Tag Archives: Hudson

Cardinal Righty Sends Messages and Zeros to Brewers

The first tense moment of a fairly interesting series between the Cards and the Brewers came in the top of the very first inning.  Cardinal starter Dakota Hudson had retired the first two batters to bring up Christian Yelich.  Mr. Yelich – as you might remember – was quite the trouble-maker when these two teams bumped into each other ten times in the early weeks of the season.

Now, with Hudson falling behind in the count, 2-1, the next four pitches of the game would send a series of clear messages to the visiting Brewers.

Behind in the count, Dakota threw his change-up.  The message sent: even behind in the count, these Milwaukee mashers shouldn’t expect to get fastballs.  The change dropped low, bringing the count on one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters to 3-1.

Three batters into the game, and Hudson had gone to his first three-ball count.  It would not be the last time.  Hudson would face 24 Brewers on the evening.  He would pitch behind in the count to half of them – and 10 of the 24 would work their way into three-ball counts.

Behind, now, 3-1, Dakota still didn’t bring the heat.  Yelich got a perfect 3-1 curve that dropped in for a strike.  That pitch sent two early messages.  First was that Dakota Hudson can throw that curveball for a strike at any point (both strikes in the at bat, so far, had come on curves).  The second message was that Mr. Hudson would not be caving in.  He was clearly more concerned about serving up home runs than he was the occasional walk.

On 3-2, Christian did get that fastball – that very heavy, sinking 96 mph fastball.  Throughout the bulk of the evening, Dakota would pound the low strike zone with this pitch, but this one was elevated and inviting.  Yelich took his best hack, but could only foul it off.

The seventh pitch of the at bat was the only slider that Dakota threw him this time up – and he bounced it in the dirt – ball four.  These would also be trends.  The Milwaukee at bats against Hudson would be long and grinding enough that he would walk four Brewers and expend 111 pitches to work his way through the 24 batters.

On the surface it would seem a near-perfect scenario for the Brewers.  Grinding at bats that would result in a lot of walks and eventually some damaging shots.

But the damage never came.

Stubbornly and relentlessly pounding the low strike zone, mixing his pitches fearlessly, and killing a lot of worms, Dakota Hudson stayed a step ahead of the Brewers all evening.  When he had thrown his last pitch to the last of those 24 batters, Dakota had given 4 walks and struck out 7 others.  Of the other 13, 9 hit the ball on the ground, and only 4 batters got the ball into the air.

And none of them managed a hit.  When manager Mike Shildt came to get Hudson, with a runner at first and two outs in the seventh inning, there were only zeroes showing across the board for Milwaukee.

If there was to be a no-hitter tonight (and no Cardinal pitcher has thrown a no hitter since about a week before 9/11) the bullpen would have to finish it off.  That didn’t happen, although they did come close as St Louis took game one of the series against their division rivals, 3-0 (box score), allowing just one hit.

At one point earlier this season, Dakota Hudson tossed 8 consecutive quality starts.  In those 50.2 innings, Hudson allowed just 1 home run and pitched to a 2.49 ERA while getting 62% of hitters to hit the ball on the ground.

Over his next 8 starts, though, Dakota began to get away from that.  Hitters started taking that sinker, trying to get him to elevate it.  Over his next 35.2 innings, Hudson served 9 home runs and allowed a batting line of .319/.415/.582 to go along with a 5.55 ERA.  Most telling, only 47% of the batters hit the ball on the ground.

Over his last two starts, the ground ball has come back (67%), and with it a 0.00 ERA over his last 12.2 innings.  And last night, a near no-hitter.

Giovanny Gallegos

Right-hander Giovanny Gallegos would eventually give up the hit.  A fairly soft fly ball off the bat of Yasmani Grandal dropped just fair down the right-field line in the eighth.  Gallegos would give nothing else over his inning.  Gio thus continues a remarkable second half that has seen him work 17.2 innings over 14 games allowing just 1 run on 6 hits (4 singles and 2 doubles).  He holds a 0.51 ERA over those innings.

Giovanny had Grandal backed up in the count 1-2.  The hit that ended the no-hit bid was the only hit (in 13 at bats) off Gallegos this month when he has been ahead in the count, and just the second in 27 such at bats in the second half.

Offense Still Off its Feed

Overlooked due to the outstanding pitching was another uninspiring offensive effort.  The Cards finished with 3 runs on 5 hits.  The runs scored on a groundout, a flared single into left, and a towering home run off the bat of Paul DeJong.

Over their last 20 games, the Cards are scoring 3.6 runs per game, with a .241/.301/.380 batting line.

NoteBook

Andrew Miller finished up last night’s game – his fifty-sixth game of the season.  Already appearing in more games than his injury-plagued 2018 season (37), Andrew is one appearance behind the 57 games he pitched for Cleveland in 2017.

His intentional walk of Christian Yelich was Andrew’s twenty-first walk of the season.  That is his most in any season since he became a full-time reliever in 2012.

Dexter Fowler is now up to 113 games played and 353 at bats this season.  In his two previous seasons in St Louis, he played in only 118 and 90 games, getting just 420 and 289 at bats respectively.

His RBI single was his eighty-eighth hit of the season.  His first season in St Louis he finished with 111 hits.

With his two strikeouts last night, Fowler has now gone down on strikes 102 times this season – his most as a Cardinal and the most since his 124 strikeout season with the Cubs in 2016.

When Kolten Wong played 127 games last year, it represented the second highest total of his major league career (he had played 150 in 2015).  Last night was his 121st game of this year.

The run he scored last night was Wong’s forty-fifth of the season.  He scored just 41 times all last season.  The 55 runs he scored in 2017 are the second most of his career – second to the 71 he scored in 2015.

Kolten was also plunked by a pitch for the twelfth time this season – the third consecutive season he has been hit by at least 12 pitches.  He was plunked 14 times last year.

With the shutout, the team ERA dips back below 4.00 (to 3.98).

When in Doubt, Shut Them Out

Dakota Hudson has been with the team the entire year, so he’s seen everything that’s gone on.  He’s watched as the team has lost 34.6% of their quality starts (which would be the highest percentage this century if it holds).  He had seen the team score fewer than 4 runs in 7 of the month’s first 10 games (including the night before).  He watched them lose to last night’s starter, Brad Keller, 8-2 back in May.  And he knew that in his last three starts his offense backed him with a total of two runs.

So, as he watched from the dugout last night, I don’t think he could truly be shocked to watch Keller baffle his offense for six hitless innings.  But through a season of offensive adversity, Dakota Hudson arrived at a game plan.

When in doubt, shut them out.

It’s certainly simplistic logic.  If you don’t give up a run, you can’t lose the game.  And, of course, it’s a difficult standard to maintain.  But it’s an approach that’s become something of an imperative among Cardinal starters, as the offense is frequently slow to get untracked.

Across the entire season, St Louis is batting just .225 with a .693 OPS while the score of their game is tied.  Since the All-Star break that number is even worse – a .220 batting average and a .652 OPS.  In August, while the games are tied, Cardinal hitters are flexing their muscles to the tune of a .218 batting average and a .624 OPS.

And then, last night, six innings of zeros until they finally broke through (box score).

Meanwhile, while the no-hit spotlight settled on the Kansas City starter, Mr. Hudson quietly went about his business of shutting out Kansas City and waiting.

While simplistic, this was an element of Hudson’s game that was distinctly missing coming into the second half of the season.  In his first four second half starts, while pitching in tied ballgames, Dakota was slapped around a good bit – the 19 batters that faced him in that situation stung Dakota to the tune of a .389/.421/.944.  In those 4 starts, Dakota was able to hold the game even for only a total of 3.2 innings.  He just never gave his slow starting offense a chance to get into the game.

Over his last three starts, while the batting line against him with the score tied has only marginally improved (.306/.381/.417), he has managed to keep the games tied for 9.2 innings – highlighted, of course, by the six zeros that he matched Keller with last night.

Over his last two starts, Dakota has faced 40 batters – only two of them with a lead.  A one-run lead.

Jack Flaherty has gotten the memo.  He threw 7 shutout innings the night before to get his win.  Hopefully the rest of the rotation has figured this out as well.

When in doubt, shut them out.

Pitching Resurgence

With the back-to-back shutouts, the Cards pitching staff has started looking like the staff they thought they would be.  Over the last 7 games (or since the last time they used a fifth starter), the Cards hold a 2.34 team ERA with a .220 batting average against.

Tyler Webb

As if surprises like John Gant, John Brebbia and Giovanny Gallegos weren’t enough for one bullpen, Tyler Webb has been nearly untouchable since his most recent recall.  Over his last 10.2 innings, Webb has allowed 1 run on 3 hits, walking 1 while striking out 12.  The batting line against him from the last 35 batters he has faced is an impressive .088/.114/.176.

For all of this, Mike Shildt still isn’t anxious to use Tyler in critical situations.  Since his return, 48.6% of the batters he’s faced have come in games that were more than three runs either way.

Tommy Edman

After a little tailspin, Tommy Edman’s bat has revived.  Hitless in five at bats last night, Tommy saw a five-game hitting streak end.  He was 9 for 21 (.429) during the streak.

NoteBook

After playing in only 118 and 90 games his first two seasons in St Louis, Dexter Fowler played in his 108th game of the year last night.  Dexter hasn’t crossed the 140-game threshold in any season since he played in 156 games with the Cubs in 2015.

Dexter is also up to 335 at bats on the season after finishing with 420 and 289 his first two years here.

Of course, with the increase in games and at bats comes an increase in strikeouts.  He whiffed for the ninety-fifth time this season.  He had 101 and 75 strikeouts his first two seasons.

Just four series ago, the Cardinal pitchers held the Cubs to just 3 runs over 3 games.  That had been the fewest runs St Louis had allowed in any series so far this year.

Now, of course, they have given up 0 in the just concluded series.  Yes, it was just the Royals, and yes, it was just two games, but they still leave KC allowing no runs during the series.  The only other time this has happened for the Cards in this century was July 21-22, 2004.  In two home games against Milwaukee, they won 1-0 and 4-0.  The starting pitchers in those games were Woody Williams and Jason Marquis.

When no one is hitting or scoring, the games do tend to fly by faster.  With last night’s game taking just 2:38 on the clock, the two games against the Royals averaged just 2:46 per game – the fastest series of the year by average time (yes, I know it was just two games).  The previous fastest series (and still the fastest three-game series) occurred April 26-28 at home against Cincinnati.  Those games averaged 2:46.7.

The Cards have now swept the last two series.  Of their 39 series so far this season, the Cards have gone into the last game 10 times in a position to sweep.  They have now finished off that sweep 7 times.  They have had 5 sweep opportunities both at home and on the road.  They have finished off 4 of the 5 at home, and now 3 of the 5 on the road.

Athletics Sweep Cards Behind Roark’s First Start

What to make of Tanner Roark?

The St Louis Cardinals took the field in Oakland Sunday afternoon needing a win to split the series.  On the mound was Roark, making his first start for the Athletics.

While new, perhaps, to the American League, Roark is no stranger to the Cardinals.  He has pitched most of his career in Washington, and became a member of the Cincinnati team in the offseason.  Lifetime against the Cards – even after last night’s game – Tanner is 3-3 with a 5.01 ERA.

But, as a member of the Reds he pitched two very solid games against the birds.  On April 13 he threw 5.1 innings, allowing 1 run on 6 scattered hits.  On July 18, he gave the Reds 5 more solid innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits.  In both of those games, there was a common element.  For some reason, the Cards couldn’t put his first strike into play.

Hitting the first strike thrown to you is one of the most productive activities that hitters can engage in.  Across all the major leagues this season (according to baseball reference), batters who put that first strike in play are hitting .353 with a .639 slugging percentage.

But you have to put the pitch in play.

In his two starts against them with the Reds, the 44 Cardinal batsmen offered at Tanner’s first strike 23 times (a healthy 52.3% of the time).  They put the pitch in play twice.  Both by pitchers.

Adam Wainwright bounced an RBI single through the left side in the April game, and in the July game, Dakota Hudson popped up a bunt attempt.  Everyone else either missed the pitch or fouled it off.

Yesterday afternoon’s contest followed the general same pattern.  Thirteen of the 22 batters that Tanner faced offered at that first strike.  Two put the pitch into play.  Andrew Knizner slapped a single up the middle in the fourth on the first pitch of his at bat, and Marcell Ozuna grounded a 1-0 pitch to short to end the fifth (Tanner’s final frame).

Roark finished with five more innings completed against the Cards allowing 1 run on 4 hits and the 4-2 win (box score).

Whether it’s Tanner or whether the Cards are just off kilter is a question worth asking.  For the series, only 8 of 74 Cardinal batsmen managed to put the first strike in play.  Of the 8, Knizner’s single was the only safe hit, and only one other first strike was hit notably well.  Tommy Edman ended the fourth inning of the Saturday game by lining into a double play.

Whether the Oakland pitching or a general slump among the Cardinals – or some combination of both – the Oakland series was not St Louis’ finest hour.  They hit .194 in the two games (13 for 67).  Over the last 7 games (5 of them Cardinal losses), St Louis is hitting .246 and scoring 2.71 runs per game.

And, meanwhile, they have tumbled to a game-and-a-half behind the Cubs in the division.

PaulDeJong

While there was not much good news in Oakland, the best could be the revival of Paul DeJong.  Contributing very little since mid-April, DeJong was 3 for 8 against the A’s, including a home run.  Over his last 3 games, Paul is 6 for 12.  His return to form can’t happen fast enough.

JoseMartinez

Unable to build on his recent seven-game hitting streak, Jose Martinez finished the Oakland series 1 for 8.  His has been one of the missing bats over the last seven games.  Martinez is 6 for 27 (.222) in those games, with only one extra-base hit – a double that raises his slugging percentage to .259 over those games.  Traditionally a second-half hitter, Jose is hitting just .217 (13 for 60) since the break.

TommyEdman

Promoted early in June, Tommy Edman quickly became a fan favorite (and apparently a favorite with management as well).

But after his quick start, Tommy has been tail-spinning lately.  After a 1 for 9 series, Edman is only 2 for 18 over his last 4 games.  Since the All-Star break, Tommy has had 84 plate appearances.  He has 13 singles, 4 doubles, 1 home run and 4 walks to show for them.  His batting line for the second half so far is .225/.262/.313.

Tommy hit the first strike thrown to him twice in Oakland – going 0 for 2.  He is 0 for his last 8 when he hits that first strike

YairoMunoz

Yairo Munuz was the other player (along with Edman) that made Jedd Gyorko expendable.  And, of course, like Edman, he also immediately fell into a slump.  Hitless in 3 at bats on Saturday, Yairo is 2 for his last 17 (.118), and hitting .226 (12 for 53) with just 3 walks since the break.

DexterFowler

Playing in both games, Dexter Fowler was hitless in the series (0-for-5) and now hitless in his last 10 at bats.  His average is now down to .239 for the season, as he is just 1 for 17 (.059) over his last 5 games.  Dex is hitting .188 (13 for 69) since the break.

Hitting with two strikes on you is always a challenge, but Fowler – after going 0-for-3 with two strikes on him in the Oakland series – is just 2 for 40 (.050) with 23 strikeouts when he has fallen into two strike counts since the break.

DakotaHudson

It is getting increasingly difficult to remember the Dakota Hudson that pitched 8 consecutive quality starts at one point in the season.  Dakota was the Saturday starter (an 8-3 loss) and lasted just 3.2 innings.  Since the last of those quality starts, Dakota has made 7 starts, with only 2 quality starts and a 5.68 ERA over 31.2 innings.

He has faced 155 batters in those games, allowing 23 singles, 7 doubles, 9 home runs, 1 sacrifice bunt, 2 sacrifice flies, walking 20 and hitting 5 others.  It adds up to a 307/.416/.575 batting line.  Once an elite groundball pitcher, Dakota has gotten only 46% ground balls his last seven times out.

Hudson and Wainwright both had trouble finishing when they had batters in two-strike counts.  Dakota got to strike two on 14 of the 21 he faced, but walked 4 of those.  Three of the four runs that scored against him reached base after they had two strikes on them.

Since the All-Star break, Hudson has gone to two strikes on 55 batters.  They have 8 hits and 9 walks – a .315 on base percentage.  Across all of baseball, batters with two strikes on them reach base at a .248 clip.

For his part, Wainwright went two strikes on 15 batters.  Only one hit safely, but two others walked and there were those two critical two-strike hit-by-pitches that set up most of the damage.  Two of the three runs he gave up reached base after they had two strikes on them.

NoteBook

The home run allowed by Adam Wainwright was his fourteenth of the season.  He only served up 5 in his injury shortened 2018 season, but also allowed only 14 in 123.1 innings the year before.  The next home run he allows will give him the most home runs against since he allowed a career high 22 in 2016.

Along with the 2 hit batsmen, Adam also walked 3.  He has now walked 47 this year, more than the 18 from last year and the 45 from 2017.  Adam hasn’t walked as many as 60 batters in a season since he walked 66 in 2009.

On the other hand, with his 7 strikeouts, Waino is up to 110 for the season, already his most since striking out 161 in 2016.  He collected 40 last year, and 96 the year before.

The Jurickson Profar home run, by the way, was the 140th hit against the Cards this year.  They allowed 144 all of last season.

The sweep was the first suffered by the Cards since the last time they faced Oakland.  They scored just 5 runs in this two game series.  They scored only 3 runs in the two games they played against Oakland in St Louis (June 25-26).

Facing a sweep 11 times already this season, this was the fifth time in 2019 the Cardinals have submitted.

Now 27-29 away from home, St Louis is 7-10-1 in road series.

Still Comes Back to Pitching

The way that the Cardinal’s hot streak came to a thudding halt against Houston at home this weekend should serve as a reminder of some fundamental principles.  The first of these principles affirms that it is the depth of the lineup – not necessarily whatever impact bats might be in the middle of it – that determines your offensive performance.

Toward the end of the Cardinal hot streak (and most recently here), the mlb.com game accounts have connected the St Louis surge to Paul Goldschmidt’s recent heroics.

It is no surprise that sports’ journalists should – like the fans – gravitate towards the achievements of the game’s superstars.  Sunday’s loss brought to an end a six-game home run streak from Goldschmidt (although not his hitting streak – more on that below).  This is a significant achievement.  There are precious few mortals anywhere on this planet who are capable of doing things like this.

But the structure of baseball minimizes the impact of any one player – even the superstars.  Unlike football (where you can give the ball to your star running back as often as you like) or basketball (where you can funnel the ball to your top scorer every time down the court), in baseball, Goldschmidt has to wait until everyone else has had their at bat before he can hit again.  Thus, the more production you get from the rest of the lineup, the more runs you will score over the course of the game (or season).

This was somewhat dramatically born out in the Cardinal losses in this last series.  Paul homered in the Saturday game, and added a single on Sunday, but St Louis scored just two runs in each game because too few of the rest of the Cardinal hitters were able to contribute.

It feels a little obvious pointing this out, but there are times that I’m not sure that management understands that this is how offense works in baseball.

The other fundamental principle is that everything begins with pitching.  Paul may well have hit two home runs in each of the last two games, and the birds would probably have lost them both anyway as the starting pitchers in those two contests never really gave the team a chance.

In the Friday game (a 5-3 win), starter Jack Flaherty crafted a quality start against this very accomplished Houston lineup – he allowed just 2 runs on 3 hits over 6 innings (he struck out 9).

In the other two games – Saturday’s 8-2 loss and Sunday’s 6-2 defeat – the two starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon and Dakota Hudson) made early exits, leaving with significant deficits.

Combined, Ponce de Leon and Hudson totaled 6.1 innings at the cost of 10 runs on 11 hits (that included a double and 3 home runs), 6 walks and 1 hit batter.  They combined for a 14.21 ERA and a .407/.529/.778 batting line.

Most of the time, this kind of damage will get you into trouble.  On Saturday and Sunday, it was more trouble than the offense could overcome.

Flaherty

While the Astro series represented a step backward for the rotation overall, Flaherty’s performance continued his strong rebound.  After enduring some notable growing pains through much of the first half, Jack began turning things around with his last start before the All-Star break (a 1-0 loss).

Over his last four starts, now, Jack has 3 quality starts.  In his 24.1 innings, he has given just 4 runs on 14 hits while striking out 30.  He has a 1.48 ERA and a .165 batting average against, but still no wins as his offense has supported him with just 4 total runs over that span.

His ERA for the month of July is now down to 2.48 with a .198 batting average against.

The only runs off Jack came on a two-run home run off the bat of Michael Brantley.  The runner (Alex Bregman) was on first with one out – a potential double play opportunity.  This now makes 35 straight double play opportunities that Jack hasn’t gotten the double play on a ground ball.  A fly ball pitcher, Jack has actually gotten 5 ground balls in those situations, but 3 of those grounders found their way through the infield for singles, and the other two resulted in force-outs only.

Flaherty did actually get one double play in all of those opportunities.  Against the Pirates on July 16, Jack struck out Elias Diaz while Kevin Newman was running.  Matt Wieters gunned Newman down to complete the DP.

With their 50 swings at Jack’s offerings, Houston was only able to put the ball in play with 12 of them (24%).  Flaherty has been the most difficult of all Cardinal starters to put the ball in play against.  For the season, only 32.5% of the swings against him end up in play.

Flaherty had – overall – great success against Houston.  That success came at a price, though, as it took him 108 pitches to fight through his six innings (the ‘Stros fouled off 28 pitches against him).  He averaged 4.91 pitches per batter faced.

As is common for strikeout pitchers, Jack throws a lot of pitches per batter.  For the season, his 4.19 pitches per batter faced is the highest among all starters who have been in the rotation all year.

Ponce de Leon

Daniel pitched his way into the rotation with four very impressive spot starts.  He has now relinquished that spot as he hasn’t pitched well since being named the fifth starter.  In his last three starts he has totaled 9 innings pitched, giving 10 runs on 14 hits and 10 walks.  Opponents have a .368 batting average and a .500 on base percentage against him in those outings.

After a strong start, Daniel now has a 4.87 ERA for the month with 11 walks in 20.1 innings.

Hudson

At one point earlier this season, Dakota Hudson had thrown 8 consecutive quality starts – a feat unapproached by anyone in the rotation this year.

But Dakota has been undergoing some growing pains of his own lately.  His last 6 times out, Hudson has been saddled with a 5.46 ERA, a .301 batting average against, and a .593 slugging percentage against.  He has been touched for 9 home runs in his last 28 innings.

Normally an extreme groundball pitcher, only 43 of the last 89 batters to put the ball in play against him have hit the ball on the ground (48%).

John Brebbia

John Brebbia tossed a scoreless inning on Friday and then threw two more on Sunday.  While he has had some ups and downs this season, overall there have been a lot more ups.

In 10 games (14 innings) since his paternity leave, Brebbia has allowed 4 runs on 9 hits, walking 2 while striking out 19.  His July ERA sits at 2.57, with a .180/.226/.240 batting line against.

Of the two hits John allowed, one was an infield hit.  Through the end of June, John had allowed just one infield hit.  He has been scratched for 4 this month.

Over the two games, John faced 3 double play opportunities, and didn’t get the ground ball for any of them.  For the season, Brebbia has been in that double play situation 32 times and has gotten just 1 double play.  He only got ground balls on two other occasions – one resulting in an infield hit, and the other a dribbler back to the mound that advanced the baserunners.

Of the two batters that John struck out on Sunday, one (Carlos Correa) was caught looking at strike three.  Brebbia is getting more called third strikes than usual lately.  Of his first 48 strikeouts this season, only five looked at strike three.  Seven of his last 17 strikeouts have gone down looking.

No Cardinal pitcher who has faced more than 50 batters has had a higher percentage of his pitches swung at than John.  Over the weekend, Houston offered at 21 of his 39 deliveries (53.8%).  For the season, batters swing at his offerings 51.1% of the time.

John Gant

After a brilliant start to his season, John Gant has been regressing rapidly.  He pitched in 2 of the Houston games, and allowed a run in both.  He has been scored on in 5 of his last 12 games.  In a total of 10 innings, the previously almost untouchable Mr Gant has given 9 runs on 16 hits a 9 walks – his 8.10 ERA in those outings accompanied by a .381 batting average and a .490 on base percentage.

Sunday was one of the few times recently that John was brought into a game the Cards were losing, and the four-run deficit they faced was the farthest behind the Cards have been when John has entered a game this season.

In the eighth inning Sunday, Brantley came to the plate with George Springer at third, Jose Altuve at first and no one out. The score was 5-1 Houston.  Brantley drilled a double off the base of the wall in right-center driving in the runner from third.  This was the eleventh time this season that Gant had that runner at third and less than two out.  That runner has now scored 8 times.

Dexter Fowler

With his pinch home run in Sunday’s ninth inning, Dexter Fowler extended his recent hitting streak to six straight games.  Dex is hitting .304 (7 for 23) during the streak, with 4 of the hits going for extra bases (2 doubles and 2 home runs) – a .652 slugging percentage.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill was also one of the bright spots of the Houston series.  Extracting himself from a small slump, O’Neill was 4 for 10 in the 3 games, with 3 walks.  Tyler is still having a very strong July, hitting .312 this month (24 for 77).

Goldschmidt

As mentioned above, Paul’s home run streak ended at six games.  Goldschmidt did, though, get a single on Sunday to push his hitting streak to seven games.  He is 10 for 29 during the streak (.345) with 4 singles to go with the 6 home runs – a .966 slugging percentage.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong had gotten a hit in 8 consecutive games in which he had had a plate appearance until he went 0 for 3 on Saturday.  He started his next streak with a single and a run scored on Sunday.

In the last 10 games in which he has had a plate appearance, Kolten is hitting .371 (13 for 35).  He is up to .344 (22 for 64) for the month.

Paul DeJong

After his big series against Pittsburgh, Paul DeJong finished the Houston series just 1 for 9.  He is still hitting just .225 (18 for 80) in July.

Harrison Bader

Nothing will drop in for Harrison Bader.  Hitless in 5 at bats during the Houston series, Harrison is now 0 for his last 14 at bats.  He is hitting .146 for the month (6 for 41), and is down , now, to .195 on the year.

Yairo Munoz

Not much went Yairo Munoz’ way against Houston, either.  Hitless in 8 at bats in the series, Yairo is now working on an 0-for-10.

Over his last 6 games, Yairo is 4 for 24 (.167), and is now hitting just .233 (14 for 60) for the month.

Final Notes from the Pirate Series

Yairo Munoz got the start in left field on Wednesday, breaking Tyler O’Neill’s streak of 11 consecutive starts in left.   That had been the longest active streak by any Cardinal at a single position.  That mantle now reverts back to Paul DeJong, who – after the conclusion of the Houston series – has made 14 consecutive starts at shortstop.

While Miles Mikolas – the Thursday starter – has pitched notably better since the All-Star break, he is still well on pace to set new career highs (all set last year) in runs, earned runs, hits allowed and walks.  He gave 3 more runs (all earned) on 5 more hits and a walk in his six innings, and has now served up 58 runs (56 earned) on 127 hits and 20 walks for the season.  His career highs were the 70 runs (63 earned), 186 hits and 29 walks he gave last year.  At his current pace, Miles will give up 92 runs (89 earned), 202 hits and 32 walks this season.

With their 6 runs on Thursday, St Louis finished the series with 30 runs scored – the most runs they have scored in any series this year (of course, this was a four-game series).  The previous high was the 26 runs they scored against the Dodgers from April 8-11 (also a four-game series).

NoteBook – Houston Series

Paul Goldschmidt picked up his seventh GWRBI with his Friday home run.  He is 2 behind Marcell Ozuna for the team lead.

When St Louis out-homered Houston 2-1 on Friday, they brought themselves into home run parity for the season for the first time since the twelfth game of the season  (they were actually ahead of the opposition at that point, 19-18).  The Cards ended Friday with 134 home runs hit and 134 home runs allowed.  As recently as game number 90 (on July 13), they were 16 home runs shy of the opposition (109 hit and 125 allowed).

With his 3 at bats on Thursday, Dexter Fowler surpassed the 289 at bats he totaled in his slump-and-injury plagued 2018 season.  Dexter now has 292 at bats for the 2019 season.

Carlos Martinez has started at least 1 game every year of his seven-year career.  On Friday he pitched in his twenty-fifth game of the year – all out of the pen.  He is 8 games pitched away from the 33 he pitched last year, when he was mostly a starter.  Even after missing the first part of the season with injuries, Carlos is still on pace to pitch in 39 games, which would be his most since he pitched in 57 games when he was mostly a reliever in 2014.

But no starts, yet.

Carlos has already set career highs in games finished (17, after finishing 13 in 2014) and saves (he has 10 this season after recording just 7 previously in his entire career).

One thing about Kolten Wong’s season.  He won’t be able to complain that he did have ample opportunity.  Kolten, who has had annual issues staying healthy (and producing enough to stay in the big leagues) played his 103rd game of the season on Sunday.  He played only 127 all last year.  His 10 at bats in the series brought him to 328 for the season.  He totaled 353 all last year.

The consistent playing time has seemed to pay off some.  Wong already has 85 hits (with his 3 against Houston) and 128 total bases this year, after finishing last year with 88 hits and 137 total bases.

He already has more runs batted in this year (40 after his Friday RBI) than he had all of 2018 (38).

When the Friday game started, St Louis had gone 8 games being at least tied in the game after 6 innings, but they trailed in this one by a 2-1 score at that point of the game.

In Saturday’s loss they broke a streak of ten straight games where they held the lead at some point of the game.

George Springer’s home run in the first inning on Sunday meant that Houston scored first in all three games of the weekend set.  The Cardinals have now surrendered the first run in five of the last six games.

St Louis is now 11-5-1 in series after winning the first game.

Dakota Hudson’s New Weapon

Yes, the slider sometimes misbehaves.

It did so in the first inning of last night’s game in Pittsburgh.  After Adam Frazier led off with a single, Dakota Hudson’s 3-2 slider to Bryan Reynolds sailed high, and Pittsburgh had their first two runners on base.  The slider to the next Pirate hitter, Starling Marte, did worse than sail high.  It tailed back right over the heart of the plate and waited for Marte to smash it – which he did.

Fifteen pitches into his evening, and Dakota Hudson was down 3-0, and the slider was – in no small part – responsible.

(Parenthetically, most of the TV viewers saw Marte after the home run smile to the camera and demonstrate with his fingers 3 to zero.  In baseball this is almost always a bad idea.  Under any circumstance a three-run first inning lead is far from iron clad.  All the more so when your team has been in a pronounced slump – as Marte’s has.  And even more so when the team you are playing is starting to heat up – and the Cardinals seem – finally – to be that team.  Through most of this season, an early three run deficit did feel like a thirty run deficit.  But for the moment, anyway, the team has turned the page on those issues and is becoming a confident enough offense that three early runs don’t phase them much.  Anyway, as so often happens, Marte’s chest-thumping meant little in the long run.  He and the Pirates would not score again.)

So, back to that slider.

Fast forward to the fifth inning.  St Louis now leads 4-3.  But there is more trouble on the way for Hudson.   After another lead-off single from Frazier, Dakota fell behind both Reynolds and Marte to the point that they declined to chase Hudson’s sinker, and both drew walks.  Walks have been a growing concern over Dakota’s last several starts.

Now we had trouble.  Bases loaded.  Nobody out.  And to the plate was Pittsburgh’s blossoming superstar, switch-hitter Josh Bell.

Hudson threw two excellent fastballs under Bell’s hands that he fouled off.  On 0-2, Dakota went back to that slider.  It darted in along much the same track as the fastballs.  But, before Bell’s bat could turn on it, it dropped like a stone for the strikeout.

That was the turning point.  After that, Colin Moran bounced into a double play, and the inning was over.  Hudson and some more splashy work by the Cardinal bullpen would allow the birds to hold on to this one by that 4-3 score (box score).

Along the way, Hudson would cobble together his eleventh quality start in his last 15 games, and stretch to 17 consecutive starts his streak of not allowing more than 3 earned runs – quite a trick after he was down 3-0 before he recorded his first out.

In his early starts this season, Dakota Hudson frequently faced lineups stacked with left-handed bats.  And all too often those bats took advantage of the young Cardinal starter.

One of the adjustments that Dakota has made as the season has progressed is developing a weapon that can neutralize those left-handed bats.  More and more, now, that weapon is becoming his wipe-out slider.

In his 6.1 innings last night, Hudson finished with 5 strikeouts – all swinging.  The two right-handers that he got (Chris Archer and Jacob Stallings) both went down on fastballs.  But the three lefties that he chalked up (Bell and Moran twice) all got that nasty, nasty slider.

So, yes, Dakota has a weapon that has equalized things a bit against lefties.  Even more interesting to me is this.  All 5 of Hudson’s strikeouts came on 0-2 pitches.  None of them even prolonged the at bat to four pitches with a foul ball.  Moreover, they were the only 5 at bats of the night against Hudson that ended 0-2.  In his 22.1 innings this month, Hudson has struck out 10 of the 12 batters whose at bat ended with an 0-2 count.

This slider is now becoming a put-away pitch that batters who are backed up in the count are kind of at the mercy of.  As a companion pitch to his ground ball arsenal, this bodes very well for the future.

But it would help if he could get it to behave a little better early in games.

More Hudson

After an earlier streak where he went 7 consecutive starts without allowing a home run (and serving up just 1 home run over a ten-start stretch that reached 60.1 innings), Dakota has now given up at least one home run in six consecutive starts.

Even though his four July starts haven’t been his smoothest, Hudson has still won them all.  He is now 8-1 over his last 12 starts, carrying a 3.01 ERA in those games and getting 56% ground balls.

How Good is Giovanny Gallegos

After Hudson’s 6.1 innings, and with the Cards clinging to a one-run lead, manager Mike Shildt went to Giovanny Gallegos for 5 critical outs as he finished the seventh and worked the eighth.  In typical style, Gallegos finished them off, five-up and five-down with 3 strikeouts.

How good is he?  By the numbers, you would have to say that Giovanny is as dominant as any relief pitcher in baseball.  Here’s a taste:

Last night’s game was Gallegos’ sixth consecutive scoreless outing.  In those games, Giovanny has pitched a total of 9.2 innings allowing 2 hits and walking 1 while striking out 13.  Over his last 22 games, Gallegos has completed 27.2 innings in which he has been brushed for 2 runs on 13 hits.  His 2 walks have been offset by 37 strikeouts.  In this stretch, Giovanny has thrown 71% of his pitches for strikes.

The numbers on these last 27.2 innings add up to a 0.65 ERA and a batting line of .141/.167/.228.

This is dominance.

Not that it matters, but with all the strikes that Gallegos throws, he almost never finds himself behind in the count.  Last night he was behind only one of the 5 batters that he faced, getting Reynolds to strike out on a 3-2 pitch.

Over the last month, only 5 of the 35 batters to face Gallegos have put themselves ahead in the count.  They are 0-for-4 with a walk.  This season, Giovanny has faced 178 major league batters.  He has worked behind on only 37 of them. And as I say, it matters little.  Even the ones who do get ahead in the count against Gallegos are only hitting .172 with 1 home run.

Kolten Wong

There was a time not too long ago when Kolten Wong was daily listed among the struggling hitters.  Those days, for the moment, are past.  Wong singled, doubled and drove in St Louis’ first run of the game.  Kolten has now hit safely in five consecutive games in which he has had a plate appearance, going 7 for 17 (.412) in those games.

For the month of July, Kolten is a .348 hitter (16 for 46).

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill’s recent slump continued last night.  Hitless in 4 at bats, Tyler is now 0 for his last 12, and 2 for 22 (.091) over his last 5 games – games in which he has no extra base hits, no walks, and 1 run batted in.  It has been 13 games since Tyler’s last walk.

Matt Wieters

On May 29, the Cardinals were planted by Philadelphia, 11-4.  That loss culminated a 6-18 spiral that knocked the team from first place in this division to two games under .500 at 26-28.

That was 46 games ago.  Since that time, St Louis has been steadily re-gaining ground in the division, winning 27 of these last 46 games.  One of the notable things about these games is that Matt Wieters has been the catcher in almost half of them.  Matt has started 22, Yadier Molina just 18 of them before his injury sidelined him, and Andrew Knizner has started the other 6.

Wieters has made some offensive contributions to the surge, including 6 home runs – most of which have been telling, even if they haven’t been terribly frequent.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Wieters is hitting .188 (15 for 80) over the last 46 games.

Yairo Munoz

In and out of the lineup, and starting the last two games in center field, Yairo Munoz has seen his batting average slip a bit recently.  Munoz was hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is just 10 for 43 (.233) for the month of July.

In last night’s ninth inning, Munoz fell behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Stratton 0-2, and struck out swinging on the next pitch (that slider out of the zone).

Perhaps hitting behind in the count is one area where a player’s lack of regular at bats may take its greatest toll.

Over his last 76 plate appearances, Munoz has found himself behind in the count 34 times.  Yairo is just 3 for 34 (.088) in those at bats with no extra-base hits (in fact, one of the three singles was an infield hit), no walks, 12 strikeouts, and 1 double play grounded into.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s RBI double brings him to within one run batted in of last year’s total.  He drove in 38 last year and has 37 now this year.

Baby Steps?

The St Louis Cardinals finished their weekend series against Arizona with 25 offensive innings.  They only managed to put their leadoff batter on base in 5 of those innings.  Getting that first batter on base has been a constant struggle since April.  For the month of July, now, Cardinal leadoff batters hold a .266 on base percentage.  For the season, they sit at just .302.

The results in those 20 other innings against Arizona were fairly predictable.  The Cards scored in only 3 of them, totaling 4 runs.   Certainly one of the factors in the slow offensive start is the fact that all too often the power hitters are up with no one on and two outs.  Nobody – it seems – wants to embrace the table-setter’s role.

The good news is that – at least during the Arizona series – the Cardinals did finally figure out what to do once they did get that runner on.  They scored in 4 of the 5 innings that their first batter reached, totaling 7 runs in those innings.

This had also been a problem.  In the six games preceding the All-Star break, the Cards put their leadoff runner on 16 times, bringing him home just 6 times (38%).  For the season, only 48% of the Cardinal leadoff batters who reach base end up scoring.  When the offense is functioning well, that number will typically be closer to 55%.

It was only three games – and only one of the many offensive issues that this team will try to correct in the second half (and the offense overall hit just .215 and scored 3.67 runs per game in the Arizona series).  In essence, the offensive turnaround so far is more hoped for than evident.

But doing something when the leadoff batter gets on is at least a healthy place to start.  A baby step, if you will.

Matt Wieters

Thrust into the lineup due to the thumb injury to Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters is starting to find a comfort level at the plate.  He caught the first two games of the series, going 3 for 6 with a home run.  Matt has only had 24 plate appearances through the early games of July.  But he has answered those plate appearances with 4 singles, 2 home runs and 4 walks – a .300/.417/.600 batting line.

Kolten Wong

Heating up, finally, is Kolten Wong.  One of the mysteries in the Cardinal lineup, Kolten finished the series with 4 hits, and now has a little five-game hitting streak underway.  He is hitting .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.

Kolten is up to .375 (9 for 24) in early July.

Tyler O’Neill

Flashing a bit of the ability that has made him so successful at AAA, Tyler O’Neill put together a fine series against the Diamondbacks.  Moreover, as he is getting consistent at bats, Tyler is starting to show some encouraging consistency.

He was 3 for 8 against Arizona – with all the hits going for extra bases, and has now hit safely in all of his last 5 starts.  He is 7 for 20 (.350) with a .600 slugging percentage in those games.  For the month of July, Tyler is a .321 hitter (9 for 28) with a .536 slugging percentage and 5 runs batted in in just 7 starts.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was a big bat in the Sunday game with an important two-run home run.  He was held to an 0-for-4 on Friday, breaking a seven-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Paul had hit .346 (9 for 26) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the 7 games, with a .654 slugging percentage.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman ended the first half hot, hitting in his last 5 games.  He finished with 6 hits in 18 at bats during the streak, including a triple and a home run.  He drove in 6 runs over the 5 games with a .333 batting average and a .611 slugging percentage.

He began the second half going 0-for-5 against Arizona.

In the early games of his career, Tommy hasn’t yet shown a great knack for leading off an inning.  He was 0-for-3 as a leadoff batter against Arizona, he is 1-for-9 leading off innings this month.  So far, Tommy has lead off in 22 innings with 5 hits and 1 hit-by-pitch (a .273 on base percentage).

Edman has only walked once in his first 60 plate appearances.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez’ bat was another important weapon that was limited during the Arizona series.  Jose went hitless in 6 at bats during the series, and is now 0 for his last 11.

Rotation Rises

The primary reason that St Louis managed victories in two of the three over the weekend was the emergence of the starting rotation.  Building off the Jack Flaherty’s sterling seven-inning performance against San Francisco just before the break, all three Cardinal starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright) followed with quality starts of their own.  The three combined to pitch 19.2 of the 27 innings of the series, allowing a total of 3 runs.  They finished the series with a combined 1.37 ERA and a .149/.240/.239 batting line against.

Daniel Ponce de Leon

Daniel Ponce de Leon turned his latest spot start into the one that has vaulted him into the rotation.  He muffled Arizona for 6.2 innings, limiting them to 1 run on 3 hits with no walks (although he did hit one batter) and 7 strikeouts on Friday.  He lowered his overall ERA to 1.99 for the season, and to 0.79 (with a .114 batting average against) for the month.

He’s been nothing but impressive so far.  He’s forced his way into a starting job.  Now we’ll see if he can stay there.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson – Saturday’s starter – tossed his ninth quality start in his last 11 games.  Hudson is 6-1 with a 2.84 over his last 11 games.

Adam Wainwright

Outdueling Zach Greinke in the series finale, Adam Wainwright threw seven scoreless innings, and has quality starts in two of his last three outings, recording a 1.93 ERA in those outings.

Carlos Martinez

Inheriting the closer’s rule in the wake of the season-ending injury to Jordan Hicks, Carlos Martinez has been as good as could be hoped.  He saved both wins against Arizona, and has now thrown 6 straight scoreless outings (covering 7.1 innings).  Not only has he allowed no runs of his own, he has also stranded all 5 runners he inherited during those games.  He has 10 strikeouts over those innings, and those that are hitting the ball in play against him are hitting it almost exclusively on the ground (10 of 13).

He hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit since June 9.

NoteBook

Yairo Munoz started at shortstop on Sunday afternoon, breaking Paul DeJong’s streak of 26 consecutive starts at short.  That had been the longest current streak of any Cardinal at the same position.  That mantle now falls to Paul Goldschmidt, who on Sunday made his eighteenth consecutive start at first.

The Saturday game registered an official temperature of 90 degrees – significant evidence that summer is in full force in St Louis.  It was just the third 90+ degree game this season, and the first since May 25 when they beat Atlanta here 6-3.  The hottest game of the year so far was played in Mexico on April 13 when we lost to Cincinnati, 5-2.

That home series against Atlanta had been the hottest by average temperature this season at 86.3 degrees.  The just finished Arizona series averaged 88.7 degrees.  And, no, it was not a dry heat.

When the Cards took their 5-0 lead into the seventh inning on Sunday, it marked the first time they held a five-run lead going into the seventh inning since May 18 when they took a 7-2 lead into the seventh in Texas – on their way to an 8-2 victory (box score).  One of the consequences of the recent offensive struggles is that any late inning lead this team holds is generally precarious.  Laughers have been few and far between lately.

Cards Waste Another Quality Start in San Fran

Oh, come on, now.  You didn’t really think Jack Flaherty would make it through a whole start without getting touched for a home run, did you?

The impressive and encouraging thing about the Cardinals’ last game before the All-Star break was how long it took for that ubiquitous home run to show up.  Seventy-five pitches and 6.1 innings into the contest, Flaherty had not only not allowed a home run.  He had given no hits whatsoever.  His seventy-sixth pitch, of course, was the misbehaving slider that Evan Longoria crushed deep over the left field wall for the only run of the game (box score).

Jack has now allowed at least one home run in seven straight starts.  The total is now 11 in his last 37.2 innings.

Even in defeat, though, it was a welcomed performance from Jack, who had managed only one quality start in his previous six outings.

As far as the Cardinals’ wasting excellent pitching, this was hardly an isolated moment.  Eighty-eight games into the championship season, the Cards have only gotten 38 quality starts from its rotation.  Eight of those 38 starters have been saddled with the loss in these games.  Flaherty has now absorbed the loss in both of his last two quality starts.  Of the 38 quality starts, this is now the third time that the Cardinal pitcher received no support runs at all.  This has now happened to Jack (who has now gone five consecutive starts since the last time he saw at least four runs of support) twice in his last 4 starts.

In all, St Louis has failed to score more than 3 runs for their starter in 24 of their 38 quality starts.  In all honesty, our rotation hasn’t been as dominant as often as expected.  But, on those rare occasions when they are, it is almost to be expected that they will get minimal run support.

To this point of the season, St Louis is 25-13 (.658) when they get a quality start from their pitcher.  That seems pretty strong, but if that figure holds, it would tie the Cardinals’ lowest winning percentage in quality start games in any year in this century.  The 2008 team (50-26) finished at .658 when they got quality starts.

Last year’s team was 50-18 (.735).  Through all the games this century up to this year, the Cards are 1187-425 (.736) when their starter puts them into position to win.  They have won over 70% of these games in 15 of the first 19 full seasons of this century.

The 2017 team was the one I labeled “the team that blinks.”  They lost 21 quality start games (out of 76 – a .724 winning percentage).  But Sunday’s loss was so reminiscent of one of those games, it’s impossible not to take a look back.

May 20 that year was a Saturday.  The evening in St Louis was a balmy 79 degrees with a few clouds.

The Cardinal pitcher was Carlos Martinez.  That evening, Carlos may have thrown the best game by a Cardinal pitcher since Chris Carpenter in Game 5 against Philadelphia.  In just 93 dominant pitches, Martinez tore through the Giants, walking off the mound after nine complete innings, having allowed no runs on just two hits and 1 walk.

Making the best start of his career, Carlos didn’t walk off the mound with a complete game.  He wasn’t awarded a shutout.  Carlos didn’t even get the win.  That, of course, would be because while Martinez was turning away the Giant batters, San Francisco’s pitcher – yes, it was Jeff Samardzija that evening as well – was similarly frustrating the Cardinal batsmen.

After 12 scoreless innings, San Francisco finally broke through with 3 runs against Kevin Siegrist, and held on from there for a 3-1 victory (box score).

It was a signature loss that year.  Like Sunday’s loss, it was the kind of game that playoff teams rarely lose – especially against losing teams which the Giants are so far this year and were in 2017 when they lost 98 games.  But not that night.

So, just like that the Cards hit the All-Star break with a .500 record.  As the rest of the division has hung around waiting for them, they find themselves just two games out of the division lead.

Dakota Hudson

On the other end of the spectrum – at least this time out – is Dakota Hudson.  Hudson was provided with 6 support runs while he was pitcher of record, as the Cards were on their way to a 9-4 win on Friday (box score) – their only win of the series.

After throwing 8 consecutive quality starts, Hudson missed qualifying for the second consecutive start.  He still navigated through 5 innings, allowing 3 runs, and took the win.  Over his last 10 games, Dakota is 5-1 with two potential wins lost by the bullpen, and a 2.83 ERA.

Miles Mikolas

Saturday’s losing pitcher (box score) was starter Miles Mikolas.  Done in by a grand slam, Miles lasted just 4, giving 5 runs on 6 hits.  In his last 10 starts, Miles is now 1-7 with a 4.99 ERA.

They were only two singles, but San Fran was 2 for 3 with a sacrifice fly against Mikolas when they hit the first pitch.  No pitcher on the staff has had the difficulties with his first pitch that Mikolas has.

Batters are now 25 for 52 (.481) when they hit Miles’ first pitch.  The hits are generally not soft, either.  Opposing hitters have 3 doubles, 2 triples and 6 home runs when jumping Miles’ first pitch – a .962 slugging percentage.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz got another start Sunday afternoon – and responded with two hits.  He was the only Card with multiple hits that afternoon.

Munoz – who hit .345 in sparse duty in June – is starting to work his way more and more frequently into the lineup.  Much of this has been facilitated by injuries to Matt Carpenter and now Kolten Wong.  But production is also in the equation.  Yairo has played 6 of the last 8 games, starting 5.  He is hitting .316 in those opportunities (6 for 19).

Dexter Fowler

After getting 5 hits through the first two games, Dexter Fowler was held hitless on Sunday.  That 0-for-4 broke a nine-game hitting streak (counting only games in which Fowler had an at bat).  He was 12 for 29 during the streak (.414) with a double, a triple and two home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the streak, with a .724 slugging percentage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Don’t look now, but Paul Goldschmidt has put together a pretty noisy seven-game hitting streak.  After going 5 for 13 against San Fran, Paul is 9 for 26 (.346) during the streak.  He has 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a .654 slugging percentage over his last 7 games.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters finished the Friday blow-out win with 2 hits.  He went 0-for-7 through the last two games.  Matt is now 4 for 19 (.211) in his cameo subbing for Yadier Molina.  It should be pointed out, though, that 2 of those 4 hits have been home runs.

Harrison Bader

So far, July hasn’t been any kinder to Harrison Bader than June.  Hitless in 6 at bats in San Francisco, Bader is now 5 for 52 (.096) over his last 19 games.  He has no extra-base hits, or runs batted in in those games.  He has drawn just 3 walks in that span – none in his last 9 games.

For July, Bader is off to a .200 (3 for 15) start.

NoteBook

With 4 hits in the series, Kolten Wong is now up to 68 for the season.  He finished 2018 with just 88 hits.  He is also up to 105 total bases after amassing just 137 all last year.  Kolten is also about to pass last season’s totals in runs (34 after scoring just 41 times all last year) and runs batted in (35 after driving in 38 all of last year).

Miles Mikolas – whose ERA is up almost two full runs over his 2018 season – continues to gain quickly on all his totals from last year (which were, by the way, his career highs).  The home run he allowed Saturday was his sixteenth – tying his career high.  The 5 runs allowed brought him to 52 for the season, and the 4 earned runs leave him with 50 in 2019.  Last year’s totals were 70 and 63 respectively in 200.2 innings.

Then, on Sunday, Jack Flaherty – whose 2019 ERA is also up precipitously – allowed his twentieth home run of the season – matching his career high from 2018.  As with Mikolas, Jack is quickly reaching several other career highs set last year in hits allowed (108 – he has 87 already), runs (59 last year, 51 already this year) and earned runs (56 last year and 50 already in 2019).

St Louis is now 3-5 in rubber games this season.  All 5 losses in rubber games have come against teams that had won its previous series (we are 1-5 in rubber games against those teams).

Overall, St Louis has played 14 series against teams that won their previous series.  They have won 3 of those series, lost 10, and split the other.  They are 17-25 when pitted against teams coming off a winning series.

The Friday game was the first time in 9 games that St Louis didn’t trail at some point, and their 5 run lead after seven was their biggest lead heading into the eighth since they held a seven-run lead on Kansas City in an eventual 10-3 win on May 22.

Meanwhile, the 1-0 loss on Sunday ended a streak of 8 straight games in which they had held a lead at some point.

At 2:19 the Sunday game was the quickest of the season.  The previous quickest game was the 4-3 loss in Philadelphia on May 28.  That game lasted 2:28.

The Worm-Slayer Rules

I don’t know if there are, in fact, any living things making their microscopic homes in the turf at the cleverly named Marlins Park.  But if there are, they must have thought the apocalypse had come.

Gaining in confidence, not to mention momentum, with every start, Cardinal rookie right-hander Dakota Hudson and his very heavy sinker is growing into his worm-slayer role.  Last night, in seven mostly dominant innings, Dakota faced 28 Miami batters.  He struck out 6 and walked 2.  He also hit one.  Of the other 19, 13 drilled the ball into the ground (68.4%).

Dakota allowed 1 run on 4 hits in earning the 7-1 win (box score).

In his two June starts, Dakota is getting groundballs from 65% of the batters who have faced him.  For the season, he leads the rotation – and probably most of baseball – by getting groundballs on 62.3% of the balls put into play against him.  Tonight’s pitcher, Miles Mikolas, is a distant second on the team, getting ground balls 50.4% of the time.

St Louis also has two elite groundball machines working in its bullpen.  Jordan Hicks is getting grounders 60.8% of the time, and Carlos Martinez – albeit after facing just 37 batters – has a groundball rate of 62.5%.

As his groundball rate climbs, Hudson’s ERA declines.  Dakota has now fired off 6 consecutive quality starts, and 7 in his last 8 games.  He is 3-2 in those games, with two more leads lost by the bullpen.  He holds a 2.40 ERA over his last 48.2 innings, while getting groundballs at a 65.8% rate.

He carries a 1.35 ERA after his two June starts.

Getting hitters to ground out isn’t pitching-sexy the way that striking out a bunch of hitters is.  But what it lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in efficiency.  Dakota needed only 93 pitches to cover 7 innings last night.  In his 13.1 innings this month, he is averaging only 13.95 pitches thrown per inning.  He throws just 3.32 pitches per plate appearances this month, and 3.53 for the season.  Both numbers lead the staff for any pitcher facing more than 40 batters.

Dakota has also profited from significant run support for the most part this year.  They scored six for him last night, and have supported him with a team-high 47 runs (5.82 per innings).  Michael Wacha is the rotation’s leader, getting 6.91 support runs per game.

For the turfdwellers at Marlins Park, though, last night’s performance was more like a sequel.  The night before re-claimed Cardinal starter Wacha threw a very similar game.  In shutting out the Marlins during his six innings, Michael induced 14 ground balls and only two fly balls.

With the unlikely duo of Hudson and Wacha leading the way, the Cardinal pitching staff has undergone something of a rebirth as the calendar page flipped to June.  This month so far, Cardinal pitchers are getting grounders at a rate of 54.3% – contributing to a 3.12 team ERA that is closer to team expectations.  They have allowed just 6 home runs in 9 games this month.

Certainly these last two games against a last place club have helped.  And the club psyche is still stinging from the sweep in Chicago.  But the numbers are finally starting to trend in a positive direction.

GiovannyGallegos

With surprisingly little fanfare, Giovanny Gallegos is on something of a tear.  He pitched last night’s eighth inning, giving a hit but no runs while picking up a strikeout.  Gallegos now has a scoreless streak of 6 games, covering 8 innings, during which he has given just 3 hits while striking out 9.

Of the last 61 swings against him, 25 have missed the ball (41%).  He has now gone 8 appearances and 10 innings since his last walk, and has thrown 75% of his last 146 pitches for strikes.  His season ERA is down to 3.14.

For the season, 314 of his 448 pitches have been strikes – a 70.1% ratio that leads the team.

Offense Has a Day

By the end of the game, St Louis finished with 7 runs on 13 hits.  Everyone got at least one hit, even those who had been struggling recently (Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, etc).  About the only thing not achieved was getting Tommy Edman his first major league hit.

Most of the damage came late, though, at the expense of the embattled Adam Conley.  Before he came in, the game had gone to the sixth, tied 1-1.  St Louis scored the go ahead runs on an error and a bases loaded walk.  It’s, perhaps, premature to call the hitting woes a thing of the past, but it was nice to see some people get hits who haven’t gotten many recently.

MarcellOzuna

Marcell Ozuna is enjoying his return to South Florida.  He has had 2 hits in each game, and has 7 over his last 3 games, including a home run last night.  Ozuna is still hitting .412 for the month of June (14 for 34) with a .618 slugging percentage.

YadierMolina

Missing for 9 games with a thumb injury, Yadier Molina stepped back into the game like he was never away, collecting 2 hits.

Yadi also hit the line drive that brought in the go ahead run.  Although he didn’t get a hit or an RBI, nobody on the team is better at finding a way to get that runner in from third.  This was the seventeenth time this season that Molina had a runner at third with less than two outs.  This was the thirteenth time he had delivered that runner.

Molina’s night also included a strikeout – his eighteenth this season.  All of his strikeouts have been swinging.  There is no other Cardinal who has been to the plate at least a dozen times that has not been called out on strikes at least once.

Of course, that’s understandable when you almost never take a pitch.  In his first game back, Molina saw 14 pitches and swung at 9 of them.  For the season, he has hacked at 56.8% of all pitches thrown his way – the highest percentage of any of the regulars.

He also put the ball in play with 4 of those 9 swings.  It’s something else he leads all the regular players in, as he puts the ball in play with 45.8% of his swings.

This all means that Molina’s plate appearances are over quickly.  He lasted just 2.8 pitches per last night, and for the season is averaging just 3.34 per plate appearance – also the lowest on the team.

KoltenWong

After a damaging month of May, Kolten Wong already looks much better in June.  With two more hits last night, Wong is off to a .333 start (10 for 30) in the new month.

One of Kolten’s hits last night was a bunt single.  Wong has 7 of the Cardinals’ 11 bunt hits on the season.

When Kolten came to the plate in the fourth, he had Yadier Molina on first and just one out.  If Miami had designs on turning the double play, though, they had the wrong guy up there.  Kolten is the Cardinals’ toughest player to double up, having grounded into just 1 double play this year in 38 such opportunities.  This time, he lined a single to bring up a first-and-third situation.

Miami then got the double play grounder from Dexter Fowler.

Wong is also the hardest Cardinal to throw a first-pitch strike to.  For the season, only 52.2% of the first pitches thrown to him are strikes.  Last night, he only saw one first-pitch strike.

Kolten swung the bat six times last night.  He fouled off three and put three pitches into play.  He didn’t miss on any of his swings.  He rarely does.  For the season, Kolten’s swing-and-miss rate is just 19.7%.

Of the 14 pitches that Wong took, only 1 was called a strike.  He doesn’t let many strikes go by.  So far this month, of the pitches that he’s taken, only 27.9% are called strikes.

DexterFowler

While Fowler did ground into the double play, Dexter also got two hits.  The double-play, by the way, was just the first he has grounded into this year.

In the early games in June, Dexter has shown some increased ability to put the bat on the ball.  Through April and May, Fowler missed on 26.5% of his swings.  So far – for the first 47 times he’s swung the bat in June – Dexter is missing only 21.3% of the time.  He missed only 2 of his 13 swings last night.

Dexter may also have the best eye on the team.  Last night he took 12 pitches – all called balls.  For the season, 42.1% of the pitches thrown to him are balls – the highest percentage on the team.

NoteBook

In the first two games of the Miami series, St. Louis has scored 11 runs.  In their two previous series (2 games against Cincinnati and 3 against the Cubs) they totaled 10 runs.

The Marcell Ozuna home run was his eighteenth of the season already.  During his first year in St Louis he hit just 23.  Ozuna also scored twice in the game.  After scoring just 69 runs all of last season, Marcell already has 48 this year.

The First Inning Blahs

Going into this afternoon’s contest against the Cubs, you would have found the St Louis Cardinals ranking twenty-second in all of baseball (30 teams) in first inning batting average (according to baseball reference).  They were hitting .224 in that inning.  That number has actually now dropped to .221 as they began the game in Chicago going down in order in the first.

You don’t have to look very far to figure out why.  Yesterday’s game against Cincinnati began with Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong striking out against the Reds Anthony DeSclafani.

In Mike Shildt’s almost unchanging lineups, Carpenter and DeJong have been first inning automatics.  Matt Carpenter has hit leadoff in 48 of the first 60 games.  DeJong has hit third in 51 games, and second in 6 others.  DeJong has 58 first-inning plate appearances, and Carpenter has been to the plate in the first inning 51 times.  Their combined 109 first-inning plate appearances is just under half of the teams’ 259 total plate appearances.

Almost as automatic as having Carpenter and DeJong up in the first inning, is having them out in the first.  Matt is 7 for 42 (.167) in the first.  Paul is hitting .188 (9 for 48).

The curiosity here is that both warm up notably as the game goes on.  Carpenter is a .157 hitter (13 for 83) through the game’s first three innings, and then a .269 hitter with a .477 slugging percentage from the fourth inning on (35 for 130 with 6 doubles and 7 home runs).  DeJong is even more extreme.  Through the first three innings, Paul is 15 for 82 (.183).  From the fourth inning on, Paul slashes .329/.403/.579.  He is 46 for 140 with 8 of his 9 home runs. (Note: in the just ended Chicago game, Paul hit his tenth home run – in the ninth inning).

It was Paul’s 2-run home run in the seventh that decided yesterday’s game, 3-1 (box score).

Even though they won yesterday’s game, they failed to score at least four runs for the third straight game, and for the eleventh game in the last 18.  The longer the struggle to score runs, the more you find yourself wondering if maybe someone else shouldn’t take the first two at bats of your games.

(Further Note: DeJong’s home run was the only run St Louis scored in a 3-1 loss.  That makes 4 straight and 12 of the last 19 in which the Cards have failed to score at least four runs.)

Marcell Ozuna

With two more hits yesterday, Marcell Ozuna is looking more confident at the plate.  Marcell has hits in 7 of his last 8 games, with four of them being multi-hit games.  Ozuna is hitting .414 (12 for 29) in those games, with a double, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a .655 slugging percentage.

Matt Wieters

It’s been a tough last four games for Matt Wieters, occupying Yadier Molina’s position while the indispensable Cardinal is recovering.  Hitless again yesterday, Wieters in 1 for his last 16 (.063) with 7 strikeouts.

Dakota Hudson

Twenty-four year old Dakota Hudson is rapidly becoming the story of the pitching staff this year.  A dark horse to earn a rotation spot in spring, and looking un-prepared for the opportunity through his first five starts, Mr. Hudson has been St Louis’ most consistent starter ever since.  Although he couldn’t make it through the seventh, he still nailed his fifth consecutive quality start, and his sixth in his last seven starts.

Over his last 41.2 innings, Dakota has surrendered 1 home run, while 65% of the batters who put the ball in play against him have hit it on the ground.  Dakota holds a 2.59 ERA over his last 7 starts.

John Gant

The beneficiary of the DeJong home run was John Gant, who retired all four batters he faced and was granted the win (he is now 5-0).  John is on another streak of scoreless appearances.  Over his last 7 games and 8.1 innings, John has given no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks.

NoteBook

Although Cincinnati scored the tying run in the next half inning, St Louis did score first again in this one.  That’s three games in a row, and 7 of the last 9.

Although they did give up the tying run, St Louis never trailed in this one, and haven’t trailed in four of their last six.

John Gant’s appearance yesterday afternoon was already his twenty-eighth this season.  That is already a career high.  His previous high was the 26 games he pitched for St Louis last year.

With yesterday’s steal, Kolten Wong is in double figures for steals for just the third time in his career, and the first time since he stole 15 in 2015.  His career high is the 20 he stole in 2014.

Dakota Hudson and His Heavy, Heavy Sinker

From a mostly disastrous May, the St Louis Cardinals will have very few positives to carry with them into June.  One of those positives will be the re-discovery of Dakota Hudson.

Hudson wasn’t a favorite to win a spot in the rotation during spring.  Most thought he would end up in the bullpen.  In April, it looked like he should have started the season in Memphis.  None of his first 5 starts met the criteria for a quality start, he served up 8 home runs in 24 innings, and held a 5.63 ERA and a .327 batting average against.

The Dakota Hudson of May has been significantly different.  After dispatching Philadelphia, allowing 1 run on 4 hits through 6 innings of a 5-3 victory (box score), Dakota wrapped up his second month in the rotation with 5 quality starts in 6 games, a 2.80 ERA, and just 1 home run surrendered in 35.1 innings.

Differences?  There were a couple on display last night.  The recurring theme would be trust.

The April Hudson tried – I think – to be too fine.  Trying to locate his power sinker in the lower part of the strike zone, he had difficulty adjusting if the other team forced him to bring his pitches up.  He also didn’t show a lot of trust in his other breaking pitches.

The results were 11 unintentional walks – an average of 4.88 per nine innings.  More telling, Dakota missed with his first pitch to 48 batters in April.  They finished with 8 singles, 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 10 walks and 1 sacrifice hit.  Those 48 batters drove in 9 runs with a .432/.553/.973 batting line.

Last night, against a Philadelphia lineup that has bedeviled the Cards throughout the series, Dakota didn’t worry at all about elevating his sinker, and even if behind in the count, he didn’t hesitate to throw his entire arsenal – including a slider that has become particularly nasty.

Aside from the two intentional walks dished out to Rhys Hoskins, Dakota threw ball one to 10 of the 21 batters he faced.  Six of those misplaced first pitches were sinkers – three of them low and the other three inside.  Philadelphia did a credible job all evening of laying off the low sinker.  What they learned was that the sinker wasn’t necessarily easier to hit when it was up in the zone.

One of those batters (Jean Segura) did end up drawing a walk.  None of the other 9 reached base.  Dakota came back to strike out two of them (Bryce Harper in the first and Hoskins in the second) on that nasty slider.  Six of the other seven grounded out, four of them on sinkers up in the zone.

The seventh was Cesar Hernandez who smoked a high sinker right at shortstop Paul DeJong for the double-play that ended the sixth-inning mess.

For the month of May, Dakota allowed 11 unintentional walks (2.80 per innings), while batters hit .229 against him after he missed with the first pitch.  It is a much different Dakota Hudson.

There is a great benefit in having that heavy, heavy sinker – especially when you have this kind of trust in it.

What to Do About the Pen

Even deploying his presumed best arms, the bullpen almost let the game get away again.  With 2 more runs allowed last night, the St Louis relief corps enters the last day of the month with an aggregate 5.08 ERA.  The struggles of the starters and the offense have occupied significant attention, but a nettlesome bullpen has certainly contributed to the month’s woes.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continues hot.  With 2 more hits last night, Paul has hit in 5 of his last 6, with multiple hits in four of the five games.  He is hitting .476 (10 for 21) over that span.

Matt Wieters

An injury to Yadier Molina is never good news.  His backup, Matt Wieters has taken some advantage of the opportunity.  He has started 3 of the last 8 games and has had 2 hits in each of them – giving him 6 in his last 11 at bats (.545).  Moreover, half the hits have been for extra bases (a double and 2 home runs).

Wieters now has 3 home runs this month in just 20 at bats, while hitting .400 in May.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong hit a home run in the seventh inning of the last game against Kansas City.  He hasn’t had a hit since – his current hitless streak sitting at 21 at bats.  He has struck out in 7 of those at bats.

Over his last 10 games, Wong is 2 for 33 (.061).  He is down to .155 for the month, and .216 for the season.

Paul DeJong

In an even greater slump – if such a thing were possible – is Kolten’s double-play partner Paul DeJong.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul is 1 for his last 26 (.038).

DeJong is down to .207 in the month of May.

Harrison Bader

Add Harrison Bader to the list of the slumping.  He was also hitless in 4 at bats and over his last 5 games has 1 single in 14 at bats (.071).

NoteBook

Marcell Ozuna’s second inning home run was the game-winning RBI – the eighth this season for Ozuna.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.