Tag Archives: Jose Martinez

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.

Waino Plays Stopper Again

The memory is surprisingly vivid even a month later.  It is June 29.  The Cardinals – on the road in San Diego – were getting hammered 12-2.  After the game, the young Padres were cavorting on the field.  They were careless, happy and hot.  Although they weren’t expected to contend, at that moment they were 42-40 and just a game and a half out of the last wildcard spot.

In the other dugout, the Cardinals (who had vowed to make it back to the playoffs this year) wandered off the field like a team caught in a nightmare that they couldn’t wake up from.  That loss was their fifth in a row.  It dropped them to 40-41 on the season.  They were 4 games behind the Cubs in the division, and a game and a half behind San Diego in the wildcard race – three games behind the last spot, with four teams in between them and the last playoff spot.

This was the statistical half-way point of the season, and this team was under .500.  They were also at that point 20-20 in games after a loss.  While – to the best of my knowledge – no one else tracks games after a loss, I consider it a fairly useful barometer of a team’s character and resourcefulness.

For some background, no Cardinal team this century has finished below .500 in games after a loss.  The 2017 team finished a century-worst 39-39 in games after a loss.  That team finished 83-79 and 9 games out.

Throughout the century, coming into this year, the Cards (including playoffs) were 809-596 – a .576 winning percentage – after they had lost the game before.  Five times this century, this team won over 60% of their games after a loss.  All of those teams made the playoffs.

The seven versions of the Cardinals that have failed to make the playoffs this century are a combined 294-246 (.544) after a loss, while all of this century’s playoff teams have gone 515-350 (.595) after a loss.

The concept is simple enough.  Everybody loses games now and then.  But the tough teams resist getting that second loss pinned on them.  Stay out of losing streaks, and things will generally pan out well for the season.

Throughout the bulk of the season, the issue in games after a loss has been on the mound.  St Louis has lacked that stopper’s mentality from the next day’s pitcher.  Through the end of June, the next day’s starter carried a 4.86 ERA and a .281 batting average against.

On the last day of June, Miles Mikolas put his foot in the ground and began something of a turnaround.  He contained the exuberant Padres for 6 innings, leaving the game trailing, but only by a 3-2 score.  With a nearly impeccable bullpen (which has been a strong part of this story) holding the line, St Louis tied the contest thanks to an eighth-inning error, winning finally in the eleventh on Matt Wieters’ two-run home run (box score).

With the end of the season’s longest losing streak, came a reversal of fortunes for both teams.  Gravity has since caught up with the Padres, who have floated out of playoff contention.  For their part, the Cards used that emotional win to fashion the 16-8 July record that has surged them to the top of the division.

At the close of last weekend’s series against Houston, the Cardinal momentum looked like it may have stalled, as St Louis was defeated fairly soundly on Saturday and Sunday.

And so, yesterday they again needed a starter to take the mound and put an end to the losing streak.  As it has been so often over the last decade plus, that starter was Adam Wainwright.

The Cubs gave as good as they got from Waino, but by the end of his 5.2 inning stint, he held the game at a 1-1 tie.  The bullpen, again, threw airtight relief, and a late home run off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt sent the Cards into sole position of first place by a 2-1 score (box score).

This was now the 147th time that Adam has taken the mound after a Cardinal loss in his storied career.  The Cards are now 96-51 (.653) in those games.

Meanwhile, St Louis has gone 5-3 this month (including 4-1 over the last 5) in games after a loss – improving them to 26-23 for the season in this category.  In the 8 games after a loss this month, the rotation has come up strong with a 3.40 ERA and a .245 batting average against.  The bullpen has been even better in these games with a 1.88 ERA and a .152 batting average against.

Waino, by the way, has made the start in two of those games, throwing 5 solid innings against Seattle on July 3 setting up a 5-2 victory.

Last night’s game had a bit of a playoff feel to it.  The birds haven’t won too many of those types of games over the last few years.

Who You Gonna Call?

After back-to-back walks in the sixth, the Cubs had their best opportunity to break the hearts of the home team fans.  Bases were now loaded, two outs, and Kyle Schwarber – owner of more than one telling hit against the Cardinals in his career – was at the plate.  At 95 pitches, and with the lefty up, manager Mike Shildt felt the prudent thing was to relieve Adam in an attempt to hold onto the 1-1 tie.

So, who do you call on?  Giovanny Gallegos, of course.  Five pitches later, Gallegos got Kyle to reach for that slider, lofting a harmless fly ball to medium deep left.  And the threat was done.  Giovanny has now stranded the last 8 runners that he has inherited – including the bases loaded twice.  Gallegos – who has stranded 29 of the 32 batters he has inherited this season – has now come into bases loaded situations 7 times this season.  He has stranded all of these gentlemen in 5 of those occasions, allowing just one of those runs in the other two occasions.

There just has not been an occasion that has been too large for the amazing Mr. Gallegos.

Gio is now unscored on in 8 straight games (11.2 innings).  He has allowed 2 hits in those innings with 15 strikeouts against 3 walks.  Over his last 24 games (29.2 innings), Gallegos holds an 0.61 ERA with a.131/.179/.212 batting line against.  The 4 walks he has allowed in those innings more than swallowed up in his 39 strikeouts.   In 12.2 innings this month Gio holds an 0.71 ERA, and has allowed just 3 hits against 18 strikeouts.

This just in.  Gallegos is pretty good.

AndrewMiller

Andrew Miller – all things considered – has put together a very solid month of his own.

He also entered the game with a runner on base (first base) and two outs.  Miller allowed an infield hit, but then retired slugger Kris Bryant on a fly ball to center.

For the month of July, Miller has a 1.80 ERA through 10 innings.

CarlosMartinez

In recent days, Carlos Martinez has had some scary innings.  None of that was in play last night.  Carlos wrapped up a four-out save in perfect fashion, featuring 3 strikeouts.  One of the big questions surrounding any closer is how quickly he can turn the page if he has a couple of rugged outings.  Here, in a big game against the Cubs (a team he has had struggles with) Carlos was as good as could be hoped.

Throughout his career, Carlos has always pitched very well on days after a Cardinal loss.  He has pitched in 5 of the 8 such games this month, giving 1 run on 3 hits and a walk while striking out 8 in 5 innings.  For the season, Martinez holds a 2.79 ERA with a .206/.280/.279 batting line in 19.1 innings after a loss.

Over the course of his career, Carlos has pitched in 107 games after a Cardinal loss – starting 47 of them.  He is 24-14 with 10 saves and a 3.08 ERA over 362 innings.

TommyEdman

After a bit of a tailspin, Tommy Edman is beginning to re-emerge. He has had two hits in each of the last two games.

Tommy has had a good month in games after a loss.  He has now played in 7 of them, hitting .320 (8 for 25).

JoseMartinez

Jose Martinez finished the game with two singles, stretching his hitting streak to seven games.  He is hitting .333 (9 for 27) during the streak.

PaulGoldschmidt

Speaking of hitting streaks, Goldschmidt extended his to eight straight games.  It hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak either, as Paul has hit .364 (12 for 33) in those games.  The hits have been 5 singles and 7 home runs.  Paul has driven home 14 runs over the last 8 games (3 of them game winners) while slugging a tidy 1.000.

DexterFowler

Dexter Fowler saw his six-game hitting streak come to an end last night.  Dex was 7 for 23 (.304) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.652 slugging percentage) during the streak.

PaulDeJong

Paul DeJong will certainly be glad to see July end.  After his 0 for 4, Paul is down to .214 for the month (18 for 84).

For the season, Paul has struggled considerably after a St Louis loss.  Playing in 48 of the 49 games, DeJong is hitting .227 in those games (41 for 181).  In July, after a loss, he was 3 for 30 (all singles) with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts – a .100/.156/.100 batting line.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s home run accounted for his eighth game-winning RBI of the season.  Only Marcell Ozuna (who has 9) has more.

The home run was Goldy’s twenty-fifth of the year.  Paul has been a four-time thirty-home-run guy – including last year when he hit 33.  His career high is 36, done twice.  Behind his average home run pace for most of the year, Goldschmidt is now on pace to hit a career-high 38.  Seven homers in eight games will do that.

Paul hasn’t started every game this season, but he has played in all of them – all 106.  Goldschmidt has never played in every game in a season, but he has come close.  He played in 160 with Arizona back in 2013.  He has played in at least 155 games in each of the last 4 seasons – including 158 last year.

Paul is also up to 396 at bats, and is creeping up on the 593 he had last year – the second most of his career.

After getting hit by a pitch again last night, Kolten Wong has reached double figures in HBP for the third consecutive season, and the fourth time in his career.  His career high is 15 set in 2015.

Kolten is also moving up on the games played list – last night was his 104th game of the season.  He played just 127 last year.  Kolten has never played more than the 150 games he played in 2015.

Wong is also up to 330 at bats for the season, just beneath the 353 he managed last year.  Wong hasn’t been over 400 at bats in a season since that 2015 season.

His single was his eighty-sixth hit of the season – he finished last year with 88.  Kolten, in his seven-year career – has exceeded 100 hits only three times.  He has also nearly matched his total bases for all of last year (when he had 137).  He already has 129 in 2019.

With Tuesday’s hard-fought win, St Louis has now won the opening game of five straight series.

The Cubs (coming off losing two-of-three in Milwaukee) are the fourth team in the Cards’ last five series that had lost its previous series.

St Louis fell behind again in the fourth inning.  They have now surrendered the game’s first run in four straight games, and six of the last seven.

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.

New/Old Offensive Philosophy Leads to Damage in Seattle

“Our hard-hit contact rate improved [in May] and our results decreased.  And I felt like we said, ‘You know what? We’ve got to do something different because we’re not getting the reward.’  We got away from the damage we were doing coming out of Spring Training.  We did without reward and lost our way a little bit.  We’ve gotten back to doing what we need to do, and that’s putting some damage out there.”

The speaker here was Cardinal manager Mike Shildt, quoted in Anne Rogers game story for MLB.com (full article).

The gist – as I understand it – is that the Cardinal hitters tried to be too selective at the plate.  Earlier in that same article, Dexter Fowler explained it this way: “See the ball in the zone and take that hack at it.  Guys sit there thinking, ‘Oh, he’s going to throw me this, so I want it in this spot.’  If it’s in the zone, hit it.”

June, of course, was a disastrous offensive month for the Holy Cardinal Franchise.  They managed just 3.54 runs per game and finished dead last in the entire major leagues in team batting average (.223), on base percentage (.286) and slugging percentage (.357).

The Seattle series did show a significant uptick.  In three games in the Pacific Northwest, the formerly inept Cardinal batsmen hit .275 (28 for 102), with 12 of the hits going for extra-bases (6 doubles and 6 home runs).  They slugged .510 in Seattle.

So, how much of the expressed philosophical issue and the described resolution are truly responsible for the woes of June?  And how compelling is the evidence that things have turned around?  Let’s play a little fact or fiction.

There actually is a statistical footprint that supports the “too passive” theory.  The usual statistical breakout of the average major league at bat is that slightly more than half of them get to the point where the hitter gets two strikes on him.  At that point, the numbers shift drastically to the pitcher.  Up to that point, major league batters hit over .300.  The other 50% of at bats are generally divided pretty evenly between batters hitting the first and second strike.  According to baseball reference, batters hitting the first strike thrown to them are hitting .354/.414/.636.  Once the batter gets two strikes on him, his numbers drop to .173/.247/.285.

St Louis’ numbers from June show that the first strike was hit only 17.5% of the time (suggesting a reluctance to take an aggressive approach).  Moreover, when that pitch was hits, the results – the “damage” if you will – sat well below the major league average.  Cardinals hitting the first strike in June hit .279/.357/.517.

Meanwhile, they ended up in two-strike counts an uncomfortable 57.3% of the time – with predictable results (.165/.225/.256).

For all of the talk, though, they didn’t hit that first strike any more frequently in this series.  Of the 109 batters who came to the plate in Seattle, 18 hit the first strike (just 16.5% – this number including two batters who walked before seeing strike one).

They did, however, hit that first pitch much better when they did hit it – going 9 for 16 (.562) with 2 doubles and a home run (.875 slugging percentage).

Of the 109 batters sent to the plate, 62 (56.9%) still ended up in two strike counts – higher than average.  These batters, though, also performed better.  The batting average was somewhat higher at .190 (11 for 58).  But 6 of the 11 two-strike hits went for extra-bases (3 doubles and all 3 home runs hit over the last two games).  Tommy Edman’s seventh-inning, game-winning single in the Thursday game (box score) also came on a two-strike pitch, culminating a 9-pitch at bat.

It could be argued from this, that the team isn’t any less selective than they were in June, but that when they do decide to swing, they are doing so with more abandon – that the swings, themselves, are more aggressive.

On the Other Hand

So, if there is some evidence of a new and more productive offensive philosophy in place, here are a couple of caveats to keep in mind.

First of all, the sample size is exceedingly small.  We are looking here at 109 plate appearances in contrast to 964 in June alone, and 3226 for the season.  Three games can suggest a possible turn-around, but proves nothing.

Second, of course, this was Seattle.  The Mariners are having a fairly dreary season, having lost more than fifty games, already.  There have been a lot of teams that have taken similar advantage of the Seattle pitching staff.  This becomes more credible when (if) they can perform similarly against a more established pitching staff.

Finally, this re-discovered damage happened on the road.  The question that hangs over this offense is – aggressive or not – can they do sustained damage in their spacious ballpark, where big flies tend to die on the track?

Don’t get me wrong, it was a relief to see some hits coming off the bats of some struggling hitters.  But there is still much to be proved.

HarrisonBader

Perhaps the change in philosophy affected no one more than Harrison Bader.  He had fallen completely into that pattern throughout the month of June.  Harrison hit that first strike just 19% of the time, and went just 3 for 12 when he did.  He ended with two-strikes on him 61.9% of the time, batting just .087 (4 for 46) when that happened.

Harrison had 7 plate appearances in the last two games of the Seattle series, and he hit the first strike in 3 of them – getting singles all three times.

PaulGoldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt finished the Seattle series with 3 hits over the last two games – a single and two doubles.  Two of the three hits came with two strikes on him – which was encouraging.  But again, Goldschmidt faced two-strike counts in 6 of his last 8 plate appearances.  Paul, who is, perhaps, more selective than he needs to be, has gotten to two strikes in 62.8% of his plate appearances.

JoseMartinez

Jose Martinez finished the Seattle series with a single and a double yesterday afternoon.  Jose has now strung together a nice six-game hitting streak.  He is hitting .333 during the streak (8 for 24), with half the hits going for extra-bases (2 doubles, 2 home runs).  Since being returned to the lineup 13 games ago, Jose is hitting .314 (16 for 51), and slugging .529 with 3 home runs.

DexterFowler

Fowler also has a little hitting streak going, having at least one hit in each of the last 7 games he’s had an official at bat in.  He walked as a pinch-hitter in the last game against San Diego.  Counting that walk, over his last 25 plate appearances, Fowler has contributed 5 singles, 1 double, 1 home run and 5 walks – a .350/.480/.550 batting line.

Fowler – like Goldschmidt – is a taker of pitches.  For all his talk about aggression, he never did hit the first strike thrown him at any point in the series, working with two strikes on him in 9 of the 11 plate appearances he had where they actually pitched to him (he was intentionally walked his last time up).

All three of his hits in the series came with two strikes on him.

YadierMolina

While most of the Cardinals’ struggling hitters found some measure of success in Seattle, things are still not falling in for Yadier Molina.  Yadi is 0-for-10 with a sacrifice fly in his last 11 plate appearances, but three of those outs (including the sac fly) have been line drives.  In 20 games since he’s returned from injury, Yadi is carrying a .239/.257/.282 batting line.

MichaelWacha

After allowing just 3 runs over 13 innings of his previous two starts, inconsistency found Michael Wacha yesterday afternoon, and he was driven from the mound before he could get through the fourth inning.

Wacha has labored to a 5.89 ERA since he returned from the injured list.

CarlosMartinez

Carlos Martinez’ season began on the injured list, and his first several appearances out of the pen were less than sharp.  That has resolved itself over his last 7 appearances (10.1 innings) in which he has given just 1 run on 7 hits (0.87 ERA).  Over that span, Carlos has walked just 2, given no extra-base hits, and struck out 11.

Of the last 24 batters to put the ball in play against him, exactly two-third have hit the ball on the ground.

AndrewMiller

Like Martinez, it took Andrew Miller a little while to get the feel of his slider.  The recent results indicate it is about back to its former level of filthiness.  He has struck out all of the last five batters he’s put into two strike counts, and 9 of the last 11.

NoteBook

Jose Martinez grounded into two double plays last night.  He has already bounced into 11 this season.  His career high are the 15 he hit into last year in 152 games and 534 at bats.

Last night’s victory gave St Louis a series win on the road.  This was their fourteenth road series of the season, and only the fifth of them that they have won, losing 8 and splitting 1.  Even with the win, they are 19-24 on the road this season.

Even though they eventually won the game, St Louis trailed after six innings for the ninth game in a row.

Winning Teams Still a Stumbling Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

Yairo Munoz

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

Paul DeJong

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

Jose Martinez

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

Harrison Bader

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

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

Adam Wainwright

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

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

Tyler Webb

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

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

John Brebbia

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

John Gant

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

Giovanny Gallegos

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

Jack Flaherty

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

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

Michael Wacha

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

Jordan Hicks

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

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

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

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

Brief Musing Over the Outfield Pecking Order

It looked for all the world like another quiet loss for the St Louis Cardinals as they went meekly into the ninth inning against the Mets trailing 4-2.  With Edwin Diaz coming into the game to close things out, it didn’t seem like it would take too long to navigate through the inning, allowing everyone to go home.  That may have been in part behind the decision to continue to play in a rain that was making things increasingly quagmirish.

And then the most unexpected thing happened.  Down to their last out, an RBI single from Kolten Wong and an RBI double from Harrison Bader tied the game.

Faced, now, with the potential for a considerably longer game, the tarps came out in earnest and – a short while later – the game was suspended, to be finished tonight before the regularly scheduled game.

So, while we wait to find out if we will be treated to a stirring comeback victory or just another tease, I thought we might spend a couple of quick paragraphs considering the outfield situation.

Currently the “fourth outfielder,” Jose Martinez has started more games than he hasn’t.  The suspended game was his forty-first start of the season.  Through the first 67 games, St Louis is 23-17 (.575), scoring 5.15 runs per game when Martinez is in the starting lineup.  They are 10-16 (.385), scoring 3.92 runs per game when he is not in the lineup.

The Martinez advantage is even more pronounced when a right-hander starts against the Cards.  So far they have faced 54 right-handers.  Jose has started 32 of those games.  The team record in those games is 20-12 (.625) while they score an average of 5.34 runs per game.  When he is not in the lineup against righties, St Louis is 8-14 (.364), scoring 3.95 runs per game.

On the other hand, Dexter Fowler has made 51 starts this season, with the team going 23-28 when Dexter is in the starting lineup, and 10-5 when he isn’t.

With Martinez currently struggling at the plate, it’s hard to make a compelling case for more playing time for him.  The numbers, though, hint at something I’ve long felt – namely, that Martinez’ defensive deficiencies in the outfield have been somewhat exaggerated.  And that, perhaps, Fowler’s defense is a tad over-rated.

If Jose should start to hit again, that could make this an easier decision for Mike Shildt.

Cards Can’t Seem to Add to their Leads

Of the recent losses in Chicago, perhaps the one that lingers longest in the memory is the Saturday game.  That, of course, was the evening that Marcell Ozuna gave the team a 3-0 lead with a first-inning home run, and Harrison Bader followed with a home run of his own, pushing the lead to 4-0.  That was the first inning.

From the second inning on, they managed one infield single for their final 26 at bats of the game, eventually, of course, losing the game.

A similar kind of thing happened in Miami last night.

Here, it took the Cards until the fourth inning to get that lead (just 1-0 this time), and immediately the offense shut down again.  From the moment Yairo Munoz’ double put St Louis on the board till the end of the game, Cardinal batsmen were 1 for 16.

They were lucky in this one.  The 23-41 Marlins gifted the Cards a couple of runs with an error that – with Harrison Bader’s first sacrifice fly of the season – eased St Louis into a 4-1 victory (box score).

Looking through the first 8 games of the month, it has been surprising – or perhaps not – to note how difficult it has been for the Cards to add to their leads.

On June first – as they were working on their home sweep of the Cubs, they added four tack-on runs after they opened up their 3-2 lead – these made the difference in their 7-4 victory.

The next afternoon, as they wrapped up the sweep, they took a 1-0 lead in the fifth.  When they batted in the eighth, it was still 1-0.  They had actually not had a hit since the fourth inning.  They did manage a couple of hits and one additional run in that eighth – again, a critical run in a 2-1 win.

Cincinnati came into town next, and Matt Carpenter greeted them with a leadoff home run in the first.  Not only did the Cards not score again, they only managed 5 more hits.

In game two of that series, a third inning run gave St Louis a 1-0 lead.  From that point till the seventh inning, the Cards added just 4 singles and watched Cincinnati tie the game.  Paul DeJong hit the home run in that inning that gave St Louis the lead back at 3-1.  None of the last five Cardinal batters managed a hit, but they didn’t need to as the Cards held on to that one.

During that disastrous weekend in Wrigley, the Saturday game was the only one they held a momentary lead in.

So, counting the Bader home run in the Saturday game, and the three gift runs last night, for the entire month the Cards have added a total of 9 runs to their 7 existing leads (five of those scoring in the first two games).

Even in victory, St Louis finished with just 4 hits last night.  They are 4-4 in the early part of this month, in spite of the fact that they are averaging 2.88 runs per game, and are hitting .212 as a team.

In June, they are hitting .167 (12 for 72) when they bat with a lead.  This becomes just another head-scratching issue with an offense that just will not find its gear.

In a very real sense this is also a character issue.

Ozuna

Lately, Marcell has been a one-man offense.  For much of the season, Ozuna has been a kind of modern day Dave Kingman – lots of home runs, but very little else.  But in June we have seen a very different Marcell.  He has 5 hits in the last 2 games, and is now batting .414 (12 for 29) this month.

Both of Ozuna’s hits came while the game was still scoreless. In fact, his double set up the game’s first run.  For the first 8 games in June, Marcell is 8 for 12 (.667) when batting while the game is tied.  He is 0 for 6 when batting with a lead.

For the season, Marcell hits .297 (19 for 64) with 4 doubles and 7 home runs while the game is tied – a .688 slugging percentage with 18 of his runs batted in.

Once St Louis forges ahead, his average falls to .207 (17 for 82) with 3 home runs and 14 runs batted in.

Jose Martinez

The worst slump I can ever remember Jose Martinez go through continued with his 0-for-4 last night.  In his last 18 games (7 starts), Jose is 3 for 33 (.091) – all singles with 9 strike outs.  He is 1 for 13 (.077) this month.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 9 of their last 13 games.  They are now 5-4 in those games.

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.

When You’re Trying Not to Hit the Curve Ball

Last night in Washington, Adam Wainwright made his record-tying start with catcher Yadier Molina.  These two have formed the battery for 248 Cardinal games over the years – tying the Tom Glavine/Javy Lopez record.

In rolling through 6.2 innings in the game, Adam threw 80 pitches.  Twenty-six of those were curve balls – Waino’s signature pitch.  The fastest of these (according to Brooks Baseball) spun in at 77.6 mph.  Adam’s fastest pitch of the game (a sinker) registered all of 92.4 mph.  During the evening, 12 of Adam’s 80 offerings cracked the 90-mph barrier.

The league, of course, is well aware of who Wainwright is – especially at this point of his career.  Beating Wainwright means that you need some strategy for coping with that curve.

If he’s missing the strike zone with it, then the adjustment is easy.  Just don’t swing at it.  If he is throwing that curve for strikes, you can try to wait for him to hang one – Victor Robles got a hanger on a 3-1 pitch and sailed it over the wall.

But if he’s not hanging them often, then most teams will take the approach the Nationals took last night – hit him early in the count.  Once Adam gets two strikes on you, you become vulnerable to Uncle Charlie.  Early in the count, Wainwright will throw more cutters and sinkers to set the hitter up for the curve.  Twenty-one of the 29 batters to face Adam ended their plate appearance before strike two, with 7 of them hitting Adam’s first strike.

Across all of baseball, this is very profitable hitting territory.  According to baseball reference, all major league hitters are hitting .342 and slugging .617 when they hit that first strike.

But, of course, Wainwright and Molina have been around a bit as well.  Figuring that the Nationals would be looking to hit something other than that curve, they mixed plenty of cutters (13) and sinkers (23) – especially early in the count.  In a sense, it was a case of be careful what you ask for.  The battery of Wainwright and Molina was consistently effective at jamming the Washington hitters – who were very obliging.

In the second inning, Matt Adams got enough of one of those inside cutters to float it into short left-center for a single.  The next inning, Adam Eaton was quick enough on another inside cutter to stroke it just fair over the right-field wall.  For the rest, it was a predictable mix of relatively easy fly-ball outs.

For the rest of the series, Washington will have to deal with pitchers with more stuff in Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson.  But last night, they were treated to a demonstration of pitching as an art form.  When he’s right, Adam can make it look fairly easy.

Ah, But Those Home Runs

In spite of the strong performance, Wainwright did serve up two more home runs.  For the rotation, now, that is 34 home runs allowed in 151 innings.  The opposing slugging percentage against Cardinal starters is .502 – the second highest in all of baseball.

That Bullpen is Still Plenty Tough

As they have for most of the year, St Louis’ bullpen came in and closed the door.  Over the last 2.2 innings, Washington managed only 1 hit and no runs.  The batting average against the Cardinal bullpen falls to .178 – the lowest in the majors.

John Gant

Adding another strong outing to his excellent start, John Gant threw 1.1 scoreless innings last night.  His season ERA slides to an unexpected 0.98.

He reached two strikes on all 5 batters he faced last night, a facet of his game that has been exceptional this year.  So far this season, 63.2% of all batters John has pitched to have ended up in two-strike counts.  They have not prospered, hitting .050/.116/.050.

Speaking of Two Strikes

Almost as masterful on the other side was Washington starter Anibal Sanchez.  Mr. Sanchez, himself, featured a cutter that never exceeded 89.5 mph.  But he spotted it expertly on the corners of the zone.

He, and the relievers who followed him, put 27 of the 38 Cardinal batters in two-strike counts – on their way to ringing up 15 strikeouts and holding one of baseball’s most consistent offenses under four runs for just the fifth time this season.

Jose Martinez

Contrary to the plan at the start of the season, Jose Martinez started for the thirteenth consecutive game last night.  For the third straight of those games, he finished with 2 hits.  He has hit in 11 of those games, getting multiple hits in 7 of them.  Jose carries a .462 average (20 for 47) as he is making it exceedingly difficult for management to put him back on the bench.

One of those hits (his second inning single) came on a 1-2 pitch.  Martinez – among his other accomplishments – is the best two-strike hitter on the team, carrying a .318 average (14-for-44) when down to his last strike.

Matt Carpenter

While most of the team seems to be perking along, things are still a struggle for Matt Carpenter.  Matt found himself in two-strike counts through all 5 of his at bats.  He walked once and struck out the other 4 times.  He now has 7 strikeouts over his last 2 games.  For the season, only Paul Goldschmidt (61.4%) has found himself in two-strike counts with more frequency that Carpenter (60.0%).  Once considered the team’s best two-strike hitter, Carp is hitting .145 (9-for-62) in that situation so far this year.

Yadier Molina

And, yes, Yadier Molina’s career-best-tying 16-game hitting streak came to an end in the win.  Yadi was 0-for-3 with a walk.  During the streak, Molina hit .328 (21 for 64) with a couple of home runs.  Yadi drove in 19 runs during that streak.

Young but Surprisingly Patient

So, clearly, these are not your father’s Washington Nationals.  Famously, Bryce Harper abandoned the club over the off-season.  Familiar names like Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon are still Nationals. But haven’t played recently due to injuries.

Prominent in the new Washington lineup are three prospects under 23 years of age.  Carter Kieboom (what a great name for a baseball player) is just 21 – he started at shortstop.  Victor Robles is the 22-year-old centerfielder.  And, of course, the future face of the franchise, 20-year-old Juan Soto is the left fielder.

For the kids and the rest of the Nats (and the rest of the lineup was all over 30), it was another day of what might have been.  A three-run second gave them an early lead, but a six-run Cardinal fifth flipped the narrative, and St Louis carried home a 6-3 victory in the series opener (box score).

In many ways, the game followed the desired Cardinal script.  The resilient lineup finally broke through after the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – kept the opponent within range.  Washington finished with just the 3 runs on only 4 hits.  The kid starters finished the evening 0-for-10.  But they also drew a couple of walks and saw an aggregate 61 pitches.

By game’s end, the Nationals (old as well as young) exacted 177 pitches and 6 walks from the Cardinal pitching staff.  The three-run second was aided notably by a couple of walks, and Washington manufactured an eighth-inning rally against John Brebbia as they walked the bases loaded – including a ten-pitch walk nursed by Soto.

I have only seen Washington for one game, but patience seems to be the organizational meme this year.  Thirty-seven National batters stood in at the plate last night.  Thirty-one of them took the first pitch – 15 of them taking first-pitch strikes.

Things didn’t quite work out for them last night, but sometimes process proceeds production.  It was a little uncommon to see such young players committed to patient at bats.  It will be something to keep an eye on as the series – and their season – progresses.

Cardinal Bullpen Nearly Unhittable

Washington’s patient approach took its toll on the St Louis bullpen, as well.  Cardinal relievers – forced to cover 4 innings after starter Michael Wacha could only give them five – ended up throwing 76 pitches over those four innings.  Still, when all was said and done, the Nationals finished 0-for-12 against the St Louis pen.  The batting average against Cardinal relievers drops now to .180 – the lowest in the majors (Houston’s bullpen is a fairly distant second at .202).

The pen does have some issues – walks and home runs.  But nobody is putting together strings of hits against these guys.

Offensive Consistency Amazing

While none of the offensive numbers from last night’s game are particularly newsworthy, at the end of the day the Cards had put up six more runs.  Twenty-eight games into the season, St Louis has scored at least four runs in 24 of them.  They currently sit tied for third in the major leagues (with the Yankees) for most runs per game – 5.54.

While the Nats were hesitant to swing at the first pitch, the Cards did so 12 times.  St Louis is actually one of baseball’s best hitting teams when they swing at the first pitch.  They were 6 of 12 last night in at bats that began with a swing at the first pitch, and are hitting .292 on the season in those at bats.

Marcell Ozuna

In the middle of the rally – again – was Marcell Ozuna.  His was the two-run single that put the Cards ahead.  Ozuna has now driven in 10 runs over his last 5 games – including 3 game-winning hits.  Marcell has now driven in the winning run a team-leading 4 times (Paul Goldschmidt is second with 3).

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez added two more hits, including a double, and another run batted in last night.  Jose has been in the starting lineup for 12 straight games.  He is hitting .409 (18 for 44) in those games.

Jose collected the first Cardinal hit of the game – his line single in the fourth. Martinez, I think, gives the impression of being an impatient hitter, but in that at bat he took the first three pitches before jumping on the fourth pitch.  For the season, Jose actually takes the first pitch of an at bat 84.6% of the time.  That figure actually leads the team (Matt Carpenter is only taking the first pitch 77.5% of the time).

And when he takes that first pitch, he ends up hitting .365 in those at bats.

Harrison Bader

Gone for ten days earlier this month nursing a slight hamstring pull, Harrison Bader’s opportunities have been somewhat sparse since his return.  To this point, Bader doesn’t seem to have suffered from his relative inactivity.  He had 2 hits last night in his first start since his return (including the home run that put St Louis on the board) and has been 3 for 6 since his return with a walk and a hit by pitch.

He also hasn’t lost his touch in the outfield.

Matt Carpenter

Speaking of Carpenter, the only time he put a ball in play last night he tried going again to left field – a fly out.  His other plate appearances ended in a walk and three strikeouts.

Things still haven’t been falling Matt’s way.  He has gone 8 games without an extra-base hit, hitting .192 (5 for 26) in that span.

Jedd Gyorko

Playing time has been sparse for Jedd Gyorko as well.  A major contributor the last couple of seasons, Jedd has yet to make much of an impact.  Twenty-eight games into the season, Gyorko has 20 at bats.

Last night, getting a rare start, he took the first pitch in all 3 plate appearances, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout.  The season is very young, but to date, Jedd has taken the first pitch 14 times, going 0-for-13 in those at bats with 1 walk and 6 strikeouts.  Jedd is 2-for-7 the times he has swung at the first pitch.

NoteBook

Last night was only the fourth time in ten series that St Louis won the opening game of the series.  They went on to sweep the other three series (two games against Pittsburgh, four against the Dodgers, and three against the Brewers).