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.
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.
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.
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%).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.