Tag Archives: McFarland

You Don’t Want to Fall Behind These Guys

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Mets would have their last real chance.  A walk and a single put runners on the corners with no one out and their two 30-home-run men coming up in Pete Alonso and Javier Baez.  They would be batting against quondam closer Alex Reyes.

There have been many times during this trying season that the bullpen was the glaring problem.  Many games were lost when the late-inning arms couldn’t find home plate with a GPS – it’s happened often enough that you could make the argument that the bullpen has been the Cardinals’ greatest liability this season.

But never make the mistake of thinking this group is without ability.  They may not always know where the pitch is headed, but their stuff is pure filth.  And if you find yourself in a two-strike count against them, well, all you can hope for then is an intervention.

Both batters found themselves in that predicament – Alonso was backed up at 1-2, and Javier saw his count go to 2-2.  Alonso’s at bat ended on a tight little slider from Reyes that dipped below Pete’s bat at the last second.  Baez got Alex’ “sit-down” slider.  That’s the one that bites ferociously just before it reaches the plate and dives for the dirt.  Javy suspected that this was the pitch that was coming.  You could see him trying to hold up.  But in the end, he couldn’t.

Alex finished up the inning striking out Jeff McNeil on a tailing changeup.

New York was spared the stuff of Luis Garcia – who was warming up to pitch the ninth – when the Cards broke the game open with four comfort runs in the top of the inning.  Ahead 7-0, St Louis sat Garcia and gave the ball to rookie Kodi Whitley.  Kodi came one 0-2 missed changeup to James McCann from throwing an “immaculate inning.” He ended up striking out the side on ten pitches – getting two of them on a change of his own that is difficult to pick up from his slightly unorthodox delivery.

Nine of the 11 New York batters that faced the St Louis bullpen found themselves backed up in two strike counts (81.8%).  They went 1 for 8 with a walk and the six strikeouts.

Many heroes have led the St Louis Cardinals back into the thick of the Wildcard chase.  None have had a greater impact that the reborn bullpen.  With their strike zone yips seemingly behind them, this group has suddenly blossomed into the great weapon that the team and its fans always knew they could be.

With last night’s 7-0 conquest of New York (box score), St Louis has won 5 of its last 6, pulling to within a half game of the final playoff spot.  During those six games, the starting rotation has been more than adequate.  They have tossed 35.2 innings of 2.78 ERA baseball.  But that efficiency pales in comparison to the 18.1 innings provided by the pen.

Sixty-five batters have faced the Cardinal bullpen over the last 6 games.  They have 6 singles, 3 doubles, 3 walks and 21 strikeouts – a .148/.185/.197 batting line to go with a 0.98 ERA.

Forty of the 65 (61.5%) have found themselves in two-strike counts.  Their numbers are even worse at .077/.100/.128 – with the 21 strikeouts.  That just isn’t where you want to be against this group that features two guys with 100 mph stuff (they actually have three more who are out for the season with injuries).  That list doesn’t include Reyes (who has topped out at only 99.5 mph).  Alex has found that his stuff plays better when he throws it “only” in the 98 mph range.  The group also features a nasty array of sliders.

In baseball as it is played today, you win or lose in the playoffs with your bullpen.  If this team sneaks in, it looks right now that they will have the bullpen to silence opposing offenses.

Oh, and by the way, it looks like this talented group will be augmented with both Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson before the playoffs arrive.  The two injured starters (the Jack and Dak show of two years ago) are on track to be ready by the end of the month – although probably re-purposed as relievers for the remainder of this year.  In case you’ve forgotten about them, these are both elite talents.

Could be real interesting.

McFarland

First out of the pen last night was T.J. McFarland.  Ironically, the only stumble from the pen over these last six games came on TJ’s watch.  It interrupted a scoreless streak of 18.2 innings – and resulted in the Cards’ only loss since the second game of the Dodger series.

McFarland has started another streak – granted it’s only 1.2 innings over two appearances since then – but it included last night’s seventh inning.

TJ holds a 0.86 ERA over his last 21 innings.  During these innings, he has issued all of 4 walks, and is getting ground balls from 62% of the batters who put the ball in play against him.

Reyes

For the month of September, Alex has faced 27 batters so far.  Nineteen of them (70.4%) have found themselves in two-strike counts against Reyes.  Those unfortunate’s are 1 for 18 (.056) with 1 walk and 12 strikeouts.

Whitley

In his previous opportunities with the major league team, Kodi – like many of this bullpen brethren – had issues with throwing strikes.  He isn’t high on the bullpen pecking order yet, but since his most recent recall, Whitley has been a pure strike thrower – nine of ten pitches last night.  Three of the strikes were called.  Of the 6 strikes the Mets swung at, they missed 5.

Since his recall, Kodi has thrown 7 scoreless innings, giving 3 hits (all singles) and 2 walks.  He has thrown 64 of his 90 pitches (71%) for strikes, and batters have missed on 15 of their 40 swings against him (30%).

Wainwright

In our focus on the bullpen, let’s not overlook the continued contributions of Adam Wainwright.  Last night’s winner worked around frequent trouble to throw 6 shutout innings on his way to his sixteenth win.  Wainwright has now authored 10 quality starts over his last 11 games, going 9-1 in those starts with a 1.72 ERA.  August’s NL pitcher of the month, Adam is off to a 3-0 start in September with a 2.18 ERA, a .205 batting average against, and a .274 slugging percentage allowed.

The first strike thrown is the most dangerous.  Across the National League, batters who hit that first strike are hitting .335/.405/.581.  But no one is comfortable with the first strike from Wainwright – who is maybe the least likely pitcher in baseball to throw you that first-pitch, four-seam fastball.

The Mets were 1 for 6 last night against Adam’s first strike.  In the season’s second half, batters are hitting .216/.216/.311 when hitting Wainwright’s first strike.

Molina

Overall, it hasn’t been one of Yadier Molina’s best hitting years – until, maybe, now.  With September arriving and the playoff’s right around the corner, Yadi’s bat seems to have found its second wind.  Molina had 3 hits last night, and has multiple hits in 3 of his last 4 games.  Yadi is hitting .438 (7 for 16) over those four games.  He has scored 5 runs and driven in 5 others, while slapping a double to go with 2 home runs – an .875 slugging percentage.

For the month of September, Molina holds a .303 batting average (10 for 33) and a .636 slugging percentage (2 doubles and 3 home runs).  Yadi has 9 runs batted in in 9 September games.

Bader

After making 57 consecutive starts in center field, Harrison Bader got a day off during the Dodger series.  The rest seems to have rejuvenated his bat.  In the four games since his rest day, Bader is hitting .462 (6 for 13) with hits in 3 of the games – getting multiple hits in 2 of those.  He had 3 hits last night.

For the month of September, now, Harrison is off to a .333 start (14 for 42) with a .548 slugging percentage (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continued his exceptional second half with 2 hits (including a home run) and 2 runs batted in last night.  Since the break, Goldschmidt is hitting .318 (64 for 201) and slugging .572 (13 doubles, a triple, and 12 home runs).

Goldschmidt had both of his hits in 3 at bats before getting a second strike on him.  For the season, Paul is hitting .402/.466/.729 when he gets that pitch to hit before seeing strike two.

O’Neill

With 2 hits last night, Tyler O’Neill pushes his September average up to .319 (15 for 47).  His 15 hits include 3 doubles and 4 home runs – a .638 slugging percentage.

One of Tyler’s hits was an infield hit on an 0-2 count.  O’Neill has been very tough this month in two-strike counts.  He is 7-for-27 (.259) with two strikes on him, with a .630 slugging percentage.  He has hit 3 of his 4 September home runs in two-strike counts.

The league average with two-strikes is .162/.239/.264.

Eliminations

Still very much in the hunt for the Wildcard, San Diego was eliminated from their division title chase with their loss last night to San Francisco.  At 74-69, the Padres become the first team with a winning record to be eliminated from anything.

NoteBook

The crowd of 19,057 was the smallest crowd to see a Cardinal game since the September 1 double-header in Cincinnati.  The crowds for those games were 10,365 and 10,892.

With the win, Adam Wainwright needs just 17 more for 200.  He is also 3 away from 2,000 strikeouts.

At .214, Adam also holds the lowest opponent’s batting average of his career.  Last year – abbreviated though it was – he held opposing batters to a .221 batting average, which is currently the lowest of his career.

In his eleventh season, Goldschmidt has never walked in less than 10.2% of his plate appearances.  With the season winding down, Paul’s walk rate is down to what would be a career low 9.8%

Molina’s RBI was number 992 of his career.  He has a reasonable chance to reach that 1000 mark this year.

At the same time, now in his eighteenth season, some of Yadi’s numbers are as low as he’s seen in some time.  His current .257 batting average and .301 on base percentage would be his lowest since he hit .216 with a .274 on base percentage back in 2006.  His 16.5% strikeout rate would be a career worst.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Homering for the Cycle – With a Couple Left Over

For all the complex numbers I dig up here, if you were to habitually refer to just one metric to determine the difference between victory and defeat, that number would be the RISP number – how the teams did with runners in scoring position.

Sometimes you just don’t get RSIP opportunities if you run into a dominant pitcher.  Some days you do terrible in RISP opportunities, but win anyway – through some combination of circumstances.  But the simplest way to understand this game is to see who took advantage of their opportunities once they’ve advanced a runner as far as second base.

Of course, you could also hit six home runs in the game.  That simplifies things as well.  Even then, though, the “when” of the home run can still make a substantial difference.

Last night – as the Birds launched 6 home runs in a game for the sixth time this century – they also went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position.  Those hits included Harrison Bader’s three-run homer and a grand slam off the bat of Yadier Molina (who added an exclamation point to his historic start catching pitcher Adam Wainwright) as the Cards homered for the cycle (with a couple home runs left over) in a 15-4 thrashing of the first place Milwaukee Brewers (box score).

This was the first time in five years that St Louis has collected a six-pack of home runs.  The 2016 team did it twice (on April 15 against Cincinnati and June 26 against Seattle).

Tellingly, five of the Cards’ six six-homer games have come on the road – two of them now in Milwaukee.  They were in Milwaukee the first time they hit six in a game this century on April 9, 2000.

To add to the statistical symmetry of the sixth, six-home run game this century on the night Wainwright would make his first start after his fortieth birthday – which happened to be his 300th with long-time battery-mate Molina, the Cards ended up with 15 or more runs for the fifteenth time this century.  The last of those was a little over a year ago – September 1, 2020 in a 16-2 win in Cincinnati.  This was only the second time in Waino’s 353 career starts that he was backed with 15 or more runs.  He started against Atlanta on August 22, 2008 where he sailed to an easy 18-3 win.

As to that runners-in-scoring-position number, in their 69 victories this year the Cards are now slashing .302/.390/.552 (a .942 OPS) when hitting in RISP situations.  Their opponents in those 69 wins are at just .164/.278/.238 (a .516 OPS) in their chances.  In the Cardinals’ 64 losses, they are just .194/.282/.254 (a .535 OPS) in RISP chances, while their opponents have gone .292/.413/.497 (a .911 OPS) in their chances.

A lot of times it really isn’t any more complicated than this.  Get the big hit and you win.  Getting a lot of home runs helps, too.

Bader

Harrison added a couple of singles to his important home run.  Bader now has 2 three-hit games in his last three contests.  His six hits (including 2 home runs) in his last 11 at bats has pushed his average back up to .251.  Harrison – whose strikeouts are way down this year – has gone four games without a strikeout.

Bader – who was 2-for-2 in RISP chances last night – has been hitting .333 (14 for 42) with runners in scoring position during the season’s second half.

Arenado

Frustrated at the plate for much of the month of August, Nolan Arenado (who hit two of last night’s home runs) is starting to find his rhythm.  Nolan now has hits in four straight games, getting multiple hits in two of them.  He is 6 for his last 15 (.400) with 3 home runs (all hit in his last two games) for a 1.000 slugging percentage.

Sosa

Coming off a very strong August (.364/.453/.618) Edmundo Sosa shows no signs yet of cooling off.  He added a single and a home run last night, and has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7, with 3 of those being multi-hit games.  With a .440 batting average during those games (11 for 25) and an .880 slugging percentage (1 double, 2 triples and 2 home runs), Edmundo has been as hot as anyone in the lineup.  Sosa has scored 9 runs and driven in 9 over those last 7 games. 

His hot streak has pushed him to a .333 average in the season’s second half (25 for 75) with a .560 slugging percentage (2 doubles, 3 triples and 3 home runs).

Wainwright

All of the offense stole some of the spotlight from the inexpressible brilliance of Adam Wainwright, who dominated again.  August’s NL pitcher of the month (when he went 5-1 with a 1.43 ERA), Waino held the Brewers to 1 earned run over 6.1 innings.  But even that doesn’t do his performance justice.  He was chased from the mound in the seventh by a walk, a flair, and a well-struck grounder right to short that Sosa couldn’t quite handle.  With a little better luck, this could have been another eight-inning, no runs allowed start from the ageless Wainwright.

Even so, it was his ninth consecutive quality start – a streak that has seen him throw as few as 6 innings just once and allow as many as three runs but once.  Over his last 64.1 innings, Adam is 7-1 with a 1.54 ERA, while holding opposing hitters to a .189 batting average and a .233 on base percentage.  Adam has walked just 11 batters in his last 9 games, and has gone 6 games since his last home run allowed.

McFarland

T.J. McFarland was tabbed to get the Cards out of the seventh inning mess.  He faced four batters and got four dribbly grounders, which – due to a little uncharacteristic defensive insecurity – still bled across two runs (one earned) before he could secure the final out.  The runs were charged to Wainwright, so TJ’s long scoreless streak – now 16.1 innings over 16 appearances – is still intact.  The last 60 batters to face McFarland have 8 singles, 3 doubles and 3 walks – a .193/.233/.246 batting line.  Of the last 47 batters who have put the ball in play against him, 29 have pounded the ball into the turf – 62%.

Elimination Notes:

Arizona lost last night, finally falling far enough off the page that they have become the National League’s first team to be completely eliminated from playoff consideration.  They won’t be the last.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 9 straight games.

At 70 degrees (remember they play in a dome in Milwaukee) this was the coolest Cardinal game since July 7.  They were in San Francisco during an uncharacteristically chilly July and played in 58 degree temperatures.

The 15 runs scored in the first game against the Brewers were more runs than St Louis scored in the entire series against Cincinnati. They scored 10 in three games against the Reds.

The game-winning hit was Arenado’s twelfth – tying him with Paul Goldschmidt for second on the team.  Both are one behind Molina’s 13.

The 11-run win brought their road record into curious harmony.  They are now 34-34 on the road, where they have scored 312 runs and allowed 312 runs.

The offensive eruption also pushed the team slugging percentage north of .400 for the season to .401.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Timely Re-Inventions

Nobody who saw Jon Lester’s first four starts as a Cardinal would have believed it, but when Jon took the mound in Cincinnati last night to pitch the bottom of the first, the game was already over. 

A two-run opposite-field home run off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt had given the Birds first blood and a 2-0 lead – a margin that would seem fairly inconsequential, remembering that the Reds opened the series leading the National League in hits, OPS and total bases, and was second in runs scored, batting average and slugging percentage.  They were third in home runs.

When you further remembered the Jon Lester that struggled mightily through his first 20.1 Cardinal innings (with a 7.08 ERA and a .337 batting average against), had the Cincinnati fans and management known that the Cards would score just one more run for the rest of the evening, they would have felt their chances were pretty good.

But after inning after inning of offensive silence rolled by, it began to dawn on the Reds (and the Cards and their fans, too) that this was the old Jon Lester – as opposed to the recent Jon Lester.

After retiring 16 batters in a row, Jon walked Joey Votto with one out in the seventh inning to end his night.  After allowing but one hit, and walking his second batter, Lester left with a 3-1 lead in his pocket – which would turn out to be the final score (box score).

It was the culmination of a re-invention process for Lester, but also the continuation of a fairly dramatic reversal for the Cardinal pitching staff.  The progress hasn’t been straight-line by any stretch of the imagination, but the difference has been noteworthy.  The pitching staff that began the season as one of baseball’s wildest, has – in recent weeks – re-invented itself, as well.

On June 2 in Los Angeles, they were punched around by the Dodgers, 14-3 – a game in which Cardinal pitchers granted 10 walks.  It was the third time in 25 games that they had issued double-digit walks, and their nine-inning average peaked that evening at 4.68.

From that point on, they have averaged just 3.56 walks per nine innings.  Since the All-Star Break, they have averaged just 2.74 unintentional walks per nine innings.  With their two walks last night (none from the bullpen) they have exceeded three walks just 6 times in their last 35 games.  This is a marked departure from earlier in the year.

What they’ve discovered is that when they force opposing to teams to put the ball in play, they end up dealing with far fewer base-runners.  During the just concluded month of August (tonight’s game has been rained out), St Louis maintained a fine 3.30 team ERA.  Helping greatly was the fact that 60.1% of the batters that faced them in August (175 out of 291) came to the plate with no one on base.

Once these teams could get a man on, trouble frequently followed.  With at least one runner on, the opposing batting line jumped to .265/.345/.402.  But with the bases empty – as they were for the most part last night – opponents scuffled along with a .193/.257/.323 batting line.

Last night against Lester and several relievers, 27 of 32 batters came to the plate with no one on base.  We could find ourselves getting used to that.

McFarland

In to pitch after Lester, T.J. McFarland almost saw his scoreless streak ended.  Kyle Farmer – the first batter he faced (whose home run had provided Cincinnati’s only run of the evening) stroked a ground-rule double into the left-field stands – placing runners at second and third with only the one out.

But TJ escaped the jam, stranding both runners.  In addition to a scoreless streak that has now reached 15.2 innings over 15 games, McFarland has also stranded 9 of the 11 runners he’s inherited.  He has allowed just 9 hits in those innings to go with 3 walks for a .189 batting average and a .232 on base percentage allowed in those games.

(The hits by Farmer – by the way – would turn out to be Cincinnati’s only two hits that night.)

During August, McFarland faced 26 batters with a runner on base.  They finished with 2 singles, Farmer’s double and 1 walk – a .120/.154/.160 batting line (with 4 ground-ball double-plays thrown in for good measure).

Garcia

Luis Garcia saw a rare baserunner reach against him due to an error.  No matter, Garcia procured the last out of the eighth inning to raise his scoreless streak to 19.1 innings over 16 games.  The last 70 batters he’s faced hold a .134/.171/.179 batting line against him.

O’Neill

With two hits and a run batted in, Tyler O’Neill wrapped up one of the best months of his young career.  In 95 August plate appearances, Tyler slapped out 17 singles, 2 doubles, the first triple of his career, 4 home runs, 12 walks, 3 hit-by-pitches and a sacrifice fly – adding up to a .304/.411/.506 batting line.

Edman

After six games, Tommy Edman’s little hitting streak came to an end – but Tommy did significant damage during the streak.  He hit .462 (12 for 26) and slugged .808 (3 doubles and 2 home runs), scoring 7 runs and driving in 10 during the streak.

Molina

A second inning single off the bat of Yadier Molina on Saturday became the final hit of his nine-game hitting streak.  He has gone 0-for-11 since.  The season’s second half has been a struggle for Molina more often than not.  Over his last 125 plate appearances, Yadi has 27 singles, 2 doubles, 5 walks and 1 hit-by-pitch – a batting line of .244/.280/.261.

NoteBook

With Milwaukee’s win last night, Pittsburgh becomes the first NL Central team to be eliminated from the division title.  Mathematically, they could still finish second – and they are still alive (barely) in the Wildcard chase – although there is no practical chance of either of those things happening.

At 2:47, Monday’s game was St Louis’ quickest since their August 3 contest against Atlanta (also a Lester start) lasted just 2:39.  That was a home game.  They haven’t played a road game this quick since they were in Colorado on July 1.  Their 5-2 loss to the Rockies that day also took just 2:47.

At 77 degrees the weather in Cincinnati was the coolest the Birds have played in since August 10 in Pittsburgh.  That game was played in 73 degree weather.

The Cards have now scored first in six straight games.

Goldschmidt’s home run held up as the game-winning hit – his eleventh of the season.  That ties him for second on the team with Nolan Arenado, just behind Molina’s 13.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Wanted: Some Margin for Error

The phrase came easily to Cardinal manager Mike Shildt.  Margin for error.  After a recent tight loss, the skipper lamented several times that the team never allows itself “margin for error.”

Cardinal fans and followers can certainly commiserate.  Nothing has come easily or comfortably for this team this year.  Discounting three big wins in Kansas City (Aug 13-15), the Cards hadn’t seen a five-run lead in 22 games – since an eventual 10-6 win against Cleveland on July 25.  Every other night, it was the tightrope act.  Always a defensive blunder, a bad pitch, a bloop hit, an untimely bad call – any little thing could flip a victory into a defeat.

In their last 15 losses, St Louis has held a lead at some point in 10 of them, but almost never with enough margin to withstand occasional bouts with chaos.

So, at the beginning of a ten-game road trip in Pittsburgh last night, the Cardinals made “margin for error” a top priority.

A two-run first inning home run from Nolan Arenado got things going early.  Runs batted in from Tommy Edman (a two-run double) and Paul Goldschmidt (a single to plate Edman) pushed the lead to 5-0 after just two innings.  Edmundo Sosa made it a 7-1 lead with a two-run homer of his own.  All of this was just after three innings.

Margin for Error box, checked.

There is some irony in all of this after the down-trodden Pirates (showing more character than the supposedly contending Cardinals) staged a remarkable comeback in an 11-7 win (box score).

The loss was the Cardinals’ sixth in the last nine games, a stumble that – but for the fact that almost all of the other Wildcard contenders have been struggling as well – should have spilled this team out of contention.  But of all the losses this team has earned this year, this was the most glaring.  Losing a game to a last-place team when you held a six-run lead at one point is a thing that’s not supposed to happen to you.

And yet, in truth, as this was going down it was impossible for me to feel any sense of surprise.  That fact is that this pitching staff just doesn’t do well with margin for error.

Over the last nine games, Cardinal pitchers have actually had leads of four runs or more to work with in 7 of the last 82 innings.  They have given 7 runs on 11 hits in those innings.  In the seasons’ second half, they’ve defended a lead of four or more runs for 39.1 innings – yielding 25 runs (all earned) in that frame – a 5.72 ERA.

For the season, they’ve pitched with four runs worth of “margin” 12.2% of the time.  In 130.1 relatively comfortable innings (at least as far as pitching with a lead is concerned) the Cardinals are struggling with a 5.46 ERA.

There is a curious gravity pulling at this team.  Every time they start to pull away from the .500 mark, that gravity pulls them back down.  And every time they start to pull away in the game, almost immediately the pitchers let the other guys back in.

Apparently, margin for error is more helpful for some teams than for others.

McFarland

Before the hijinks of the eighth inning, there was T.J. McFarland getting out of trouble in the fifth inning.  When starter Miles Mikolas was unable to finish the fifth, TJ came in with two runners on and only one out.  He threw 2 pitches, got his double play, and trotted to the dugout with a 7-3 lead that would have been his fourth win.

That is now 12.2 consecutive scoreless innings for McFarland over 13 games.  He has walked just 2 batters in those innings.

A Miller

After throwing a dandy sixth inning, Andrew Miller was given the ball to start the seventh.  He got into immediate trouble by giving up a double and a walk before his night ended.  Both those runners scored after Andrew left.

The season has never come together for Miller, who has had an especially rough time of it during the second half.  He has now given up runs in half of his 12 games, sporting a 7.15 ERA over his last 11.1 innings.  He’s given 9 runs on 14 hits and 5 walks – the hits including 2 home runs and 3 doubles.  It adds up to a .523 slugging percentage to go along with a .318 batting average against.

Edman

Tommy stayed hot, getting two hits, driving in two runs and scoring twice to lead the seven-run offense.  Edman has hit safely in 10 of 11 games, getting two hits in 7 of them.  He is hitting .362 (17 for 47) in those games.

For better or not, if the Cards had more players like Edman they would play more consistently with “margin.”  Edman turned a two-run lead into a four-run lead with his second inning double, and is hitting .308 this season (41 for 133) when batting with a lead of three-runs or less.

Sosa

Edmundo had a single to go along with his home run.  Sosa has quietly been having a great second half, and an even better month of August.  He has now had 48 plate appearances this month, contributing 10 singles, 1 double, 1 triple, 2 home runs, 4 walks and 4 hit-by-pitches.  His August batting line is a hard-to-ignore .350/.458/.575.  Since the break, Sosa is a .302 hitter (16 for 53) with a .403 on base percentage.

Since the break, Edmundo is 0-for-10 when he bats in a game trailing by three runs or more.  But if the Cards are even, ahead, or trailing by no more than two runs, Sosa has been raking to the tune of a .372 batting average (16 for 43) and a .581 slugging percentage (1 double, 1 triple and 2 home runs).

His opposite field home run last night came while the Cards enjoyed a four-run lead.

Carlson

Just off the injured list, Dylan Carlson hasn’t quite geared back up yet.  He is 1 for 11 (.091) since his return, including 0 for his last 9.

The game was still scoreless in the first when Dylan hit with one on and one out, flying to left.  Tied ballgames haven’t been kind to Carlson this year.  He is batting .195 (26 for 133) with the score even.

NoteBook

The fans in Pittsburgh were boisterous, but few.  Only 8,618 showed up to see the Pirates’ memorable comeback.  It’s the smallest crowd the Cards have played before since August 11 – the last time they were in Pittsburgh.  Only 8,545 showed up that evening.

The last time St Louis trailed by four runs in the ninth inning was the last time they suffered a late inning bullpen melt-down – August 5 in their 8-4 loss to Atlanta.

This was only the eighth time this century that St Louis has lost a game that they led at one point by 6 or more runs, and the first time it’s happened in more than 11 years.

The last time the Birds suffered such an indignity happened on July 6, 2010 in Colorado.  St Louis led 9-2 after 6, but the Rockies scored 1 in the seventh and then 9 in the ninth, with Seth Smith hitting the three-run walk of homer in that ninth to give the Rockies the 12-9 victory (box score).  At seven runs, this was the largest lead the Cards have blown this century.

Pittsburgh becomes the only road venue this century at which the Cards have squandered a six-run lead more than once.  The other time that happened was on July 12, 2008.  St Louis led 9-3 going into the bottom of the seventh that night, but Pittsburgh scored 1 in the seventh, 2 in the eighth, 4 in the ninth (three of them on a home run by Nate McLouth), and 2 in the tenth – a Jason Michaels walk-off home run – to deliver a 12-11 victory (box score).

The seven runs scored in the first game against the Pirates were more runs than this team scored in the two games against Detroit (6 runs) and as many as they scored in three games when the Pirates visited our place.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Still Relevant

For eight games over nine days the St Louis Cardinals tried to convince all interested that they would be irrelevant to this season’s playoff chase.

Fresh off a 6-0 road trip, the Cards opened an eight-game home-stand on August 17 that was rife with opportunity.  The first three games were against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers – a team that they had closed to within ten games of.  After the Brewers, they had second-division teams in Pittsburgh and Detroit.  In addition to their ten-game deficit for the division lead, they opened that home-stand just four games out of the final wildcard spot.  There was a lot of good this seemingly hot team could do for itself over that next week-and-a-half.

That home-stand ended yesterday afternoon on a winning note – a 3-2, 10-inning easing past the Tigers (box score).  It was, though, just the third win in the eight games.  The Cards managed to salvage only the final game of each series.

A 3-5 home-stand at this point of the season would seem to be a critical setback – and as far as the division goes, it was.  St Louis opens a ten-game road trip tonight with a 13-game gap between them and the Brewers.  However, they actually gained in the Wildcard chase.

You see, while St Louis was occupied losing 5 of 8, the San Diego Padres – who had held that final wildcard spot – were losing 6 of 7; Cincinnati – the team in between the Cards and the Padres – split their 8 games; and the Phillies and Mets – the two teams just behind the Cards who stood to make the most of St Louis’ stumble – each went 2-6.

The resulting scrum now has Cincinnati (69-59) holding that last playoff spot, with San Diego (68-60) falling a game behind them.  The Cards sit just behind them at 64-61 – two-and-a-half games behind the Padres, and just three-and-a-half games out of the final playoff spot.  The Phillies are now a game-and-a-half further back, with the Mets (now 61-65) a full 7 games out of the playoff picture, and 3.5 behind the Cardinals.

So, in spite of themselves, St Louis takes back to the road, still relevant – for now.

The Good

In the midst of the losing homestand, there was a positive to take away.  Even though the rotation lost another starter (as Jack Flaherty returned to the injured list), the pitching staff – and especially the bullpen – caught its much-needed second wind.  In 74 innings at home, St Louis registered a 3.19 ERA, while giving just 2.98 un-intentional walks per nine innings.  The bullpen’s share of that (over 31.2 innings) showed a 1.99 ERA.  This number includes shaky outings from closer Alex Reyes and seventh-inning man Genesis Cabrera – who combined to serve up 8 runs (5 earned) in 8 combined innings over the 8 games.  Everyone else out of the pen (in 23.2 innings) posted an 0.76 ERA with a .188/.250/.288 batting line against.

As the Cards turn their attention to the final 37 games of the season, they are riding (currently) a patchwork rotation that is holding together better than anyone had any right to expect, and a hand-full of previously unheralded relief arms who are rising to the challenge.

The Bad

As soon as their plane landed on the tarmac at Lambert airport, the reviving Cardinal offense (which had averaged 6.17 runs per game on the road-trip) went back into hibernation.

During their eight games at home, St Louis scored more than four runs just once – finishing the homestand averaging 3.13 runs per game with a .227/.316/.341 batting line, and spiraling down as the homestand went on.  After scoring 12 runs against Milwaukee, they managed 7 against the Pirates.  They scored 6 in two games against Detroit with a humbling batting line of .169/.299/.323.

Offensive inconsistency has been one of the hallmarks of this team, and it damaged them greatly during this most recent homestand.

The Frustrating

There are any number of frustrating aspects to this that I could point out, but just to pick one at random (which is kind of our meme here) let’s look at batters leading off innings.

Putting their leadoff man on was an early season struggle for the Cards.  During a scuffling first half, Cardinal leadoff men were slashing but .219/.281/.362.

This number has improved dramatically since the All-Star Break.  As the offense in general has perked up in the season’s second half – and the Cards are scoring 4.26 runs a game with a .257/.331/.419 batting line since the break – they have done so with an important assist from the batters leading off the innings.  Cardinal leadoff hitters have hit .282/.338/.496 over the last 35 games.

During the last two series of the homestand, the Cards put every third leadoff man aboard (15 of 45).  But now that they’ve finally figured out how to get that first guy on base, they’ve forgotten how to get him home – doing so only 5 times during the last 5 games.

Historically, the leadoff batter who gets aboard scores about 50% of the time.  During the shaky first half, St Louis was still scoring that runner 51% of the time.  During the previous roadtrip, they chased home 10 of 14 leadoff batters who reached.

But over the last 5 games, only 5 of 15.  In the Detroit series, they put that leadoff man on 7 time in 19 innings (a .368 on base percentage).  Only 2 came home to roost.

It has been the dependable pattern of the season.  As soon as one problem seems patched, something else starts to leak.

For those of you have been on this ride all season, I don’t need to tell you that the boat leaks.  And yet – with 37 games to go – it is somehow still relevant.

Edman

In a light-hitting series against Detroit, Tommy Edman led the way with 3 of the 11 hits the Cards managed.  Tommy has hit safely in 9 of his last 10 (getting two hits in 6 of the games).  He is hitting .349 (15 for 43) over those ten games.

Tommy was the leadoff batter for 14 of the 72 innings during the homestand, reaching base in 6 of those innings (a .429 on base percentage).  But he only scored on 2 of those occasions.  In the season’s second half, Edman has an on-base average of .381 when leading off an inning (16 of 42).

The Resurgent Bullpen

Left to shoulder 12 of the 19 innings against the Tigers, the Cardinal bullpen responded in championship fashion as they put up zeroes in 11 of the 12 innings.  The only run surrendered by the group was the run off of Reyes in the ninth inning on Wednesday that cost Jon Lester his first Cardinal win.

The re-constructed bullpen features two key cogs who weren’t with the organization when we broke camp – Luis Garcia and T.J. McFarland.  These two are about as opposite as can be imagined – but their results are thankfully alike.

Garcia

Luis Garcia is the fireballer – one of many hard throwers that inhabits the St Louis bullpen.  He pitched an important sixth inning on Wednesday, hitting 100 mph on three different occasions during that inning (giving him 5 100 mph pitches this season).

Over his last 13 games Luis has been mesmerizingly brilliant.  In the 16.1 scoreless innings he’s thrown in those games, Garcia has faced 57 batters.  They have managed 5 singles, 3 doubles and 1 – just 1 – walk, for a .143/.158/.196 batting line.  133 of his 186 pitches have been strikes (72%) and when they swing, batters are missing his pitch 33% of the time.

Nothing about this looks lucky.  Garcia is a guy who can throw his 100 mph fastball on the edges for strikes and follow it up with a nasty slider.  There is much, much to like here.

McFarland

Where Garcia is the hard-throwing righty, TJ is the soft-throwing lefty.  His fastest pitch has been recorded at 91.0 mph.  Twenty-five of the thirty Cardinals who have pitched for the team this year have recorded a faster pitch at some point.

But McFarland gets his outs at nearly the same rate that Garcia gets his.  TJ is unscored against over his last 12 games (12 innings) during which he has walked just 2.  Batters have managed just a .214/.250/.262 batting line against McFarland, and 19 of the 34 batters who have put the ball in play against TJ have hit the ball on the ground (56%).

McFarland’s scoreless streak includes the tenth inning on Wednesday when he stranded Detroit’s “ghost-runner” by getting a double-play.  He was the winner when St Louis scored in the bottom of that inning.

NoteBook

While the Birds haven’t won an overwhelming number of games, they have usually stayed pretty close.  When they went into the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game trailing 4-0, it was their first four-run deficit after six innings since August 8.  When that deficit persisted into the eighth, it was the first time they trailed by that many after seven since August 3, when they trailed 6-0 after seven on their way to a 6-1 loss to Atlanta.

On that August 3 evening, the temperature in St Louis dipped down to 79 degrees – perhaps hinting at an early fall.  Not so fast.  The Tuesday game was played in sweltering 94 degree heat – the hottest Cardinal game since May 29 when it was 96 degrees in Arizona.

It was the hottest home game of the season – weighing in 4 degrees hotter than the June 14 game against Miami.  At 93 degrees, the Wednesday afternoon game became the second hottest home game this season.

The two games combined for an average temperature of 93.5 degrees – the hottest series of the season.  The Arizona series referenced earlier checked in at 91.0 degrees.  The previous hottest home series was the three-game set against Kansas City from August 6-8.  Those games averaged 88.0 degrees.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Waino Deserved Better

It was the second inning of last night’s game, and Adam Wainwright had his old buddy Kolten Wong set up at 0-2.  As he has done hundreds (if not thousands) of times during his career, Adam spun a “chase me” curve.  It started over the heart of plate and then just tumbled, so that by the time Kolten chased it, the pitch had dropped just below the strike zone.  It was about as well executed as any curve Wainwright tossed that evening.

The resulting hit – which left the bat at 71.1 mph was popped down the left field line at a too-high launch angle of 55 degrees.  The expected batting average on the ball was a pretty miniscule .087.  Tonight, that would be good enough as the ball found no-man’s land – just barely fair and just beyond the glove of Nolan Arenado – the closest of three Cardinals who were converging on the play.

Wong’s bloop double drove home Rowdy Tellez – whose own two-strike double fell just beyond the grasp of center-fielder Harrison Bader.  In the next inning, Christian Yelich stayed back on another two-strike curve, getting enough of it to dribble it past first and into the corner for another double.  He would later score the second run of the game.

That would be all of the scoring, as Milwaukee took game one of this mini-showdown against St Louis by a 2-0 score (box score).

The three, two-strike doubles that essentially accounted for the difference in the game had an aggregate expected batting average of .907 – meaning that the three of them together should have been worth one hit.  Baseball can be bizarre like that.

Coming into the game, there were few pitchers out there that you would dread a two-strike count against more than Wainwright.  In his first six starts in the season’s second half, Adam put 69 batters into two strike counts.  Those batters managed 2 singles, 3 doubles, a triple, 1 walk, and 1 hit batsmen – a .090/.116/.164 batting line – while 38 others struck out.

Last night, the Brewers had nearly as many two strike hits in the game (5 in just 13 at bats) as Adam had allowed since the break – and they doubled the number of two-strike doubles against him.  Many were not terribly well hit.

On the other hand, several of the outs that Adam recorded were hit much harder than some of the hits.  His last two outs in the fifth – for example – left the bat 97.3 mph and 104 mph.

All of this is, of course, why you can never read too much into any single baseball game.  On any given night, the pop-ups will fall in and the line drives will be caught.  The problem now, though, is that these remaining games against Milwaukee (and the Cards still have 12 to play against them), have taken on an exaggerated importance.  Entering the series trailing Milwaukee by ten games in the division, this is the worst imaginable time for pop-flies to drop and dribbling grounders to find the right-field line.

The issue, though, is deeper than that.  The last time this team played a team over .500, they were swept by Atlanta.  They came into this series having won 8 of 9 – but all against last-place teams in Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  There has been an attempt to spin that success into something more than it was.  As much as anything, this team wants to be taken seriously – by its own fans at least.  We were promised that these guys “would be ready” for the series against Milwaukee.

Hopefully, this is not what “ready” looks like.

Until they actually win some of these games, it’s hard not to connect this team to the team that recently had no answer for the Braves.  Losing this series to Milwaukee would be damaging.  It would leave them 11 games out with just 42 games left.  Being swept by the Brewers (a very real possibility) would be nearly back-breaking.

Like many of their critical losses this year – including all three against Atlanta – this game was winnable.  But in the at bats that spelled the difference, Milwaukee came through and St Louis – fresh off of scoring 51 runs in 9 games against the Royals and Pirates – failed to capitalize on the few opportunities they had.  They were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Round two is tonight.  Splitting these final 12 with the Brew-Crew won’t be enough.  If this team is serious about contending, it’s not too early for them to start to make their move.

More Waino

Although last night’s losing pitcher, Adam tossed another quality start – working around 9 hits (5 of them doubles) 2 walks and a hit batsman to allow just two runs over six tumultuous innings.  Since the All-Star Break, Adam has 6 quality starts in 7 games with a 2.57 ERA.  He has 4 wins and now 2 losses.  Adam is the only pitcher on the team to have enough innings to “qualify” among the league’s starting pitchers.  He has pitched 154.2 innings for the team this year.  The next highest total is the 91 pitched by Kwang Hyun Kim.

Waino has been the team’s most indispensable player this year – and he deserved a better fate last night.

McFarland

T.J. McFarland led another solid bullpen performance.  He threw a scoreless seventh.  The bullpen as a whole kept Milwaukee off the scoreboard for the final three innings.

TJ is unscored on in 8.1 innings over 8 appearances this month.  He has walked only one of the last 32 batters to face him – a marvelous achievement for this bullpen.

Garcia

After TJ continued his scoreless streak, Luis Garcia pitched the eighth and continued his.  In his most important opportunity so far, Garcia allowed a couple of hits, but held the score where it was.  Luis now has allowed just 6 hits (5 singles, one double) to the last 43 batters he’s faced over 12.2 scoreless innings.  He has given no walks in those innings, so those 43 batters have a line of .140/.140/.163 against him.  He has thrown 72% of his last 138 pitches for strikes.

Goldschmidt

Not many Cardinals carried their hitting proficiencies from the Kansas City series with them, but Paul Goldschmidt did.  Paul had 2 of the 4 St Louis hits, pushing his hitting streak to six games.  Paul now has multiple hits in 4 of the 6, and is hitting a robust .455 (10 for 22) during the streak.

Goldschmidt also has hits in 10 of his last 12 games, with 7 of the games being two-hit efforts.  He is hitting .378 (17 for 45) during that stretch.  The hot stretch raises Goldy’s average to .340 for the month (18 for 53) and .315 for the second half (35 for 111).

In the eighth inning, Goldschmidt got a two-strike hit of his own, flipping a 2-2 fastball from Devin Williams into right-center field.  Goldschmidt is now 9 for 30 this month (.300) with two-strikes on him.  The league average in a two-strike count is .162.

Arenado

Goldschmidt’s hitting streak lives on.  Nolan Arenado’s does not.  Hitless in 3 at bats, Nolan’s baby hit streak ends at 5.  It was a very loud five games though, as Nolan hit .350 (7 for 20) and slugged .900.  Five of the 7 were for extra bases (including 3 home runs) and he drove in 10 runs during the streak.

Bader

Hitless in four at bats last night, Harrison Bader is scuffling through August at the plate.  He is hitting .189 this month on 10 of 53 hitting – all singles.

Recent Scoring Changes

Edmundo Sosa’s four-hit night against KC was downgraded to a three-hit night.  In the fifth inning he hit a dribbly grounder that managed to get under the shortstop’s glove.  Should really have been scored as an error all along.

While Sosa loses a hit, Yadier Molina gains one.  In the sixth inning of the August 10 game in Pittsburgh, St Louis scored two runs to extend their 2-1 lead to a 4-1 lead.  The first of those runs scored when Yadi’s hard-hit ground ball shot past the glove of shortstop Kevin Newman.

This was originally scored an error – and I kind of thought it would stay an error, as I pretty much expected Newman to make that play.  Nonetheless, it was very well struck (106 mph off the bat), and on re-consideration, Molina has been awarded the hit and the RBI.

On August 4, the Cards dropped a 7-4 decision against Atlanta.  It was 4-4 in the eighth, when the Braves broke the tie with a sacrifice fly.  They made it a 7-4 lead with a little Keystone Kops action.  Joc Pederson, the next batter, drilled a shot into medium-short right off of Giovanny Gallegos that Dylan Carlson charged and slid for.  But the ball hit off his glove and rolled away from him.  He scrambled to his feet and chased after it – eventually colliding with Harrison Bader, who was also coming over to retrieve the ball.  Pederson ended up on third with what was originally ruled a double and an error (charged to Bader).  On re-consideration, they decided that neither outfielder was really at fault – it was just one of those things that happens.  Pederson gets a triple – and the error on Bader vanishes.

NoteBook

The Cards had led at some point in 11 straight games before last night.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Working Through Some Credibility Issues

Well, you have to admit that they did make it look convincing.

Eleven days ago, the St Louis Cardinals absorbed the final loss of a three-game sweep at the hands of Atlanta.  They were 53-55 at that point, and trailed Milwaukee in the division by 11.5 games.  They also languished 8 games out of the last Wild Card spot.

The sweep at the hands of the Braves seemed to confirm everything we feared about this team – in particular, concerns about their character.  Atlanta has a long way to go to establish themselves as one of the elite teams in the league, but they had little difficulty brushing away the Cardinals.

Immediately on the heels of that humbling series, St Louis has won 8 of their last 9 games – pulling themselves within 4.5 games in the Wild Card race, while shaving a little bit off of the Brewers division lead.  And they’ve done it in more-or-less dominating fashion, outscoring their last 9 opponents 51-23.

This refreshing run was capped by a nearly immaculate road trip.  Not only did they win all 6 games, they did so in mostly overwhelming fashion, by a combined 37-13 score. 

Before Friday’s game, they hadn’t won a game by as many as six runs since the very last game before the All-Star Break.  Before Saturday, it had been 44 games since they had managed an eight-run lead against anyone.

But over the just concluded road trip, they were world beaters.

They led at some point in every game by at least three runs, and only once during the trip was the final score closer than three.  They led by as many as six runs in three of the games, ending up winning those by 5 or more runs.  They hit .277/.343/.488 (an .831 OPS) during the trip, while their opponents hit .202/.245/.306 (a .551 OPS).  They out-homered the other teams 10-5 over the course of the excursion.

Yes, my friends, they were impressive indeed.

Here, of course, is the rub.  The entirety of this 8-1 run – including the 6-0 road trip – came against Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  If you have not seen the standings recently, Kansas City is 49-67, while Pittsburgh is currently 42-76.

This has been a trend that has haunted this team all year.  Against teams that began this morning at or over .500, St Louis is just 20-32 (.385).  They are 42-24 (.631) against teams that began the morning with losing records.  This is a topic that I will look into more in depth after the upcoming Milwaukee series, but suffice it to say that their consistent struggles against the better teams (like Atlanta) robs this team of a lot of credibility.  A lot of teams have pushed around the Royals and the Pirates this year.  Whether or not they can beat the Brewers starting tomorrow is the question.

Sosa

The flare-up with Paul DeJong’s back opened the door for Edmundo Sosa to start all three games against KC.  He was 5 for 7 over the last two (and if you haven’t heard yet, his 4-for-4 game on Saturday was reduced to a 3-for-4 by the scorer).  Edmundo is hitting .324 (12 for 37) in the second half.

Like most of his teammates, though, Edmundo’s road/home splits are fairly extreme.  Since the break, Sosa is hitting .409 on the road (9 for 22) and .200 at home (3 for 15).

The Cardinal team as a whole has played 16 home games in the second half, during which they have hit 18 home runs and averaged 3.94 runs per game while creating a batting line of .261/.328/.409.  In 11 road games since the break, they have hit 19 home runs and scored 5.55 runs per game with a .269/.343./486 batting line.

For the season, St Louis is scoring 3.89 runs per game at home, with a home run every 35.3 at bats.  They are scoring 4.33 runs per game on the road, with a home run every 25.6 at bats.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado was one of several Cardinals who had a lot of fun in Kansas City.  He was 5-for-12 against the Royals with a double and 3 home runs.  Nolan heads home riding a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .350 (7 for 20) and slugging .900 (2 doubles to go with the 3 home runs).  Nolan has 10 RBIs in his last 5 games – 9 of those in KC.

Arenado has also been a different hitter away from Busch.  Since the break, Nolan has had 51 plate appearances on the road – with All-Star level production.  He has turned those 51 plate appearances into 5 singles, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 8 walks and a hit-by-pitch – a batting line of .317/.431/.732.  At home he has been a .233 hitter (14 for 60) with only 3 walks (a .270 on base percentage) – although he also has 4 home runs.

Goldschmidt

In tandem with Arenado for, perhaps, the first time this season, Paul Goldschmidt also enjoyed great success against the Royals, hitting .385 (5 for 13) during the series.

Like Arenado, Goldschmidt also carries a five-game hitting streak into the Milwaukee series.  He is hitting .421 (8 for 19) during the streak.  Goldy has also hit in 9 of his last 11, with six of the games contributing multiple hits.  Paul is hitting .357 (15 for 42) with 11 runs batted in in those 11 games.

This recent hot streak has Paul hitting .320 for the month (16 for 50), and .306 (33 for 108) in the season’s second half.

Time for a Nootbaar

Rookie outfielder Lars Nootbaar popped out of his shell a bit over the trip.  He went 4 for 10 in Pittsburgh and KC, with a double and 2 home runs.  He is now 5 for his last 11 overall (.455) with a 1.091 slugging percentage.

His opportunity was created by Dylan Carlson’s wrist injury.  This is the way it’s always been in the past with this team.  Someone goes down, and the next man up picks up the slack.

Bader

Harrison Bader had a splashy series in the field, making, perhaps, a half-dozen gold-glove caliber plays.  He was also very steady at the plate, going 4 for 13.  Harrison actually leads the team in batting average in the season’s second half.  Over his last 27 games, Bader is hitting .313 (31 of 99).

Now, like many other Cardinals, Harrison will have to keep it up on his home turf.  For the season, Bader is a .300 hitter on the road (33 for 110) with a .536 slugging percentage (5 doubles, 7 home runs).  He’s just a .240 hitter at home (23 for 96).

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter didn’t enjoy the prosperous road trip that some of his teammates did.  Matt finished the jaunt to Pittsburgh and KC hitless in 8 at bats.  Carpenter is 5 for 31 (.161) since the Break with a .226 slugging percentage.  He has 2 doubles and 1 run batted in in the second half.

Those second half numbers include a 1 for 17 mark (.059) on the road.  Back in 2018, Matt hit 23 home runs on the road and slugged .611 in 342 road plate appearances.  Over the last 3 seasons, Carp has had 471 road plate appearances with a .188 batting average and 11 home runs.

Garcia

With every outing, Luis Garcia is looking more and more like the next great discovery in the Cardinal bullpen.  He pitched in 2 of the 3 games against the Royals, retiring all 7 batters he faced.

Garcia now has 11.2 scoreless innings pitched in his last 8 games.  The last 38 batters to face him have 3 singles, 1 double and no walks – a batting line of .105/.105/.132 to go along with his 0.00 ERA.

McFarland

A very different pitcher from Garcia, T.J. McFarland is also raising eyebrows.  He hasn’t been scored on in 7 straight games (7.1) innings, while allowing 5 hits (4 singles and 1 double) and 1 walk.  The last 27 batters to face him have a line of .192/.222/.231.  He’s gotten ground balls from 15 of the last 23 batters to put the ball in play against him (65%).

NoteBook

The team’s streak of scoring first reached 7 straight games before ending on Saturday.  They have now scored first in 8 of their last 9.

Among his 9 RBIs in the series, Arenado drove in the winning run twice during the KC series.  He now has 11, one behind Yadier Molina’s team-leading 12, and one ahead of Goldschmidt’s 10.  The other game-winning-RBI in the series went to Tommy Edman.  He is now fourth on the team with 5.

The Cards have won the first game of a series 20 times this year.  They are now 15-3-2 in those series.

The 22 runs scored in KC were the most St Louis scored in a series since they also scored 22 in four games against Arizona from May 27-30.  They last scored 22 runs in a three-game series when they swept Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh from April 30-May 1.

Meanwhile, the 6 runs allowed by the pitching staff was the fewest the Cards have surrendered in a series since Miami managed 3 runs in three games against them from June 14-16.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Doing Just Enough

His first hit wasn’t much to write home about – a little swinging bunt that trickled up the third baseline.  But now Paul Goldschmidt was up in the ninth inning with a runner at second, facing the hard-throwing David Bednar in a 6-4 game.  Bednar’s fastball flew in at 98 miles-per-hour over the heart of the plate where it was squarely met by Goldschmidt’s exquisitely short stroke.  Paul drove it right down the right-field line for a double and a run batted in.  At the time, it was an extra run, pushing the St Louis lead to 7-4.  By the time the game’s final out was recorded, that final run stood all important in a 7-6 Cardinal victory (box score) that gave them a much-needed sweep of the fading Pirates.

In the end, it was just enough.

The season is 114 games old, and the Cardinals have never actually looked like contenders.  They did hit the 43-game-mark in first place with a 25-18 record, but to that point they were largely untested as their early schedule was quite soft.  Besides, every year there are pretenders that put on a good show for the first fifty games of the season.  That generally means very little.

After the hot start, the Birds faded pretty quickly.  They lost 23 of their next 35 games, dropping to 37-41 (.474) on June 27.  They were 8 games out at that point.

On that June 28 morning, as they prepared to host a struggling Arizona team, the talk was how they were going to go on this hot streak and put together a lot of wins any time now.  It never happened.  Going into tonight’s game, the post-June 27 Cards hadn’t managed to win more than three consecutive games – a feat they’ve managed only three times in the last 36 games.  The most wins they’ve managed in any ten-game stretch since then is seven – which they’ve done once (July 17-27).  In that same time frame, they’ve had four ten-game stretches in which they’ve lost six of the ten.

No, there just hasn’t been any extended period of the season where you could say that this team had the look of a playoff contender.

At yet, out of the ashes of June and that 37-41 record, with little flash or attention, the Cardinals have quietly started to win games.  Not at a record clip, but in a slow, mostly consistent grind.  They’ve lost a couple of seemingly crucial games since then.  They dropped two of three in Cincinnati in July, and last week they were swept at home by Atlanta.  But each time they’ve stubbed a toe, they’ve kept quietly creeping back.

The sweep over the Pirates gives them wins in 5 of their last 6 games, 6 of 10 this month, 14 of 24 since the break, and 21 of the 36 games played since that low-point – a .583 winning percentage.

And pushing this team forward (as much as anyone else) has been Goldschmidt.

Goldy

Among the top-tier players in the game today, there is no one less flashy that Paul Goldschmidt.  I have yet to see him flip the bat after a home run, or beat his chest, of flex his muscles.  To the best of my knowledge, Goldschmidt has never done any cheerleading from the base-paths, much less engaged in any of the self-worship that a great many of the modern athletes are given to.

Recently, Cardinal reserve infielder Edmundo Sosa tripled high off the center field wall.  When he got to third, he mimed pulling open his shirt, as though to reveal the Superman “S” underneath.  Goldy doesn’t do that kind of shtick either. (Note to Sosa: you’re not Superman.  Superman wouldn’t be hitting .253 with just a .677 OPS.  For that matter, Superman would have hit the ball over the wall, not off the top of it.)

In fact, you rarely see emotion of any kind from Goldschmidt.  He doesn’t slam bats or punch water coolers.  You have to look very carefully to catch the subtle look of disappointment on his face when he pops out.  As much as any player in the game today, Paul Goldschmidt plays under control.  At the end of a victory, when the team is out shaking hands, you will see Paul smile.  Much more than that you won’t get.

Goldschmidt’s game is beautifully unadorned.  There is almost something self-conscious about him as he plays the game – almost as though he doesn’t want you to notice him as he’s beating you.  And beat you he does.

Over the mini-revival this team has enjoyed over its last 36 games, Goldy leads the club in batting average (.317), runs batted in (24), walks (18) and OPS (.903).  He is tied for the team lead in home runs (7) and runs scored (21).

And the thing is that even if you watched all the games, you might not notice him.

Is It Enough

Will all of this “just enough” that the Cards have been playing lately be enough?  Sadly, no.  At some point – and quickly – they will have to find that extra gear.

If they keep winning at the rate that they have over the last 36 games, they will finish the season with a record of 86-76.  In order for them to catch Milwaukee with that record, the Brewers would have to finish the season 16-30.  Highly unlikely.  The final WildCard spot is more likely, but even then the San Diego team would have to finish 20-25 – which is also pretty unlikely.  Add in the fact that there are three other teams in between the Cards and the Padres, and you begin to get a sense of what this team is up against.

For the last 48 games to matter, St Louis is going to have to find a way to do more than just enough.

Carpenter

Inserted into the clean-up spot last night, Matt Carpenter did draw two walks, but also went 0-for-2.  Matt still hasn’t ignited his season.  Since the break he is hitting .192 (5 for 26) with two extra-base hits (both doubles) good for a .269 slugging percentage.  He has 1 second-half run batted in.

McFarland

One of six relievers used last night to cover the game’s final 7 innings, T.J. McFarland was awarded his first Cardinal win when he tossed a scoreless third and was the pitcher of record when St Louis rose up for 4 in the fourth.  McFarland is unscored on over 5 appearances this month (5.1 innings) during which he has allowed just 1 hit and 1 walk.

Garcia

The dramatic turnaround in Luis Garcia’s season should be noted.  His first three appearances in a Cardinal uniform were disastrous.  He cobbled three total outs from the 11 batters he faced in those first three games, but not before giving up 6 runs on 5 hits, a walk, and a hit batter.

Over his last 6 appearances, Luis and his high-90’s fastball has given us 9.1 scoreless innings, allowing 4 hits and no walks.  He threw 60% strikes during those first three games.  He is throwing strikes 73% of the time since.  He tossed a scoreless fifth last night.

Cabrera

I’ll be honest, I was a little concerned about Genesis Cabrera after a meltdown against the Cubs back on July 9.  He faced four batters, walking 2 and hitting 1 – with all three coming around to score.  It was the third straight game that Genesis had allowed runs in (he gave 7 in just 2 innings), and the fourth time in 5 games that he had been scored against.

Since then, it’s hard to imagine that anyone has been better.  Genesis has 12 scoreless innings in his last 12 games, during which he has given just 3 hits.

Reyes

Alex Reyes held on to last night’s save, but not without a little more drama – he allowed a two-run ninth-inning home run that narrowed the gap to one run.  The second half of the season has been more than a little dicey for the Cardinal’s All-Star closer.  In 13 second-half games, Alex has managed just 11.1 busy innings in which he has allowed 9 runs (7 earned) on 6 hits, 2 hit batsmen, and 10 walks.  He has also allowed all 4 of his inherited runners to score.  Alex is 0-2 with saves in 7 of 8 tries, and a 5.56 ERA since appearing in his first All-Star game.

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored first in 6 consecutive games.

The 7 runs they allowed to the Pirates during the sweep were the fewest runs scored against the Cards in a series since the last time they swept a series.  The Diamondbacks also scored just 7 runs while losing three straight to the Cards from June 28-30.

The three games drew an average of 9,093.3 – the poorest attended Cardinal series since the last time we were in Pittsburgh.  An average of only 6,875.7 attended that series played from April 30 to May 2.

The Royals will be the second consecutive Cardinal opponent, and sixth of the last seven, to have lost its previous series.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Hoping Familiarity Can Breed a Little Confidence

When Atlanta’s Max Fried took the mound against St Louis on August 3, he became the first left-handed pitcher to start against the Cardinals since they saw San Francisco’s Alex Wood on July 7.  Fried’s start interrupted a string of 17 consecutive starts made by right-handers against this team.  Now, all of a sudden, a lefty starter is an everyday occurrence.

After their 6-5 loss to Kansas City on Sunday (box score), St Louis has seen lefties start in four of their last six games – with another one (Steven Brault) lined up to go tomorrow when they open their series in Pittsburgh.

The old saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt.  St Louis is hoping that familiarity will at least breed a little bit of comfort (if not confidence).

They didn’t do well at all against Mr. Fried, finishing with just 4 singles and a walk in 22 plate appearances.  They did better against Drew Smyly (and an inning from lefty reliever Tyler Matzek) the next night (6 for 24 with a double, a home run, and 2 walks – an OPS of .724).

After Atlanta left town, and the Cards welcomed in Kansas City, they did even better against Mike Minor and Kris Bubic.  Including left-handed relievers Jake Brentz and Richard Lovelady, St Louis bruised the Royals’ left-handers for a batting line of .289/.407/.556/.963.

Yes, the more likely explanation is the difference in quality between the left-handers of the Braves and those of the Royals.  In the Atlanta series, the Cards slashed .208/.269/.292/.561 against all left-handers they saw from the Braves.

Regardless – and in spite of the fact that they have lost 3 of the last 5 – St Louis heads into Pittsburgh having scored at least 4 runs in five consecutive games.  They have totaled just 22 runs in those games (scoring 4,4,4,5,and 5), so it’s not a streak that will cause the baseball community to take special notice.  But it is the first time all season that the Cards have managed even that small measure of offensive consistency.  And – remembering our eternal struggle against left-handed pitching – the fact that three of the five starters threw from that side makes it all the more encouraging (whether it’s Kansas City or not).

Rondon

Jose Rondon should be about due to get a start somewhere, don’t you think?  He hasn’t started a game since June 16.  In the meantime – after going 2-for-2 as a pinch-hitter against the Royals, Jose is 5 for his last 9, including a home run.  In his limited opportunities since the break, he is hitting .500 (5 for 10).

Jose has given us good at bats against lefties all season.  He is 5 for 14 (.357) against them with 3 walks (a .471 on base percentage).

O’Neill

Capped by his 4-for-4 evening on Friday, Tyler O’Neill stretched a very loud hitting streak to five games.  It was halted on Saturday, but during the streak Tyler hit .647 (11 for 17) and slugged .941 (2 doubles and 1 home run).

Tyler currently leads the team in hitting over the first few games of August.  In 29 plate appearances this month, O’Neill has 8 singles, 2 doubles, a home run, 5 walks and a hit-by-pitch – a batting line of .478/.586/.696.

In the season’s second half, Tyler has reached base in 10 of 12 plate appearances against lefties (.833 on base).

Carlson

Dylan Carlson had another fine series against the Royals.  He went 4 for 11 against them, with a home run and a double.  Seven games into the new month, and Dylan is hitting .321 (9 for 28) and slugging .536 (3 doubles to go with the home run).

Carlson was 3 for 7 against KC’s lefties, and is now hitting .326 (31 for 95) against them this season.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was 4 for 12 (.333) with a home run against the Royals.  Paul has been in the middle of much of the offense St Louis has managed over the last 5 games.  Goldschmidt has three multi-hit games in his last five, hitting .368 (7 for 19) in those games.

Wainwright

Adam Wainwright opened the series in style with seven innings of two-run ball on Friday.  That makes not just four consecutive quality starts, but four consecutive seven-inning starts.  Adam has pitched at least 7 innings 12 times in 22 starts this season.  His ERA over those last four is a snappy 2.57.

Right-handed batters were only 3 for 14 against Waino on Friday.  He has been particularly effective against them in his 5 second-half starts.  Since the break, righties are scuffling along with a .188/.212/.234 batting line against Adam.

McFarland

One reason that T.J. McFarland’s stock continues to rise is his continued success against right-handed batters.  Over the last two series, right-handed hitters are 0-for-11 with no walks against T.J.  For the season, right-handers have just 4 hits (all singles) in 27 at bats (a .148 batting average).

NoteBook

Going into Friday’s game, the Cards had trailed at some point in 11 consecutive games.  They scored in the first inning that night and never looked back in a 4-2 win (box score).  As they led at some point in all three against the Royals, they exit that series having led at some point in five straight games.

Goldschmidt hit the home run in the bottom of the first inning in Friday’s game.  The run stood up as the game-winner – Paul’s tenth of the season.  He trails only Yadier Molina (who has 11) for the team lead.

Saturday’s crowd of 36,615 was the most to see a Cardinal game since the last game of the recent Cub series on July 22.  That evening, 41,412 fans filled the seats.

The Saturday game was also played in a game-time temperature of 90 degrees – the hottest for a Cardinal game since they were in Colorado for the fourth of July.  It was 90 that day as well.

It was the hottest St Louis home game since June 14.  Miami was the opponent that evening, and they brought their heat (90 degrees as well) with them.

At an average of 88.0 degrees, the KC series was St Louis’ warmest since they travelled to Arizona for four games from May 27 through 30.  Those games averaged 91 degrees.  It was the warmest home series (by average temperature) of the year.  The previous average high for a home series was the 86.7 degrees for that Miami series (June 14-16).

At 3:43, the Sunday game was St Louis’ longest game (by time) since they beat Cincinnati 10-6 on July 25.  That contest lasted 4:04.  It was the longest home game since they beat the Cubs 3-2 in ten innings on July 21 (a 4:09 game).  The day before that, they absorbed a 7-6 loss to the Cubs in a game that was also 3:43.

Pittsburgh will be the fifth team in St Louis’ last six series to be playing the Cardinals after having lost its previous series (the Pirates were just swept by the Reds).

By scoring 22 runs over the last 5 games, St Louis has snuck back over the 4-runs-per-game mark for the season.  They now sit at 4.01.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.