 3 doubles and a home run – and 3 walks.  Even though the offense eventually scrapped its way to 5 runs of their own, they were never really in it once the pen took over.

The September numbers tell the story.  In 104.1 innings (almost 4 a game), the Cardinal bullpen gave 71 runs (58 earned) on 111 hits including 15 home runs.  They also walked 68 batters.  They finished the month with a 5.00 ERA, a .275 batting average against, and a .376 on base percentage against.

In the 19 games against winning teams that St Louis played last month, the bullpen vulnerability was even more pronounced.  In their 72.2 innings against the Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers, Braves, Brewers and Cubs, St Louis relievers gave 61 runs (49 earned) on 88 hits (including 12 home runs) and 53 walks.  Their 6.07 ERA in those contests was accompanied by a .299/.403/.510 batting line against – a cool .913 OPS.

The bullpen was a concern going into last off-season.  It will be again.

Austin Gomber

Austin Gomber’s trajectory – and season’s end, for that matter – closely mirror that of Flaherty.  Another of the August revelations, Gomber served up 4 runs of his own in two relief innings in the finale.  His damage included allowing his fourth home run in his last 10.2 innings.  Austin ended September with a 9.15 ERA in 19.2 innings that included a batting line against of .356/.408/.578.

TylerWebb

The season’s last two runs allowed were charged to Tyler Webb.  They were both unearned.  All of the last 5 runs that Tyler allowed this year were unearned.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson did finally get the last out of the sixth inning – but not until after he had allowed both inherited runs to score.  Ten of the last 13 runners that Hudson (a starter in the minors) has inherited have scored.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez finished his first season as an April-September (mostly) every-day player with two more hits and a walk.  Martinez came down the stretch with hits in 9 of his last 11 games, getting two hits in six of them.  In those critical games against Atlanta, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Chicago, Jose hit .357 (15 for 42).

Martinez is another interesting decision that the front office will have to make this offseason.  He is no spring chicken (Jose is 30), his power is good but not great (he hit 17 home runs), and he is a shaky defender – although much better in the outfield than at first base.  There is talk of moving him to an American League team where he can DH, but he doesn’t hit for enough power to truly profile as the DH type.

That would also leave right field open, so the Cards would open the season with either Tyler O’Neill, Dexter Fowler, or some combination of both in right.  Unless, of course, they could sign Bryce Harper – something I would have to see to believe.

One thing to keep in mind with Jose.  He led the team in batting average after the All-Star break, as he hit 318 (69 for 217).  He hit .333 after the break last year (49 for 147) which would have led the team if he had gotten a regular’s at bats.

Moreover, he hit .344 (52 of 151) in his 46 second half games against winning teams.  At this point, I’m not convinced that the Cards are a better team without him.

Paul DeJong

Wading through a difficult season, Paul DeJong did, at least, end on a high note.  With his two hits in the finale, Paul ended his season with hits in 4 straight games, and in 12 of his last 13.  For the streak, he hit .302 (16 for 53) with 6 doubles and a couple of home runs.  He drove in 11 runs and slugged .528 over those last 13 games.

Patrick Wisdom

A little too old, perhaps, to be considered a true prospect, Patrick Wisdom (now 27) turned some heads with his bat over the last few weeks of the season.  Whether he has an organizational fit or not makes for a good question, but he certainly took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves.  With his two hits yesterday, Wisdom finished 7 of his last 18 (.389). 

Also intriguing about Wisdom is that his production went up against the better teams.  It’s a decidedly small sample size, but in his 24 games against winning teams, Wisdom hit .323 (10 of 31) with a double and 3 home runs.  He drove in 8 runs in those 31 at bats and slugged .645 against the league’s better teams.

Wisdom is yet another intriguing piece of the Cardinal future.  That last week of the season confirmed that the future isn’t quite now for this team.  But August wasn’t a complete mirage.

The future here is soon.

NoteBook

From the point where they removed the “interim” label from Shildt’s job title, St Louis went 15-16.

Wither Jose Martinez

It was the bottom of first inning of last night’s game – still scoreless.  Matt Carpenter had reached on an infield hit, and had advanced himself to third on a wild pitch and a groundout.  Now Jose Martinez was up.  Pittsburgh starter Ivan Nova buried a fastball down and in – well off the plate.  It’s the kind of pitch that a pitcher hopes the batter will swing at.  The kind of pitch that will usually tie up a batter, resulting in weak contact – if, indeed, the batter even makes contact.

In that regard, I suppose you could say that Nova got his wish.  Jose did swing at the pitch.  The result, though, was somewhat less than Ivan might have hoped for, as Martinez sent the pitch soaring into the Pirate bullpen just beyond the left-field wall.  Up quickly 2-0, the Cardinals were on their way to a 5-2 victory (box score).  The win was their fourth in a row, their twentieth in 25 August games, their twenty-third in the last 30 games, and their twenty-sixth in 38 second half games.

The Cardinals are playing hot baseball – with no one hotter than Jose Martinez.

With two more hits last night, Martinez has now hit safely in 15 of his last 17 games, and it hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak.

Jose is hitting .400 (26 for 65) in those games, getting multiple hits in 8 of them.  The hits include 4 doubles and 3 home runs.  He has driven in 12 runs over his last 17 games, while slugging .600.

This hot streak has carried him to the top of the team’s batting chart for the month – and for the second half.  Martinez is now hitting .372 (32 for 86) in August and .342 (39 for 114) since the All-Star Break.

What a lucky thing he is still in the lineup.

Back in the beginning, the plan was that Jose would be the everyday first baseman.  While his offense was pretty much all that they had hoped for (Jose is hitting .309 overall on the season), his defense – and, remember, Martinez was learning to play first at the major league level – was untenable.

This put then-manager Mike Matheny in quite a bind.  One of his most potent offensive players couldn’t play his position.  Being a National League team, Matheny didn’t have a designated hitter option available (at least not on a regular basis), so Jose spent some games coming off the bench and sometimes working into right-field in place of the struggling Dexter Fowler.

This led to consistent chatter regarding a trade of Martinez to an American League team.  This picked up steam after Mike Shildt replaced Matheny as manager.  Although Fowler was scuffling along with a batting average in the .170s, Shildt committed the team to giving him everyday at bats as the right fielder.  This worked out about as well as it had all season.  Fowler played in all of the first 17 games of the Shildt regime – starting 15.  Dexter hit .204 in those games, and the team went 9-8.

Fowler might still be in right field, except that his seventeenth game under Shildt would be his last for awhile – he was sidelined after breaking his foot.  It opened an outfield spot for Jose, who hasn’t stopped hitting since.  And the team hasn’t stopped winning.

The future is still a little murky for one of the Cardinals’ driving offensive forces.  At some point – probably before the 2019 season starts – a decision is going to have to be made about the future of Fowler.  In Dexter’s defense, his career suggests that he is a much better player than he has shown this year.  Furthermore, I always remind people that at the end of last year – in those important September games – Fowler was one of the few Cardinals still getting big hits in high-leverage situations.

Still, the thought of St Louis parting ways with Martinez (whose outfield defense is more than passable) in favor of Fowler doesn’t sit terribly well with me.

With his first-inning home run, Jose drove in Carpenter who had reached third with less than two outs.  Martinez has now delivered that runner (runner on third with less than two outs) in 4 of 5 opportunities this month, in 6 of 8 such chances in the second half, and, now, 63% of the time this year (15 of 24).

Jose did strikeout last night – his seventy-fifth strikeout of the season.  Of course, he went down swinging.  Martinez has only taken a called third strike 12 times this season.  With just 16% of his strikeouts being called third strikes, Martinez has the lowest such percentage of any Cardinal with at least 100 plate appearances.

Of the seven swings he took last night, that strikeout was his only miss.  For a guy whose swing is quite healthy – and produces notable power – Martinez rarely swings and misses.  While the entire team is missing on 22.3% of their swings this month, Martinez is missing on just 16.5%.  For the season, the team as a whole is missing on 23.7% of their swings, while Jose misses just 18.8% of the time.

Jose was the only Cardinal hitter last night that didn’t take at least one called strike during the course of the game.

More Good Offense

A battling overall offense, that ended the game fouling off 30 pitches and forcing 152 pitches (4.11 per plate appearance) from the Pirate staff ended up with 5 more runs on 10 hits.  They have now scored at least 5 runs in 16 of their 25 games this month – averaging 5.24 runs per game – while hitting .275 as a team in August.

Matt Carpenter

On the heels of his 4 double game in Colorado, Matt Carpenter added two more hits last night.  Carpenter is hitting .299 (43 for 144) in the second half.

When Matt came to the plate in the third after Jack Flaherty led off the inning with a single, it was the seventy-fifth time this season that Carpenter was up in a double play situation.  He has yet to ground into one – Carpenter lined out to center.

As always, Matt is very discriminating in the batter’s box.  Of the 24 pitches he saw last night, he took 10 of them for balls.  So far this month, 42.9% of the pitches thrown to Carpenter have been taken for balls.  His season percentage of 41.7% balls leads all Cardinal regulars.  Fowler is next at 40.4%.

This patience allows Carpenter to see more pitches than any other Cardinal.  With 24 pitches in 5 plate appearances last night, Matt is up to a team-leading 4.21 per plate appearance.  Young Harrison Bader is actually right behind at 4.20.

Paul DeJong

Amid the team’s offensive resurgence, Paul DeJong is still stuck in neutral.  He went hitless in three at bats last night – with two strikeouts.  Over his last 7 games, Paul is just 3 for 27 (.111) with 15 strikeouts.  In the season’s second half, DeJong is hitting just .196 (27 for 138).

Along with the decrease in his average, Paul has experienced an increase in his foul balls.  He fouled the ball off on 3 of his 6 swings last night.  Throughout the season’s first half, DeJong only hit foul balls with 32.9% of his swings.  Since the break, 43.0% of his swings have resulted in fouls.

The obvious tangent to this is fewer balls hit into play.  From his 6 swings last night, DeJong only managed 1 ball put into play.  Over the last 30 games, Paul is getting the ball into play with only 31.4% of his swings.

His recent struggles seem to be more of a timing issue.

While it is commonly thought that Matt Carpenter is the Cardinal least likely to swing at the first pitch of an at bat, that is actually no longer true.  Paul DeJong has taken that title from him.  Paul took all four first pitches thrown to him last night, and for the season is swinging at that pitch only 15.6% of the time.  Carpenter swings at the first pitch 18% of the time.  Perhaps this is too much passivity, as 3 of those 4 first pitches he took last night were strikes.

If tentative to swing at the first pitch, Paul shows little inhibition toward swinging at the last pitch.  On both of his strikeouts, he went down swinging.

Over the last 30 team games, Paul has struck out 34 times – 28 of them swinging.  Previous to that, 19 of his first 60 strikeouts (31.7%) had come on called third strikes.

Jack Flaherty

With each start, Jack Flaherty solidifies his place in this rotation now and for years to come.  With 7 terrific innings last night – during which he allowed just 1 run on 4 hits (3 singles and a double) and no walks, Jack wrapped up a dominating month. 

Entering the month not having thrown a quality start in any of his previous 7 starts – during which he lasted as many as 6 innings only once – Jack exploded through August.  He tossed 5 consecutive quality starts, finishing 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA over 32 innings.  He allowed only 14 hits in those innings, and only 5 of those for extra-bases (2 home runs and 3 doubles).  His batting average against for the month was a microscopic .136 and his slugging percentage against just .223.

Not too many pitchers of any age and experience cobbled together a better month than that.

As part of this new-found dominance, opposing teams have lost the ability to create complicated innings against Jack.  Through the season’s first four months, Jack pitched to 4.13 batters per inning.  After facing just 23 batters in his seven innings last night, Flaherty finished the month facing just 3.56 batters per inning.  No one else in the rotation faced fewer than Miles Mikolas’ 4.07 batters per inning.

Jack has also enjoyed enviable run support recently.  His 5 runs of support last night reduced his second-half average to just 6.27 runs per 9 innings.

Rotation Still Flying High

With the outing, Flaherty sustained the recent run of excellent starting pitching.  The rotation’s August ERA is now down to 2.79, and since the break, opposing hitters are batting just .237 in over 200 innings against the Cardinal starters.

Overall, the team ERA for the month is an enviable 2.80, with a .227 batting average against.

Control Issues from the Pen

So solid for most of the month, the bullpen flinched a little last night, allowing a run in a complicated eighth.  As per usual, when the bullpen leaks a bit there are control issues behind it.  Last night, Cardinal relievers walked 2 and hit another batter in just two innings.  In 83.1 innings this month, Cardinal relievers have walked 43 batters.  Even though 2 of those walks were intentional, that still makes 4.43 unintentional walks for every 9 innings.

There are an awful lot of very young relievers out there, so this might just take some time.

On the other hand, while the bullpen has allowed walks, extra-base hits have been exceedingly rare against this group.  After allowing none last night, the Cardinal bullpen has been touched for just 5 home runs and 12 doubles over their 83.1 August innings – a .299 slugging percentage.

Jordan Hicks

In the middle of the one ugly inning the bullpen endured last night was outstanding rookie Jordan Hicks.  Throwing his sixty-sixth inning of the year already (at this pace the 22-year-old will pitch 81 innings this year) Jordan gave the run on 2 hits and 2 walks, leaving a 2-on, 2-out situation to Dakota Hudson.  Over his last 5 appearances, Jordan has made it through just 4.2 innings, walking 7 and giving 7 hits.

The walks have been a recurring issue with Jordan, but the hits are unusual.  The last 27 batters he has faced are hitting .350 against him, with a .519 on base percentage.  He has thrown 111 pitches over those 4.2 innings – with only 57% of them going for strikes.  After throwing just 6 strikes last night, Hicks is down to 59.2% strikes for the second half.

The workload for Jordan may be a concern.

As the season reaches August, Jordan’s innings are becoming increasingly complicated.  Through his first 54.2 innings this year, he faced an average of 4.19 batters per inning – not bad considering he has always had a propensity for walks.  In his 11.1 August innings, he is facing a very high 4.85 batters per inning.  His pitches per inning have also risen from 15.2 throughout the season’s first 4 months to 18.79 in August.  His two-thirds of an inning last night cost him 15 pitches.

Still, for all of this, Hicks almost never gives up an extra base hit.  He has allowed just 7 all season, and none since serving up a triple to the White Sox’ Yoan Moncada back on July 11 – 95 batters ago.

Always a predominant ground-ball pitcher, Jordan got groundball from all 3 batters who put the ball in play against him.  In the season’s second half, he gets that groundball 64.8% of the time.

Dakota Hudson

Presented with a dangerous situation in the eighth, Hudson diffused the inning, getting Adam Frazier to ground out to end it.  Over his brief 14.2 inning career, the first 60 batters to face him are hitting just .173 and slugging only .212.  He has allowed just 2 doubles to those batters.

Dakota has also been a little bit of a good-luck charm for the offense.  When they scored in the bottom of the eighth for him, it was Hudson’s ninth support run in 12.2 innings this month – one reason why the rookie already has 4 relief wins.

Hudson may be the only pitcher on the staff more ground oriented than Hicks.  After getting Frazier to ground out, Dakota is getting 72.5% of the batters who have hit the ball against him this month to hit it on the ground.

That ground ball came on Hudson’s fourth and final pitch.  One thing about groundball pitchers – they keep their pitch count low.  In spite of the fact that he walks a few batters, too, Hudson is throwing just 14.45 pitches per inning.  Since he got here, that is the lowest figure on the staff.

Bud Norris

Continuing to get the job done, Bud Norris closed things out in the ninth for his sixth consecutive save. 

Good all year, Norris may be in the midst of his best stretch of the season.  He is unscored on over his last 6 games (6 IP), allowing just 2 hits and 1 walk.  Over his last 15 games (13.2 IP), Bud has saved 10 of 11 with a 1.32 ERA, a .170 batting average against, and a .191 slugging percentage against.  This has reduced his second-half ERA to 2.35.

NoteBook

In search of their tenth straight series victory, St Louis has won the opening game of their sixth consecutive series.  That’s a good first step.

Efficient Gant Quiets the Fish

A .500 team after 102 games, the staid St Louis Cardinals made a fairly stunning reversal of direction.  Instead of handing out many of their most prized prospects at the trading deadline in search of that lusted-for impact bat, the Cardinals decided to trust their highly-regarded system.  They cleared away a few veteran arms and bats, and infused the clubhouse with fresh young arms and bats.

The early returns on this decision have been encouraging.  With last night’s 7-1 victory in Miami (box score), the Cards have won four consecutive series for the first time this season, going 9-4 over those 13 games.

Compared to the many high-ceiling arms boasted throughout the Cardinal system, last night’s starter John Gant gets little recognition.  But John has held his own.  He has been particularly hard to hit – especially since he has settled into a mostly starting routine.  Seven of his last 9 appearances have been starts, during which opposing batters have hit just .201 (Miami had only 2 hits in 6 innings against Gant last night).  In that regard, his start was reminiscent of many of the efforts of the rotation in July, when they held opposing hitters to a .225 average.

Moreover – especially lately – John has been stingy with walks.  He walked only one last night, and over his last 3 starts has walked just 4 in 14.1 innings (2.51 walks per nine innings).

If anything could be better pitching-wise than allowing only two singles and one walk through six innings, Gant gave insight into the kind of pitcher he is evolving into as he needed only 63 pitches to navigate past 21 batters. Of those 21 batters, only Justin Bour – who led off the second drawing a six-pitch walk – extended his plate appearance past five pitches.

Over his last 3 starts, John has faced 60 batters.  Only 5 have seen more than five pitches during their plate appearances.  That is about as efficient as it gets.

The Bullpen

While the recent surge has shown the rotation, perhaps, turning a corner (they now have 4 consecutive quality starts), the heroes of the uprising have been the denizens of the bullpen.  Shredded and left for dead after a July that showed them compile a 5.98 ERA and a .306 batting average against, the Cardinal bullpen held the Marlins at bay last night until the offense could provide some late breathing room.

Their combined line last night showed 1 hit allowed over 3 walk-less, scoreless innings.  The pen has now thrown 47 innings over the last 13 games, with a 1.34 ERA and a .170 batting average against to show for their efforts.

Dakota Hudson

Speaking of efficient pitching, not-quite-24-year-old rookie Dakota Hudson pitched for the first time in the major leagues – and probably for the first time anywhere – on back-to-back days.  He pitched 1.2 innings last night after throwing a scoreless inning on Tuesday.  He needed 8 pitches to work to 4 batters on Tuesday, and just 18 pitches to face 5 more last night.

To this point, the rookie who had owned the PCL has been as advertised.  Through his first 6 major league appearances, he has worked 8.2 innings allowing no runs, two singles, and one walk.  He has already earned 2 wins and 3 holds.

Fourteen of the first 29 batters (48.3%) Dakota has faced in the major leagues have hit one of his first two pitches.  They are 0 for 14.  Over the course of the whole year, opposing batters are hitting .318 against the Cards when they hit either of the first two pitches thrown.

Mike Mayers

Mike Mayers closed out the relatively easy win with a scoreless ninth.  Mayers has had some hiccups along the way, but his season has been pretty solid – and over his last seven outings he has looked increasingly worthy of his late-inning opportunities.

During his last 7, he has allowed just 1 run over 6 innings while striking out 7 – an ability he didn’t show much of early.  In 9 games and 10 innings since the All-Star Break, Mike has a 2.70 ERA.

Some Late Inning Runs

It was also a little relieving to see the four late runs that padded the lead.  The offense that had averaged 5.04 runs per game in July had been little seen through early August.  The Birds were averaging just 4.14 runs per game through the first 7 games this month – scoring just 6 over the previous three games.  With the outburst, they are back up to 4.71 runs per game through the first 21 games of the season’s second half (they are 12-9 in those games).

Second Half Yadi

In recent years – and in spite of a surprisingly heavy workload – Yadier Molina has seen a hitting resurgence after the All-Star Break.  He was 2-for-4 last night (a double and a home run), and is now hitting .314 (27 for 86) since the break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong was starting to heat up pretty good before he went on the disabled list.  He has returned from that list in top form.  With his 2 hits last night, Kolten is 7 for 17 (.412) since his return.

In the seventh inning, Kolten slapped Jarlin Garcia’s 1-0 pitch into center for a single.  In July, Wong was 9 for 16 (.563) when he hit the first or second pitch of an at bat.  For the season, if his at bat is two pitches or less, Wong is a .400 hitter (26 for 65).

NoteBook

The Cards are now only 6-8 in rubber games, but 5-4 when those rubber games are on the road.