The game had been taut and tense all along. After two-and-a-half scoreless innings, Atlanta rookie sensation Ronald Acuna gave the Braves an early lead with a home run. In the top of the fourth, resurgent Cardinal shortstop Paul DeJong one-upped the Atlanta rookie. His home run came with a runner on base (a recurring theme lately).
Now it’s the eighth inning, score still 2-1 Cards. But now St Louis is rising against the Atlanta bullpen. A walk and a double put two runners on base ahead of an RBI single off the bat of DeJong (again). Now its 3-1, but the inning isn’t over yet. Another walk loads the bases and brings ex-Cardinal Sam Freeman out of the bullpen. Sam got his first man – striking out rookie Patrick Wisdom. He wouldn’t survive the next batter.
Catcher Yadier Molina smoked a grounder past diving shortstop Charlie Culberson. Two runners scored on the hit, with the third also crossing the plate after the ball eluded Acuna (who at first glance looks more polished in the batter’s box than in left field). Suddenly, it was a 6-1 Cardinal lead, and St Louis was on its way to a deceptively easy 8-1 victory (box score).
For the game, the Cards were only 4-for-21 (.190) when they hit with no one on base. But, lately runners on base have had the same effect on them that blood in the water has on sharks.
Over the last ten games, the Cards have pushed 62 runs across the plate in spite of the fact that they have only hit .245 as a team. The difference has been that as a team they have hit .358/.424/.562 once a runner reaches base. During that same span, they are hitting just .167/.233/.258 with the bases empty.
Last night, they were 7 for 16 (.438).
In no situation have they been more deadly than the situation that Molina found himself in – hitting with the bases loaded. Over the last ten games, the Cards are 5-for-11 (.455) with the bases loaded. In the 58 games since the All-Star Break (during which they have been scoring 5.24 runs per game) the Cards are 22 for 67 (.328) with the bases loaded.
It has been impressive to see. Last night, doubly so as Atlanta has as many damaging opportunities. Of their 40 plate appearances last night, 18 of them came with at least one runner on base – 5 of them with at least 2 runners on base. The Braves finished the game 0-5 with runners in scoring position, and 2-for-15 (.133) with no runs batted in with any runners on base.
This last achievement was quite a relief compared to recent efforts. For the month of September, opponents are hitting .286 (79-for-276) against Cardinal pitchers when batting with one or more runners on base.
A lot of times, it isn’t so much how many hits you manage, but when you do or don’t get them.
Jose Martinez was one of the Cardinal’s most proficient bats in the second half of last season, and is following along much of those same lines this year. With a single and a double last night, Martinez is leading the team in batting average after the All-Star Break. Jose is hitting .313 (56-for-179) over his last 54 games.
In his only opportunity to hit with a runner on base, Martinez set the big eighth inning in motion with a double. Jose is now 6 of his last 14 (.429) and 33 for 89 (.371) since the break with at least one runner on base.
More than a little lost for most of the season, Paul DeJong has been much of the driving force behind the recent offensive upsurge. DeJong has two hits in each of his last two games, and has hit safely in 10 of his last 11, hitting .317 (13-for-41) in those games. His hits include 2 doubles and 3 home runs. Paul has 11 runs batted in and a .585 slugging percentage through those last 11 games.
DeJong could well serve as the poster child for the Cardinals’ recent split-personality with runners on base. He was 0-for-2 last night with the bases empty and 2-for-3 with runners on. Over the Cardinals’ last ten games, DeJong is just 3 for 19 (.158) with 1 extra-base hit (a double) when batting with the bases empty. He is 9 for 18 (.500) with a double, 2 home runs, and 10 runs batted in in those games when batting with one or more runners on base – an .889 slugging percentage.
Wong on the Rise
Another element of the second half offensive revival is Kolten Wong. Wong had two singles, a walk and a hit by pitch last night – bringing his season average back up to the .250 mark. Wong is hitting .330 (35 for 106) in the second half.
Included in that second half resurgence is a .438 on base percentage when batting with the bases empty (21 hits in 57 at bats – a .368 batting average – 6 walks, and a hit by pitch). He reached all three times he was up with the bases empty last night. On a team that frequently doesn’t do much until someone gets on base, Kolten is a welcomed table setter.
It was the fifth inning of the September 13 game against the Dodgers. Facing nasty left-hander Clayton Kershaw, Matt Carpenter, the National League’s leading home run hitter, dropped down a bunt, beating it out for a hit.
He hasn’t had a hit since.
Carpenter – after his 0-for-4 last night – is now hitless in his last 17 at bats. He has struck out in 8 of those 17 at bats, and is now hitting .169 for the month of September with no home runs. Matt’s last home run came off of Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey in the second inning of the August 31 game. That was 62 at bats, 77 plate appearances, and 332 pitches ago. At one time in the MVP discussion, Carpenter has fallen back into the pack.
Time to Talk About Batting the Pitcher Eighth?
I’m not a big fan of batting the pitcher eighth. All things considered, I think it handicaps the offense as much as it helps. But there are some situations where it is worth the discussion. In spite of his recent slump, Matt Carpenter still lists as the Cardinals’ most dangerous hitter. But he can’t hit anywhere but leadoff. Would it surprise you if I pointed out that Carp leads all Cardinal hitters in percent of plate appearances with the bases empty at 66.0%? If he can only hit leadoff, maybe batting Wong ninth might get him at least a few at bats with a duck or two on the pond?
More Good Starting Pitching
Rookie starter Austin Gomber worked in and out of trouble all night. His 5 innings cost him 98 pitches – too many. But at the end of the day he had allowed just 1 run. With the second half of the season now 58 games old, Cardinal starters have consistently given the team a chance. With Gomber’s effort, Cardinal starters hold a 3.37 ERA in the season’s second half.
Throughout what has been a somewhat struggling month of September (and Austin has a 7.07 ERA after 3 starts this month), Gomber has had persistent trouble in keeping the bases clean. Last night, the Braves were 5 for 10 with a double and a home run when hitting with the bases empty. For the month, now, the 29 batters that have had their shot at Austin with the bases empty are hitting .385 with a .448 on base percentage.
Earlier this season, John Brebbia went on a streak where he started to look like a top-echelon reliever. I pointed that out in a post, and he immediately started to get hit. At the risk of jinxing him again, I will note that Mr. Brebbia is once again stringing together quality bullpen innings. Since the All-Star Break, John has thrown 13.1 innings over 14 appearances with a 1.98 ERA and a .191 batting average against.
He threw a 1-2-3 sixth inning last night, striking out 2. He has 20 strikeouts, now, over his last 13.1 innings – an impressive 13.17 per 9 innings.
In spite of apparent over-use, Jordan Hicks has been one of the bright spots in the second half bullpen. He threw a 1-2-3 seventh last night. In 26 innings over 25 second half games, Hicks holds a 2.08 ERA, a .227 batting average against, and a .268 slugging percentage against. With his strikeout last night, Jordan has struck out 18 over his last 11.2 innings.
Mike Mayers pitched the ninth inning last night in a mop up role. He ran into trouble (again) but worked his way out of it. Mayers’ recent efforts haven’t filled anyone with overwhelming confidence, but the hard-thrower is starting to miss some bats – an encouraging sign. With his 2 strikeouts last night, Mike has 19 in his last 11.1 innings.
After striking out the first two batters, Mike surrendered a walk, bringing Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis to the plate with a runner on. This has been a sore spot recently for Mayers. He would get Markakis on a pop fly to center, but not until Freeman had put two runners in scoring position with a double.
In the season’s second half, batters are hitting .371 (13 for 35) against Mayers when hitting with runners on base. They are now 6 for 11 (.545) against him this month in those opportunities.