Tag Archives: Mikolas

Cards Overcome Sputtering Offense in Shutout of Miami

If it’s possible to hang a fastball, that’s what Austin Brice did in last night’s eighth inning.  It seemed to start at Dexter Fowler’s ankles, but then it rose and just spun in the middle of the zone.  For his part, Fowler launched it over the wall in right for the three-run homer that put Miami out of its misery and sent St Louis on its way to a 5-0 victory (box score).

Breakthrough opportunities were fairly rare – as has mostly been the case recently.  Two first-inning singles had given Dexter a first-and-second opportunity with two outs, but he struck out.

From that point, the Cardinals didn’t see a runner in scoring position till the fifth, when Matt Carpenter – who had made the score 1-0 with a third-inning home run – gave St Louis a two-out opportunity when he laid down a bunt-double.  The Fish gave away that run – in the first place by playing their entire infield on the right side to allow the bunt-double, and then Starlin Castro dropped Paul DeJong’s pop fly to short center to allow the run.

With DeJong advancing to second on the error, Paul Goldschmidt had the chance to deliver the key hit – but he grounded out.

The Cards followed by going down in order over the next two innings, so this final opportunity in the eighth was welcomed.

For the game, the Cards managed a .238 on base percentage with the bases empty, resulting in 21 of St Louis’ 33 batters coming to the plate with no one on.  This has been a recurring pattern.

Over the last 17 games, the Cardinals hold a .281 on base percentage when the bases are empty.  The results have been 62% of all Cardinal hitters batting with no one on, only 5 bases-loaded plate appearances all month, and 16 of the last 23 Cardinal home runs (69.6%) being solo shots.

Here’s the thing though.  St Louis has won 11 of those last 17 games.

Slowly, but consistently, the pitching is settling into the decisive factor the Cardinals have been counting on all season.  Sometimes it’s been two steps forward, one step back.  But, while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Cardinal pitching staff has put together a 3.42 ERA over these last 17 games.  That would be good enough for second in the league if they had been able to maintain that all year.

I’m not really sure that I believe in this team yet.  I would like to see them keep the streak going a little longer and, perhaps, see more wins against quality opponents.  But this is exactly the kind of thing that those who do believe in this team point to.  The fact that – even when the offense struggles to get out of its own way – the pitching can be dominant enough to keep them competitive.

A week ago they had just been swept by Chicago and sat one game under .500 and 5.5 games behind in the division.  Today they have trimmed that margin to 2.5 games, and have pushed their way to 3 over .500.  The opportunity is before them.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter continues to hint that he is about to turn the corner.  He had a big game on Monday with 3 hits, including a home run.  Carpenter has hits in 4 of his last 5 games.

Carpenter never batted last night with a runner on base.  That’s normal for him.  As he has spent most of the year as the leadoff hitter, 69% of his at bats have come with the bases empty.  Of his 10 home runs this season, 9 have been solo shots.

Paul DeJong

DeJong didn’t leave his hot streak in New York.  With 2 hits last night, Paul has pushed his hitting streak to seven games, getting multiple hits in three of them.  Over the 7 games, he is hitting .367 (11 for 30) with a double and 3 home runs.  He has driven in 6 runs during the streak, while slugging .700.  He has also hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna rebounded from a tough series in New York to collect a couple of singles last night.  Marcell is up to .340 (18 for 53) for the month of June.

One of Marcell’s hits came in his 2 at bats with no one on base.  Throughout the last 17 games, Ozuna has been one of the few hitters to get hits with bases empty.  He is, in fact, hitting .378 on 14 hits in his last 37 such opportunities.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt’s season stays stuck in neutral.  He was hitless in 4 at bats last night, and has just 1 hit (that two-run home run in New York) over his last 5 games (16 at bats).  Paul is down to .192 (10 for 52) on the month.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina picked up two hits in his first game back from the injured list.  In the 6 games since then, hits have been harder to come by.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Yadi is 4 for 23 (.174) with 1 double (.217 slugging percentage) since that first game back.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader had the big first game in New York with 3 hits, a couple stolen bases, and the big defensive play.  He’s had no hits since.  With his 0-for-3 yesterday, Harrison is hitless in his last 13 at bats, with 7 strikeouts.

Miles Mikolas

In his three June starts, Miles Mikolas has had consistent issues keeping the bases clean.  Even though he shut the Marlins out through 6 innings last night, Miami batters were still 5 for 15 (.333) when hitting against him with the bases empty.  For the month, batters are hitting .355 (11 for 31) against him with the bases empty.

Last night he was very good once a runner reached.  The Fish were only 1 for 8 when they hit against Miles with a runner on base.  In his other starts this month, he hasn’t been so efficient.

Giovanny Gallegos

First out of the bullpen in support of Mikolas was Giovanny Gallegos, who recorded a scoreless seventh.  At some point someone other than me is going to have to start taking this kid seriously.  Gallegos has now thrown 12 scoreless innings over his last 9 games, giving just 4 hits and no walks – he has been throwing his pitches for strikes 75% of the time during this streak.  The last 38 batters he’s faced have a batting line of .108/.105/.162.

John Gant

John Gant had a couple rough games early in the road trip, as he gave runs in consecutive appearances.  Still, John has been more than just solid recently.  He pitched a scoreless eighth last night.  He has pitched in 8 of the last 17 games, throwing 10.1 innings with a 2.61 ERA.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks has held the back end of the bullpen very solid over the Cards recent rise.  He earned last night’s save with a 1-2-3 ninth.  He has now pitched in 7 of the last 17 games, with a 1.23 ERA and an .083 batting average against in 7.1 innings.

NoteBook

The victory was the Cardinals’ ninth this month – tying their total for the entire month of May.

Nonetheless, St Louis had trailed at some point in five consecutive games until last night.

The Cards scored first for the third straight game and the fourteenth time in their last 20 games.

Last night was game number 64 for Dexter Fowler this year.  Between his injuries and unending slumps, Dex played in only 90 games all last year.  He also now has 193 at bats, after finishing last year with just 289.  His strikeout was also his fifty-second of the season after striking out just 75 times last year.

Marlins Emphatically Deny Cardinal Sweep

So, if you are a rookie pitcher making his very first major league start – like Miami’s Jordan Yamamoto was last night – the one thing you might ask of your teammates is a little bit of a cushion.

Wish granted.

Before Cardinal starter Miles Mikolas could get out of the second inning, he was behind 5-0, and young Yamamoto carried it from there, slicing and dicing the Cardinal lineup for 7 three-hit, shutout innings.  There were more runs in the Marlins’ tank, but they didn’t need them as they rolled over the Cards 9-0 (box score).

Other than the fact that the game finally ended, there were few positives the visiting team could take from this most recent drubbing.  Few positives, but plenty of lingering concerns.

Be Concerned, Be Very, Very Concerned

As good as Jordan was on the mound, this game adds to a very long trend of offensive futility in St Louis.  Over their last 24 games, the Cards have now been shutout twice; held to 1 run three times; to 2 runs 5 times; and to 3 runs 4 other times.  St Louis is 3-11 in the 14 games where they have scored less than 4 runs.

Over the dismal 24 games, the Cardinals are hitting .214 and scoring 3.50 runs per game.  Manager Mike Shildt’s patience looks like it will have to hold out a little longer.

MattCarpenter

Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Matt Carpenter’s current slump has him with just 2 singles for his last 15 at bats (.133).  He’s had no extra base hits in his last 5 games.

Eleven games ago, Matt was re-installed as the leadoff hitter.  The change hasn’t sparked much.  Matt is hitting .226 (7 for 31) since then.

DexterFowler

After his own 0-for-3 last night, Dexter Fowler is now hitting .140 (7 for 50) over his last 17 games (13 starts). Only 2 of those hits are for extra-bases (he has a double and a home run), leading to just a .220 slugging percentage.

Dexter has drawn just 1 walk in his last 8 games, and is hitting .222 for early June.  In the Cardinal’s 24-game offensive tailspin, Fowler has the lowest average (.153) of any of the regulars.

HarrisonBader

Harrison Bader went 0-for-2 with a walk last night.  He now has just 1 hit over his last 4 games, and is hitting .200 (6 for 30) for the month.  That being said, 5 of the 6 hits have been for extra-bases, and Bader has also drawn 7 walks, so his OPS this month is actually a pretty healthy .875.

MilesMikolas

Loser of 4 games all of last year, Mikolas lost his fourth in a row last night.  Over the five starts, there haven’t been a lot of positive numbers – a 7.03 ERA, a .343/.377/.626 batting line against, and just 2 support runs.  Not a happy combination.

TylerWebb

Tyler Webb is another unsung Cardinal reliever who has been pitching very well of late.  Although he surrendered an inherited runner, Webb was the only Cardinal pitcher last night not to allow a run.

Over 12 innings in his last 10 games, Tyler has given just 2 runs on 5 hits.  The hits have been 4 singles and a double.  He holds a 1.50 ERA over those appearances, with a .132 batting average against, and a .158 slugging percentage against.

While walks have been an issue this year, Webb has walked just one batter over his last 5.1 innings, throwing 67% of his pitches for strikes in those innings.  The last home run Tyler allowed was to Yasiel Puig on April 25.  That was 17.2 innings (and 293 pitches) ago.

JohnBrebbia

A revelation earlier this year, John Brebbia has regressed to the norm with a deafening thud.  Miami put an exclamation point on last night’s win with a three-run home run off of Brebbia.

John has now been scored on in 3 of his 5 June outings – giving up at least 2 runs each time.  For the 4 total innings pitched this month, John has given 7 runs.  Opposing hitters hold a .294/.400/.765 batting line against him, and of the 11 batter to put the ball in play against him, only two have hit the ball on the ground.

Congrats to the Blues

We’ve talked baseball and football here, but until now no hockey.  But last night the St Louis Blues were finally able to lay claim to Lord Stanley’s Cup.

I have often felt that being a Blues fan was the closest a St Louisan could come to knowing what life must be like for Cubs fans.  When the Cubs finally broke their historic jinx a few years ago, I sort of felt that the same karma that had permitted the Cubs championship might take pity on the Blues.

Our jinx wasn’t nearly as long – although at 52 years it was long enough.

Some has been written about the fact that it was the Boston hockey team (the Bruins) on the other end of the ice.  It hasn’t been forgotten around here that the Cards were the opponents when the Red Sox (Boston’s baseball team) broke an impressive World Series jinx of their own in 2005.

The expansion St Louis Blues impressively made the Stanley Cup Finals in each of their first three years in existence – getting swept in each of those three final series – the last time by the Bruins.  At that point it would have been impossible to think that it would be a half century before this franchise would ever win it all.

Congratulations to the entire organization.

NoteBook

Miami was the eighth team St Louis has played this season that came to us after losing its previous series.  The Cards have now won 5 of those series, split 2 others, while losing just one (to the Padres in the opening series at home).  They are 16-7 when they get to play against a team that lost its previous series.

With 5 earned runs allowed last night, Miles Mikolas has been touched for 42 earned runs already this year in 78.1 innings.  He allowed only 63 all of last year (in 200.2 innings).

The home run he allowed was the fourteenth off of Miles already this year.  He allowed 16 all of last year.

Leadoff Struggles

It was a most unusual sight.  It was the top of the second inning of Sunday night’s game, and Marcell Ozuna trotted home from third to score the tying run.  It was an uncommon moment for a lot of reasons.

First of all, in the three weekend games (all losses), St Louis only scored 6 total runs, so any time a Cardinal runner crossed the plate under any circumstances, it presented a fairy unique occurrence.  Moreover, of the 6 runs the Cards did score, this was the only one that did not come courtesy of a home run, and the only time in the series that the Cards managed to tie the score once they had fallen behind.

It was also unique for what had happened 5 pitches earlier.  Ozuna grounded a ball in between short and third, and Kris Bryant – trying to make a play on the ball – threw it away, sending Marcell to second.  Thus, in the twentieth inning of this grueling and humbling beat down at the hands of the division-leading Cubs, Marcell Ozuna became the very first Cardinal leadoff man to reach base.

He wouldn’t be the last.  After going 0-for-19 to begin the series, St Louis would put 4 of their last 8 leadoff batters on base.  But only Ozuna would score.

Ozuna would lead off the fourth with another single, but would be thrown out trying to steal second.

Paul Goldschmidt would double to lead off the sixth, and Ozuna would follow with a single too hard hit to allow Paul to score.  But Paul would try to score on a ground ball from Dexter Fowler, and be thrown out at the plate.  A flyball and another grounder ended the threat.

Trailing by four, Kolten Wong walked to lead off the ninth.  He was still on first two outs later when Jose Martinez drew a walk.  But Matt Carpenter’s ground ball ended the game.

Even with the strong close, St Louis only put 4 of their 27 leadoff men on base – a scuffling .148 percentage.  And managed to score only 1 of the 4.  During April, when they averaged 5.45 runs per game, their leadoff hitters held a .361 on base percentage, and came home to roost 55% of the time they reached.  In May, as the run production slipped to just 4.30 runs per game, the leadoff on base percentage slipped as well, to .324 – and only 40% of those made their way home.

Seven games into June, and the Cardinals are scoring less than 3 runs a game (2.71).  There are many pieces that are broken, but one of them is certainly the batters leading off innings.  For the first 60 innings of the month, our leadoff hitters are batting .175 with a .217 on base percentage.  And when they do manage to get on, they are scoring only 38% of the time.

This has been a significant part of what has now been an extended team-wide offensive slump.  Over the last 21 games, the Cardinals are hitting a tepid .214, and are scoring just 3.48 runs per game.  In the last 186 offensive innings, only 51 leadoff hitters have reached base (.274) and only 21 of them (41.2%) have scored.

It’s getting to be a long, long time since this offense has shown their teeth.

MarcellOzuna

Offensive bright spots were few and far between in this series (which saw the Cardinals bat .186 over the three games).  One of the bright spots, though, was definitely Ozuna.  With his 3 hits on Sunday, Marcell finished the series 4 for 12 (.333) including a three-run home run.  He is off to a .385 start for the month (10 for 26).  Even while the rest of the team has scuffled over these last 21 games, Ozuna has been heating it up.  Now 24 for his last 80, Ozuna is hitting .300 over the last 21 games, with 4 doubles, 5 home runs, 17 runs batted in, and a .538 slugging percentage.

Ozuna was 2 for 3 as a leadoff hitter during the series. For the season, he has been one of our most consistent in that function.  He is a .294 hitter (15 for 51) with 4 doubles and 3 home runs – a .549 slugging percentage opening up innings.

PaulGoldschmidt

With his double, Goldschmidt was 1 for 2 leading off innings during the series.  Even during the 21-game offensive brown-out, Paul has still taken excellent leadoff at bats and given the team opportunities.  He has reached in 7 of the last 16 innings he has led off (.438), but – as on Sunday night – has only made it home once.  For the season, Paul has a .392 on base percentage when leading off, but scores only 40% of the times that he does reach.

HarrisonBader

Solidly re-enthroned as the everyday centerfielder, Harrison Bader’s June could have started off better.  He did hit a home run in the Saturday game, but was overall just 2 for 11 in the series, and has started June off with a .208 batting average (5 for 24) – albeit with 4 of the 5 hits going for extra-bases (2 doubles and 2 home runs).

PaulDeJong

Paul DeJong was held hitless in 4 at bats Sunday.  That put a stop to a brief five-game hitting streak.  Paul only got one hit in each of the five games, hitting .278 during the streak (5 for 18).  But the streak did include 2 home runs.

Rotation Struggles

Difficulties in the starting rotation is a bad companion to offensive woes.  Chicago had little difficulty with St Louis’ starting pitchers, hitting .348 against them while scoring 10 runs during the 12 innings that they pitched.

MilesMikolas

Friday’s starter Miles Mikolas’ recent struggles continued.  He had already served up 3 runs in 4 innings before he was removed after taking a line drive off his forearm.  Miles took the loss, and has now lost 4 in a row, with a 5.47 ERA over his last 26.1 innings.

AdamWainwright

Sent to the injured list after the Sunday game, Adam Wainwright is another pitcher trending downward.  Coming off a stretch where he threw 4 quality starts in 5 games, Adam now has just 2 such starts in his last 7.  Over his last 39.1 innings, Waino is 2-4 with a 5.03 ERA.

NoteBook

This series was St Louis’ tenth road series of the season so far.  They have now gone into the last game of half of them needing a win to avoid a sleep.  They have managed to avoid the brooms in three of the five series, falling victim only to the Cubs twice.

The Cards begin the season 11-19 on the road.

The Cubs were the eleventh team St Louis has played this season that had won its previous series – and they have also gone into the last game of five of those series facing a sweep.  As before, the Cubs (twice) are the only ones of these series that St Louis didn’t at least salvage the finale of.

The Cards are 13-20 against teams that had won their previous series.

With the Friday night loss, St Louis has lost the first game in six of their last seven series.

Last year, in 200.2 innings, Miles Mikolas allowed 16 home runs.  The home run he served up in the first inning of Friday’s game was the thirteenth already this year in just 73.1 innings.

The loss, by the way, was his sixth of the season – already a career high.  In 32 starts last year, Miles lost just 4 times.

In his abbreviated, 4.1 inning start Sunday night, Adam Wainwright did cross over the 2000 inning threshold for his career – he now has 2002.2.

Starters Rise to Occasion in Sweep of Cubs

So, it was another minimal offensive series for your St Louis Cardinals.  Granted, they faced three quality arms, but as the Sunday game ended, the Cards had scored just 11 runs during the three games, hitting .233 on just 21 hits.

Oh, did I mention that St Louis won all three games?  By scores of 2-1 in 10 innings (box score), 7-4 (box score) and 2-1 again (box score).

If this team is going to be special this year, it will be because of their pitching.  For the first fifty or so games, the rotation showed inconsistent flashes of potential.  For three games as May faded into June, and against their divisional rival from up North, the Cardinal starters were very special.

The Cards got 20 innings from their starters in this series – and might well have had a couple more, had Jack Flaherty’s Saturday start not been interrupted after five innings by rain.  For those 20 innings the Cubs dented St Louis’ starters for just 3 runs on 12 hits – a 1.35 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Yes, there was a bit of luck involved.  Especially on Sunday, when Chicago hit Adam Wainwright harder than the results showed.  Still, the club couldn’t have asked for more from the starters.

The bullpen was nearly as good, although hiccups from Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia threatened two of the games.

In fact, that might be the most satisfying element of the series.  Each game was tightly contested, and Chicago could very easily have swept the home team.  These were, in fact, the type of games that the Cards have repeatedly lost to Chicago over the last few years – the character games.  For one weekend at least, it was St Louis coming through with the clutch hit and the big defensive play.

To keep things in perspective, there is still a lot of baseball to be played – and many more contests against Chicago.  This was just one chapter in a very long novel.  But it was not insignificant.  Much like their season series against their other primary division competitor.  After losing 5 of the first 7 against Milwaukee, they came back to sweep the Brewers the last time they played them to even that series.  This sweep, though, does more than just answer the Cubs earlier sweep of the Cards.  Getting off the deck and answering these two teams provided a significant confidence boost.

And confidence, by the way, is not in short supply.  I don’t think I ever remember a more confident two-games-over team.

The rest of the summer will tell whether that confidence is warranted or just bravado.  One thing to remember, though.  Both of St Louis’ answering sweeps were at home.  If they have true designs on the division title, this team will have to find some way of coping with Miller Park and Wrigley Field – Wrigley as soon as this Friday.

Fifty-eight games into the 2019 season, this team is still a mystery.

Miles Mikolas

Three starts ago, Miles Mikolas endured a nightmare start in Texas – he gave 7 runs (and 2 home runs) in less than 2 innings.  That disaster stands in sharp contrast to Miles three starts before and his two starts since.  In those other 5 games, Miles has pitched at least 6 innings in all of them, (and 7 in the other 4) without giving up more than three runs in any of them.  In fact, he gave up as many as 3 runs in only one of those games.

Over the 34 innings that surround that Texas game, Miles has allowed as many runs (7) and home runs (2) as he did in that Texas game.  He holds a 1.85 ERA in those other games, holding those teams to a .213 batting average, while walking just 4.

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty followed Mikolas’ 7 strong innings (1 run on 6 hits) with a strong effort of his own.  After allowing solo home runs in the first two innings, Jack settled down and kept Chicago off the scoreboard till the rains came in the fifth.

The rain interrupted a streak of three consecutive quality starts from the young right-hander.  Over his last 4 starts, Jack has a 2.74 ERA over 23 innings with 26 strikeouts.  His last 4 opponents are hitting .182 against him.

Through the month of May, the 30 batters that swung at Flaherty’s first pitch ended up hitting .320.  On Saturday the 6 Cubs who chased after Jack’s first pitch finished 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts.

In fact, in that Saturday game Chicago’s hitters combined to go 0 for 11 when they swung at the first pitch.  For the series, the Cubs were just 3 for 32 (.094) in at bats where they swung at the first pitch (the major league average when swinging at the first pitch is .268).

John Gant

One of the bullpen heroes of the series, John Gant pitched in two of the games, winning the Saturday game and saving Sunday’s contest.  He allowed a walk, but retired the other five batters he faced.

John is on another streak of scoreless outings, as he has allowed no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks over his last 7 innings over 6 games.

Johnny has been much better than anyone could have expected.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks was the winner in the Friday game, pitching two innings.  He was brought back to save the Sunday game, but faltered.  Manager Mike Shildt says he isn’t concerned, but maybe he should be at least a little.

Hicks has now given runs in 3 of his last 6 games.  Over his last 5.2 innings, Jordan has given 6 runs on 7 hits and 5 walks.  The 29 batters he has faced over those appearances are hitting .292 against him – far too high for a kid who throws 104+.  With the walks, the recent on base percentage against him is .414.

Offensive Struggles

I began by referencing the recent offensive brown-out.  Even though the pitching (and defense, by the way) made what little offense they got stand up, the Cards have been a less than stellar offensive machine for quite a while now.

Over their last 16 games, this team is averaging 3.94 runs per game with a distressing .217 team batting average.

Kolten Wong

When Kolten Wong rolled to second in the second inning of the Friday game, he extended his current hitless streak to 22 at bats.

From that moment on, Wong owned the series as much as any non-pitcher could.  He got 6 hits in his last 9 at bats (two hits in each game), stole two bases, scored twice, drove in two – including the important first run in the Sunday game – and made the defensive play of the series to end the eighth inning of the Sunday game (you have probably seen the highlight of Wong racing almost into mid right-field and going full extension to gather in Anthony Rizzo’s soft liner.

Wong had himself a series.  Historically, Kolten is either icy-ice cold or broiling hot.  No one in this clubhouse would complain if Wong went on a substantial tear.

For the series, Wong was 2 for 4 in at bats where he swung at the first pitch.  For the season, that is when he is at his best.  He is still hitting .316 (18 for 57) when swinging at the first pitch.

Marcell Ozuna

Left fielder Marcell Ozuna didn’t get a hit in 3 at bats in the Sunday game, breaking a short but very loud five-game hitting streak.  During those previous 5 games, Marcell went 9 for 19 (.474).  He hit 2 home runs, drove in 6, and slugged .842.

Matt Carpenter

For much of the early season – for whatever reason – Matt Carpenter has been noticeably more aggressive on the first pitch.  In April, he chased the first pitch thrown him 22.4% of the time.  In May, it was 24.1%.  In all of this, the results weren’t much.

Lately, he has returned to the Matt Carpenter we remember, and his numbers have been steadily rising.  He had 10 plate appearances in the Cub series and took the first pitch 9 times.  He finished the series 3 for 9 with a walk.  Over his last 16 games, Matt has taken the first pitch thrown 81.7% of the time – and is slashing .310/.408/.548 when he does.

You would think this would make him all the more dangerous when he does swing at the first pitch, but that hasn’t materialized yet.  Over those same 16 games, Matt is slashing .200/.273/.500 in the plate appearances in which he chases that first pitch.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader hit a home run late in the Saturday game.  It was his only hit in the last two series (1 for 19 – .053).

Paul DeJong

And Paul DeJong’s tailspin continues.  He did get a late single in the Sunday game, but that represents only his second hit in his last 11 games (and 36 at bats).  Over the 16 games that the Cards have scuffled for runs, Paul is hitting .145 (8 for 55) with just 1 home run.

Paul swung at the first pitch only twice in his 11 plate appearances in the series.  In his red hot April, DeJong swung at the first pitch 24.3% of the time, and with devastating effect – a line of .438/.455/.719.

In May, he took the first pitch 86% of the time.  Over the last 16 games he has watched the first pitch 89.4% of the time – more frequently than Carpenter.

The numbers suggest a more timid approach at the plate, but that’s not what I see from him.  After his blazing April, pitchers seem much less anxious to challenge Paul early in the count.  He sees a great many first pitches just off the plate or just low – occasionally, these pitches cross the corners of the strike zone.

After they establish the outside, many pitchers are then able to jam DeJong later in the at bat.  They have had some success doing that.

Mostly, though, Paul appears to still be taking disciplined at bats.  I don’t see him chasing many pitches at all.  But he is missing his pitch when he gets it – or fouling it off.  Timing just a little off.  Or, when he does get into one, someone makes a great play on it – like Albert Almora did in the Saturday game.

DeJong, I think is close.  One thing he won’t have to worry about is opportunity.  As with Wong and Carpenter and all the other starters who went through extended slumps, he can depend that Shildt will continue to write his name on the lineup card even if he goes 2 for his next 50.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards did score first yesterday.  They have scored the first run in 5 of their last 7.

The Cardinals have won only 7 series all year, but 4 of them have now been by sweep.  Of the 5 series that St Louis was in position to sweep, only Washington – who faced a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cards – was able to avoid the redbird brooms.

The Cub series was also just the eighth series this year in which the Cards won the first game.  They are 5-3 in series when they win that first game.

With his 8 innings on Sunday, Adam Wainwright now has 66.1 on the season.  He pitched only 40.1 innings all last year.  He also now has 1,998.1 for his career – leaving him just 5 outs shy of 2000.

Cards Unable to Salvage Home Stand; Fall Back to .500

For a few hours on Sunday evening, it looked like the home stand might be salvaged.

Part of the early season Cardinal success was built on a terrific start at home.  After struggling a bit with San Diego in their season-opening series, St Louis won 11 of its next 13 home games.  As the wheels began to come off in May, though, they began to struggle at home as well.  A seven-game home stand against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh resulted in five losses.  This week, the Cardinals’ most recent home stand started to go south as well, as they lost two of the first three games.

Then, on Saturday evening, just as another loss seemed inevitable, the Cardinals suddenly put together a four-run eighth-inning rally – capped by Jedd Gyorko’s first home run of the season – to pull out a rousing 6-3 victory (box score).

And then, on Sunday evening, it looked for a while like it just might carry over.  A great start from Jack Flaherty and excellent bullpen work from John Gant and Carlos Martinez left the Cards one inning away from a 3-0 victory that would give them consecutive wins for the first time this month, their first series victory in nearly a month, and break a string of 5 consecutive losses in the third games of a series.

But, victory again proved elusive, and the talented young Atlanta team answered the Cardinals’ Saturday miracle with one of their own, earning a 4-3, 10-inning victory (box score).

In the aftermath, the bullpen found itself the focus of the discussion – and with good reason.  The pen worked just 8.2 innings during the series, but gave 7 runs on 13 hits and 8 walks, their 7.27 ERA accompanied by a .361/.477/.528 batting line against.

The less frequently told story, though, was the continued offensive decline.  In the Sunday finale, the Braves and their starter Julio Teheran repeatedly invited the Cards to blow the game open.  Julio and his four relievers walked 6 batters, hit two more, and allowed a wild pitch and three stolen bases while their defense added a couple of errors behind them.

St Louis put runners in scoring position in 5 of the first 7 innings.  At the end of the day, though, they managed just 3 hits – all singles – ending with just the three runs.

The fading Cardinal offense finished the three games against the Braves with a .192 team batting average and just 3 extra-base hits – scoring just 11 runs in the three games.

For the five-game home stand (in which they finished 2-3) they hit just .216.  From the start of the losing trend, this team is hitting .233 – just .226 in the last 12 home games.

Matt Carpenter

The Brave series wasn’t devoid of good news.  One of the more interesting developments was the re-positioning of Matt Carpenter deeper in the lineup (he hit fifth during the series).  This is not the first time something like this has been contemplated.  Carpenter has batted lower before, but always without any tangible results.

This time, though, Matt responded quite well over the weekend, going 6 for 12 with a home run and 3 runs batted in against Atlanta.

Paul Goldschmidt

The Paul Goldschmidt eruption that everyone has been waiting for has not yet occurred.  Paul had no extra-base hits, and drove in just 1 run during the recent home stand.  But, Paul did have seven hits in the 5 games, including a 5-for-11 performance (.455) against the Braves.

While the last 12 home games have not gone well for the Cards, Goldschmidt s hitting .354 (17 for 48) in his home games this month.  Again, though, the extra-base hits and runs batted in have been conspicuously missing.  His 17 home hits include 1 double and 1 home run.  He has driven in 5 runs in 12 home games this month.

Harrison Bader

Of the Cardinals’ four “starting” outfielders, the only one hitting the ball right now is Harrison Bader.  He went 3 for 9 against the Braves.  Harrison has started 6 times over his last 8 games, hitting .440 (11 for 25) over that period. He is hitting .306 this month (15 for 49), and .322 (19 for 59) in the 26 games since he returned from a hamstring issue.

Marcell Ozuna

After a great start to the home stand against Kansas City, Marcell Ozuna was one of many Cardinals to dry up against Atlanta.  He finished the series with 1 single in 11 at bats (.091).  During the 6-16 slide, Ozuna has started every game, batting fourth and playing left field.  He is hitting .172 (15 for 87) in those games.

Marcell hit well enough at Busch during his first season as a Cardinal (.299 with 13 home runs).  He has been less comfortable at home this year.  In his 12 home games this month, Marcell is hitting .149 (7 for 47) with just 1 home run.  For the season, he is a .196 hitter at home (19 for 97), although 12 of those hits are for extra-bases, including 6 home runs.

Hitless Against Atlanta

In the detritus of the Brave series are a trio of regulars who failed to get a hit.  Newly promoted to the leadoff spot, Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch in each game – the only times he reached base in the series.  Otherwise, he was 0-for-10 with 5 strikeouts.

Number three hitter Paul DeJong was also 0-for-10, and eighth-place hitter Kolten Wong never reached base (except by error) in his 13 plate appearances.  Toss in Jose Martinez – who made one start and went 0-for-4, and these four Cardinals combined for an 0-for-37 series.

By contrast, Yairo Munoz – who is hitting .342 (albeit in very part time play – watched every at bat of the series from the bench.

Fowler

Fowler’s has been one of the missing bats this month.  He is still reaching base – he’s had 13 walks and now 4 hit-by-pitches this month, but is hitting just .193 (11 for 57) in May.

Dexter is 6 for 32 (.188) at home.

DeJong

With his 0-for-10 series against Atlanta, Paul DeJong finished off a hitless home stand (0-for-15).  His overall hitless streak has now reached 18 at bats since a two-run, first-inning double against Texas lefty Drew Smyly on the nineteenth.  Paul has slipped below .300 for the season, and is now hitting .224 (17 for 76) in May.

Paul is 5 for 37 (.135) with 1 home run and 4 runs batted in in 12 home games this month.

Wong

Kolten is now down to .226 for the season, and .171 (13 for 76) for the month.  He is hitless in six of his last seven games.

The upcoming road trip – brief though it is – may be a blessing for Kolten.  He has had a great season on the road (.312/.418/.558), but has done nothing but struggle at Busch, where he is 14 of 91 (.154) with only 5 extra-base hits (4 doubles and a home run).

Cheers for the Rotation

If the bullpen and the offense came up measurably short over the weekend, the efforts of the starters in those games deserves recognition.  Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty each tossed quality starts at the Braves, while they combined to pitch 19.1 innings allowing only 5 runs on 15 hits and just 2 walks.  The starters limited a dangerous Atlanta lineup to a 2.33 ERA and a .217 batting average.

Cardinal starters now have 9 quality starts in the last 14 games.

All season, the starters have been much more solid at home than on the road.  They now have a 3.56 ERA in 28 starts in their own ballpark, against a 5.88 ERA in 24 road starts.

Mikolas

Few pitchers personify the radical home/road splits of the starting rotation more graphically than Mikolas.  Miles has pitched at home 3 times this month, throwing quality starts in each occasion.   He has walked just 1 batter in 21 innings at home in May, while posting a 2.14 ERA and a .178 batting average against.

For the season at home, Miles had quality starts in 5 of 6 starts, a 3-3 record, a 3.15 ERA and a .196 batting average against.  He has walked 5 batters in 40 home innings.

On the road this year, Mikolas has had a tougher time of things, with 1 quality starts in his 5 road efforts leading to a 1-2 record, a 7.66 ERA, and a .350/.387/.650 batting line against.  In 22.1 road innings, Miles has been spanked for 35 hits, including 7 home runs.

Hudson

Dakota Hudson has been one of the most encouraging stories of the month.  Dakota approaches his last start this month riding a streak of three consecutive quality starts.  He has 4 quality starts in 5 games this month, where he holds a 3.07 ERA.  Dakota has allowed just one home run in his last 6 games (35 innings) – a span during which opposing hitters are hitting the ball on the ground 64 % of the time.

Hudson also has significant home/road splits.  He is 2-1 with a 3.58 ERA in 6 home starts, and 1-2 with a 5.23 ERA in 5 road games (4 starts), but that number has been modifying this month.  His first two road starts in May were both impressive.  He lost 2-1 in Washington on May 2, but gave the team 6 innings, allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits.  He got the only win in the Texas series on May 18, going 6.1 more innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits.

Flaherty

Jack Flaherty also has now thrown three consecutive quality starts of increasing dominance.  On Sunday night against the Braves, Jack threw six innings of 3-hit, shutout ball, walking no one and striking out 7.  Flaherty has a 2.50 ERA and a .172 batting average against over his last 3 starts.

Flaherty – whose next start will be at home against the Cubs – is 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 6 home starts.  He is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in 5 road starts.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller eventually surrendered the tying run Sunday night.  It was almost impossible not to.  He came in with the tying run at third and no one out.  He got the first strikeout, but couldn’t get the second.  Ozzie Albies won a ten-pitch duel with Miller by poking a game-tying single into right.

Miller, was, however, the winning pitcher on Saturday night, and has been steadily getting better.  In 10 innings over his last 11 games, Andrew holds a 1.80 ERA and a .188/.235/.281 batting line against.  He has also struck out 12 in those 10 innings.

Jordan Hicks

After picking up his first save of the month on Saturday, Jordan Hicks was back to the mound in the ninth inning Sunday night.  It was the first time he pitched on consecutive days this month.  He retired none of the four batters he faced.  Jordan was also the losing pitcher in the last game of the Texas series, when he allowed 2 runs in 1.1 innings.

Over his last three games, Hicks has now allowed 5 runs on 6 hits in 2.1 innings.  The last 15 batters to face him are hitting .462.  On the last 23 swings taken against the kid with the 102 mph fastball, there has only been one swing-and-miss.

NoteBook

Friday’s loser, Miles Mikolas – although he pitched quite well – absorbed his fifth defeat of the season, tying his career high.  He lost only 4 times in all of 2018.  He also allowed 2 more home runs, bringing him to 12 already this season in just 62.1 innings.  He served up 16 all of last year in 200.2 innings.

Also, in the Friday game, Matt Carpenter launched a ninth-inning home run that accounted for the five-hundredth run batted in of his career – just the fifteenth of this season.  Carpenter has hit at least 21 home runs a year for the last 4 years, but (because he has mostly hit leadoff) has never driven in more than 84 runs a year.  This year, he is on pace to finish with 49 runs batted in.  It would be his lowest total since driving in 46 back in 2012.

Sunday’s loss ended up taking 4:07 to finally unravel.  It was the Cardinal’s second four hour game this season, and their longest game at home.   On April 1 in Pittsburgh it took them 4:50 and 11 innings to finally subdue the Pirates 6-5.

Next up are the Phillies, who – in spite of their loss on Sunday – took two of three from Milwaukee.  Over the Cardinals’ last 8 series, Philadelphia will be the sixth team that they have faced that won its previous series.

Texas Lefty Leaves Cards Less than Smyly

After an encouraging 8-2 victory on Saturday (box score), the St Louis Cardinals faced the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon, needing any kind of win to halt a four-series losing streak.  They would give the ball to young Jack Flaherty (who would turn in a strong effort).

But, standing in the way was veteran Texas left-hander Drew Smyly.

It’s funny how some tendencies follow a club over the course of decades – regardless of the makeup of the club.  In St Louis, the boogeyman has been almost any flavor of left-handed pitcher, but especially the soft-tosser.  In this context, Smyly isn’t the softest of soft tossers, but with a fastball that topped out at 92.6 (according to Brooks Baseball), Drew doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters with sure speed.  But it’s enough fastball to tantalize and to set up his curve and changeup.

On a superficial level, you tell yourself that it doesn’t just happen to the Cardinals – that these guys are getting other teams out as well.  But someone is hitting these pitchers.  Smyly entered the game with a 6.85 ERA.  And, in the early going, it looked like the Cards had him solved.  In quick succession, Drew allowed a double, a walk, and a two-run double.  Quickly, it was 2-0 St Louis.

But that would be it.  Smyly would face 16 more batters before ending his four-inning stint.  St Louis would score no more runs and manage just one more hit against him.  Drew wouldn’t figure into the decision, of course (a 5-4 Texas win in 10 innings – St Louis’ thirteenth loss in its last 17 games).  Along the way, he would walk 3, but he would also strike out 4 of those last 16 batters faced.

It doesn’t stand as a dominant game, per se, but by the end it fell along familiar parameters.  St Louis finished 3 for 15 (.200) against Drew, and just 5 for 29 (.172) during the three-game series against Texas’ left-handers.  They are down to .235 against them for the season.

Offensive Struggles

While losing two of three in Arlington, St Louis did manage to score 15 runs in the series, but hit only .236 (26 for 110) and couldn’t cash in on other opportunities.  The Cards are hitting just .241 this month.

Harrison Bader

St Louis’ complex outfield picture got more complex over the weekend.  With Jose Martinez moving into the DH slot in the American League park, Harrison Bader was able to start all three games in center.  Bader was nothing but spectacular.  He, of course, made several sparkling plays in center.  He also went 7 for 12 (.583), including a home run and 2 doubles (a 1.000 slugging percentage) at the plate.

Harrison started the season as the regular centerfielder.  But he started off slowly at the plate, and when he went down briefly with a hamstring pull, Martinez found his way into the lineup and hit his way into a permanent spot.

While his opportunities have been infrequent, Bader has hit .326 (15 for 46) since his return, and is now hitting .306 (11 for 36) for the month.

Bader had multiple hits in all three games in Texas, and it seems hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup when the season resumes Tuesday night.

Harrison was only 1-for-4 against left-handed pitching in the series, but was 6-for-8 against the righties.  While not qualifying, yet, as a regular, Bader is hitting .357 this month (10 for 28) against righties – the highest on the team for anyone with more than 20 plate appearances against them.

Paul DeJong

As you might suppose, St Louis isn’t overburdened with batters who are flourishing against left-handed pitching.  One who has been succeeding all year is Paul DeJong.  The righty was 2-for-3 against Texas’ left-handers in the series – his hits being a double and a home run.  For the season, Paul has the team’s second highest average against lefties.  In 32 plate appearances against southpaws (and there haven’t been an awful lot of lefties to face the Cards so far this season), Paul now has 2 singles, 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 6 walks.  He has driven in 7 runs against lefties so far, with a .346/.469/.769 batting line against them.

Yadier Molina

Everyday catcher Yadier Molina – who has been so consistent all season – had a tough series in Arlington.  He was just 2 for 13, going hitless in two of the games.  Over his last 5 games, Yadi is hitting just .150 (3 for 20) with no runs scored and one run batted in.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler had his one big moment.  Capping a nine-pitch at bat in Sunday’s ninth inning, trailing by one, Dexter lined a game-tying home run into the upper deck in right.  The home run (clutch as it was) broke an 0-for-15 streak.  Fowler – over .300 for much of the season – is hitting just .195 this month (8 for 41).  Bader had almost as many hits in the Texas series as Dexter has had all month.

Fowler – a switch hitter – is getting fewer and fewer opportunities against lefties.  He is hitting .208 against them this season (5 for 24) with no extra-base hits.  Lately, though, he has been struggling against right-handers as well.  He is 6 for 32 (.188) against them this month.

Kolten Wong

In the Saturday victory, Kolten Wong was held hitless in 5 at bats – breaking his encouraging little five-game hitting streak.  Wong – who has struggled lately – was 6-for-18 (.333) during that streak.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt walked 4 times in the 3 games in Texas.  He subsequently scored 3 runs and drove in a run with a ground ball.  But he had no hits in the series (0-for-10).  Paul hasn’t had the best of starts.  He is 16 for 65 (.246) this month with 2 extra-base hits (1 home run).  He has driven in 5 runs in 18 games in May.  He is 6 for 28 (.214) this season against left-handed pitching.  Paul has 1 home run against lefties this year.

It’s safe to say that there is an explosion coming from Mr Goldschmidt.

Cheers for the Rotation

As we approach the end of May, almost any good news from the pitching staff in general and the rotation in particular is cause for celebration.  The overall numbers from the Texas series are not particularly warm or fuzzy.  The staff finished the series with a 4.73 ERA, and the starters finished at 7.43 and a .327/.383/.582 batting line.

The actuality wasn’t as bad as the numbers.  Game One starter Miles Mikolas was driven from the mound after 1.1 innings, having allowed 7 runs on 9 hits (including 2 home runs).

From the moment Mikolas left the mound through the end of the series, the Cardinal pitching staff contained the Texas offense to just 7 more runs in 25.1 innings.  Their 2.49 ERA was backed by a .195 batting average against.  Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty followed Mikolas with quality starts, and the bullpen – pitching as many innings as the starters in this series – were flawless (until the end of the Sunday game).

As I said, any hint of light at the end of the tunnel is welcome.

Mikolas

Miles Mikolas had tossed three consecutive quality starts – throwing a total of 20 innings – before his meltdown in the first game.  He had pitched three straight games without allowing a home run.

Hudson

Dakota has also been steadily improving.  He served up 8 April home runs in just 24 innings – contributing to a 5.63 ERA.  In 23 innings over 4 starts (3 of them quality starts) in May, Hudson has allowed just 1 home run and holds a 3.13 ERA (that ERA figure is a little deceptive in that it doesn’t include the 6 unearned runs he allowed a couple of starts ago).

Among the most encouraging notes from the Saturday win was Dakota Hudson dominating lefties.  Until that night, the 101 lefties to face Hudson had owned him to the tune of a .388/.475/729 batting line with 8 home runs.  Saturday night they (lefties) finished with just 4 singles in 21 at bats against Hudson (.190).

NoteBook

In the Saturday game, Paul DeJong – in addition to getting two hits – drew a walk.  It is already his twenty-fifth walk of the season.  All last year he drew 36 – his current career high.

Then in the Sunday game, Paul drilled his seventeenth double of the season.  All of last year, he only hit 25.

With their fifth straight series loss, St Louis (holding a 10-14 road record) is now 2-5-1 in road series.  They are also 2-5-1 in series when they lose the first game.

This was also their eighth series so far this year against a team that had won its previous series.  They are also, now, 2-5-1 in those series – going 11-13 in those games.

(This post was originally composed Monday, May 20).

Miklas and Waino and Three Days of Raino?

Back in 1948 a sports editor for the Boston Post coined the enduring phrase (“Spahn and Sain and two days of rain”) adopted for more than half a century by teams that don’t seem to have enough starting pitching to safely make it back to the top of the rotation (in 1948 baseball teams used four-man rotations).

It seems a little strange to be adapting the ancient ditty to the 2019 St Louis Cardinals.  Questions certainly abounded as the team came out of spring training.  Mostly questions about offense and defense.  More than a bit of insecurity regarding the bullpen.  But where most felt the team would certainly be the strongest was in the rotation.

Jack Flaherty emerged through the midst of the 2018 season as one of the most exciting young prospects in baseball.  Joining him in the rotation was Dakota Hudson – who had been one of the top starters in AAA last year until he spent the last half of the season pitching with great effectiveness out of the Cardinal bullpen.  And, of course, there was Michael Wacha – finally healthy.

In fact, if there were questions about the rotation at the beginning of the season, they might have centered on Miles Mikolas and especially Adam Wainwright.  Mikolas had been brilliant (18-4) in 2018, but in some ways he kind of came out of nowhere – and baseball history is full of these kind of one-year wonders.  They have a brilliant year, and the league makes an adjustment to them.

Wainwright, of course, has been in a perpetual battle against injuries and father time for the last several seasons.  Now 37, there were serious concerns whether there was anything left in Waino’s tank.

Fast-forward to the end of the first quarter of the 2019 season, and the Cardinals are enjoying (if that is the correct word) their first off day in the month of May.  They are coming off a brutal 1-3 series against the Pittsburgh Pirates that closed out a disappointing 2-5 homestand – which, in turn – was the centerpiece in a 2-9 stretch that dropped St Louis from being in first place, three games ahead of the pack, down now to fourth place, 3.5 games behind the surging Cubs.

The offense and bullpen – though hitting an inconsistent patch of late – have proven to be mostly capable.  But that rotation.  The spring pride of the Midwest, the Cardinal starting five have fallen to fifteenth out of baseball’s 30 teams with a 4.35 ERA.  The struggles have been general, except for Mikolas and Wainwright.

One of the highlight’s of course, of the recently concluded Pittsburgh series was the 17 runs the Cards scored in the Thursday contest (their only win of the series).  Immediately after that outburst, the Birds lost consecutive 2-1 games (box score 1, box score 2), in which they wasted consecutive excellent starts from the twin lynchpins of the rotation.  Mikolas has tossed 5 quality starts out of his 9 starts.  Waino also has 5 in 8 starts.  The rest of the team, in 24 starts, has 6.

Adam Wainwright

Six pitches into the Friday night game, Waino trailed 1-0, courtesy of Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run.  That would be all the damage surrendered by the great Cardinal veteran.  He would leave after 7 innings, allowing just that single run on 5 hits.  He walked no one and struck out 8.

Of the 8 strikeouts, 5 were called third strikes.  It’s the curveball, of course – a nasty thing to contend with when you’ve got two strikes on you.  But it’s more than that.  All year, Adam has been confidently throwing that cutter to the corners of the zone.

To this point of the season, Waino leads the team in called strikeouts with 17 and in percentage of strikeouts coming on called third strikes (45.9%).  The team average is 24.6% of their strikeouts being called third strikes.

Of Waino’s 92 pitches on Friday, the Pirates only offered at 35 of them (38%).  This has been another benchmark of Waino’s renaissance season, as opposing batters only offer at 39.5% of his pitches this season – also the lowest percentage on the team.

Miles Mikolas

The afternoon after Wainwright tossed his gem, Mikolas answered with one of his own – 7 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts and no home runs.  The result was similar as well.

Miles actually staggered a bit out of the gate.  His first 6 starts were less than encouraging.  Over his first 34 innings, Miles allowed 21 runs (20 earned) on 34 hits – including 8 home runs.  He was 2-2 at that point, with 5.29 ERA.  He was only getting ground balls from 48% of the batters who put the ball in play against him, while those same batters missed on only 14% of their swings against him.

Over his last three starts, though, Miles has fully resembled the pitcher that took the league by surprise last year.  Over his last 20 innings, there have been only 3 runs scored on 13 hits and 2 walks (and no home runs).  He is 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA his last 3 times to the mound.  Batters are now hitting .183/.205/.225 against him, hitting the ball on the ground 58% of the time and missing on 20% of their swings.

Dakota Hudson

Slowly but surely, Dakota Hudson seems to be turning the corner.  He had some early-season difficulties, but he is 2-1 with a 3.57 ERA over his last 4 starts.  Granted, those numbers include 6 un-earned runs scored against him two outings ago.  Dakota – who didn’t allow a home run all last season – gave up 8 in his first 18.1 innings this season.  There has only been 1 hit against him over his last 22.2 innings.

Even though he allowed 3 first inning runs on Sunday, Dakota still finished 6 innings giving up no more runs.  In so doing, he gave the Cards their third consecutive quality starts for only the second time all season (Waino, Mikolas and Hudson had earlier turned the trick in Washington from April 30 through May 2).

When he’s right – and Dakota has been closer to that recently – he is as severe a ground ball pitcher as the Cardinals have.  Over his last 2 games, batters are hitting ground balls 72% of the time.  On Sunday, he was able to make it through 6 in spite of allowing 9 hits, walking 2 and hitting another batter because he didn’t nibble with the batter at the plate.  He faced 28 batters throwing just 84 pitches – 3.00 per plate appearances.  Opposing hitters missed on only 9.1% of their swings, and put the ball in play 52.4% of the time they swung at Dakota’s pitches.

This month, he is averaging just 3.35 pitches per plate appearance – the lowest of any Cardinal starter.

Michael Wacha

The date was April 6.  It was opening weekend against San Diego.  After Flaherty had started the home opener, it was Michael Wacha’s turn in the second game.  But Michael found himself in a bit of first-inning difficulty.  After an RBI double from Hunter Renfroe put San Diego up 1-0, Wacha found himself facing Wil Myers with the bases loaded and one out.  Michael got out of it, when Myers grounded the first pitch to Paul DeJong, starting a 6-4-3 double play.

That was the last time this season that Michael Wacha has induced that double-play ground ball.  Wacha has now pitched to 26 consecutive batters with an opportunity to get a double play, and has been unable to get a ground ball.  (One of those opportunities, by the way, came against the Cubs’ Taylor Davis in his last start in Chicago.)  He faced 8 batters in his 5.2 inning struggle against Pittsburgh on Thursday who could have eased his labor by grounding into a double play.  He got none of them.

Wacha – who throws that heavy sinking fastball – was helped last year by only 4 double-play grounders in 65 such opportunities.  If Michael could figure out a way to get the occasional ground ball, it could make a noticeable difference in his season.

John Gant

John Gant – who earlier this season pitched a relief no-hitter – has now gone 7 straight appearances and 6.1 innings without being scored on – although he has surrendered all of 3 hits in those innings.  He has struck out 11 in those innings.  Gant – who hasn’t walked a batter in his last 11 games – covering 11.2 innings – is throwing 72% strikes over his last 174 pitches. 

He worked in two of the Pirate games – tossing 1.1 innings.  In those innings, the 5 Pirate batters he faced swung at 11 of his pitches – missing 5.  In the month of May, John has the team’s highest swing-and-miss percentage – 44.0%.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller also pitched in two of the Pirate games – earning the game two loss.  Very different with Miller in May is that everything he is throwing either is a strike or looks enough like one to compel the batter to swing.

He threw 22 pitches to the 8 Pittsburgh batters he saw this weekend.  They swung at 14 (63.6%).  Of the 8 that they didn’t swing at, 5 were called strikes.  Only 3 of his 22 pitches ended up being called balls.

For the month of May, Miller has thrown 31 pitches to 11 batters, getting 17 swings (54.8% – the highest on the team), and getting 9 of the 14 taken pitches called strikes (64.3% – best, again, by far on the team).

It’s kind of two steps forward, one step back, but there is some evidence of Miller returning to form.

John Brebbia

After allowing just 1 run over his first 18.1 innings, John Brebbia has given up runs in 2 of his last 4 games – losing both.  The damage is 4 runs in 4.1 innings – including 2 crushing home runs.  The last 21 batters to face him have a line of .316/.381/.737.

Offensive Roller-coaster

In losing three of four to Pittsburgh, the offense turned in their most Jekyll and Hyde performance of the season.  After a 17-run eruption on Thursday, they totaled 2 runs in the next two games combined.  Sunday they scored 6 times in the first two innings and then nothing after that (on their way to a 10-6 defeat).  They finished outscoring Pittsburgh for the series 25-18 – for all the good that did them.

Still, there are positive signs for some hitters who have been struggling recently.

Paul Goldschmidt

One of the most encouraging signs to come out of the otherwise lost weekend were the hits off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt.  It’s no secret that he has been frustrated with his contributions so far.  In the Pirate series, he hit safely in all four games – getting multiple hits in three of them.  He finished the series 9-for-17 (.529) with a double a home run and 4 runs batted in – pushing him to .298 for the month.

Jedd Gyorko

A big part of the team the last few years, Jedd Gyorko is finding it hard to get at bats.  He did get a few against Pittsburgh, going 3-for-6.  Jedd is now 5-for-14 (.357) for the month.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz is another of the bench players who gets infrequent opportunities that had some moments in the Pittsburgh series.  He went 3 for 9 in the four games, and is 9 for his last 19 (.474).

Jose Martinez

The defensive limitations of Jose Martinez showed up again a few times over the weekend.  Pretty much any line drive hit to right field is going to be an adventure.

But Jose continues to hit.  After his three-hit game on Sunday, Martinez has started 24 of the last 25 games, hitting .365 (31 for 85) in those games.

Leadoff Homer from Carpenter Sparks Four-Run Inning

Vince Velasquez – the hard-throwing Philadelphia starting pitcher – had fallen behind the leadoff batter in the fifth by a 3-1 count.  He and the Phillies were already down 2-0, and a leadoff walk here would not help.

The 3-1 fastball (officially 91.8 mph) hugged the outside corner of the strike zone, but it was up a bit.  The batter – Matt Carpenter – flicked his bat and lofted a fly ball just deep enough into center to clear the wall (and the glove of Phillie center-fielder Obudel Herrera).  Before the inning would end, St Louis would add three more runs – enough to put the wraps on a 6-0 win (box score).

All season long, the Cardinals have led off innings as well as almost anyone in baseball.  Their .357 on base percentage leading off innings is tied with Atlanta for the best in the National League and fourth-best in baseball (according to baseball reference).  Consistently putting the leadoff man on base was a big part of the amazing offensive consistency that this team enjoyed in April – when they scored 5.45 runs per game.

The early games of May have been less impressive, with the offense struggling to manage 3.67 runs per game.  As far as putting the first batter of an inning on base, St Louis is still doing that at a high level.  Three of the 8 leadoff batters reached base last night – and the leadoff on-base percentage for the month is still .340.  But what has been lost lately is the ability to build on that momentum.  In April, 55% of the Cardinal leadoff hitters who reached base ended up scoring.  Thus far in May, leadoff batters who reach are only scoring 28% of the time.  Carpenter was the only one who scored last night.

Jose Martinez opened the Cardinal second with a walk, and moved into scoring position when he advanced on a long fly ball off the bat of Yadier MolinaKolten Wong followed with a hard hit out, and after an intentional walk to Harrison Bader, pitcher Miles Mikolas struck out looking.

Carpenter again led off the next inning and walked.  Nothing came of that, either, as the walk was followed by a strikeout and a double-play grounder.

Through St Louis’ first 53 offensive innings of the month, their leadoff hitters have reached 18 times.  Only 5 of those have scored – 2 of them on leadoff home runs.  They are applying the pressure, but failing – so far this month – to take full advantage.

Last night, two two-run home runs (by Molina and Paul DeJong) kept the offense on schedule, but until they can start to push their leadoff runners around the bases, the Cardinal offense will continue to be a hit-and-miss affair.

Yadier Molina

In addition to calling a terrific game behind the plate, Yadier Molina was also the offensive engine last night.  He finished with three hits, including the home run that put the Cards ahead.  Yadi has now hit in all of his last 5 starts, going 7 for 19 (.368).  He has also hit safely in 23 of his last 25 starts, hitting .337 over that span (33 for 98).

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna hit a couple balls hard last night, but results have been hard to come by lately.  Over his last 4 games, Marcell is hitting .125 (2 for 16).

Among his contributions to the April offense, Ozuna was one of the most effective Cardinals leading off an inning.  In the 26 April innings he led off, he hit .375 (9 for 24) with a .423 on base percentage.  He ended up scoring in 8 of the 11 innings that he began by reaching base.

Last night, he led off two innings, going 0-for-2.  He is 1-for-7 as a leadoff hitter so far this month.

Kolten Wong

The struggles continue for Kolten Wong.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night (although he also drew a walk and lofted a sacrifice fly), Wong is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, falling to .243 for the season.

Kolten has 2 hits (both singles) this month in 19 at bats (.105).

Miles Mikolas

The opening day starter, Miles Mikolas lasted only 5 innings in each of his first two starts, serving up 8 runs (and 4 home runs) in those efforts.

In his last 6 starts, Mikolas seems to be getting better each time out.  He went 7 scoreless against Philadelphia last night, allowing 3 hits.  In his two May starts, Miles has given just 1 run over 13 innings.  He has both the Cardinal wins this month, with an 0.69 ERA.

Since those first two starts Mikolas is 4-1, with a 3.16 ERA, walking just 6 batters over his last 37 innings.  He has thrown 67% of his last 532 pitches for strikes, holding opponents to just a .232 average.

Jordan Hicks

With one out in the ninth, manager Mike Shildt summoned closer Jordan Hicks into the game with a 6-run lead.  Hicks hadn’t appeared in a game in any of the last 6 days.  The reason for this inactivity was two-fold.  First, the Cards haven’t been presented with a save opportunity in quite a while.  Secondly, the Cards are monitoring the talented right-hander’s innings.  Hick responded by striking out both batters he faced – both on devastating sliders over 90 mph.

Jordan has now retired all of the last ten batters he’s faced – striking out 6 of them.  Since an early-season blown save, Jordan has an 0.75 ERA over his last 12 innings, holding batters to an .086 batting average in those innings.

Carlos Martinez as Closer?

It was not quite a week ago that the Cardinals wrapped up one of the most successful months in their storied history.  With last Friday’s 12-5 conquest of Cincinnati, St Louis put the cherry on a 22-6 month.  The surprise feature of the historic month was the emergence of the bullpen.

An early-season disaster area, the relief corps contributed a 2.82 ERA to the August effort. Opposing hitters managed just a .214 average against these talented but young arms.  In 92.2 innings the bullpen allowed just 6 home runs, 13 doubles and no triples – a .307 slugging percentage against.

And then the calendar flipped to September.

Through the first four games of the season’s ultimate month, the bullpen suffered at least a hiccup, if not a major regression.  Through the first 21 bullpen innings of September, the relief corps surrendered 13 runs (12 earned) on 21 hits and 14 walks.  The hits included 4 home runs – three off the fingertips of presumptive closer Bud Norris – in just 1.1 innings.

Looking for just their second win in five games this month, the Cardinals thought they might breathe a little.  A 3-run first (courtesy of Matt Adams’ first Cardinal home run in a couple of years) – followed by 2 more runs in the second – gave them an early cushion.  A fifth-inning run (courtesy of Adams’ second home run of the night) made it 6-0 Cardinals.

But then, leading 7-2 in the seventh, starter Miles Mikolas ran into a spot of two-out trouble.  A Bryce Harper single and a double off the bat of Anthony Rendon brought Juan Soto to the plate with two runners in scoring position.  With 107 pitches thrown and 12 hits given up, Mikolas was certainly a candidate for relief.  Whatever misgivings manager Mike Shildt may have had toward his bullpen, they were not in evidence here.  Into the game came the usually reliable Dakota Hudson.

Dakota did get that final out of the inning – seventeen pitches later when Pedro Severino slashed a sharp line drive into right-center that the ever-quick Harrison Bader caught up to.  In between, a walk, a double, a single and a wild pitch had turned an early laugher into a tense 7-6 games.

What now?

The usual eighth- and ninth inning duo has been Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris.  But Hicks had pitched in both of the previous games (and warmed up several times).  With his work-load already approaching 70 innings (with a month left in the season), the 22-year-old (as of today) fire-baller has increasingly shown the strain of the season.  And Norris – of course – had suddenly sprung a leak.

At this point, the September bullpen had pitched to a 5.91 ERA.  They had thrown only 57% of their pitches for strikes – walking 15 batters in 21.1 innings – with a distressing opponent’s batting line of .288/.392/.588.

The ending tonight would be different.

On this night, the hero of the bullpen would be erstwhile starter Carlos Martinez.  The last six outs would belong to him.  He would get them, but – as has been true for most of this early month – it would not be easy.  After 40 more pitches – which included two singles, a runner reaching on an error, and 4 strikeouts, Carlos finally got Michael Taylor to chase a slider running out of the strike zone for the last out in a tenser-than-desired 7-6 victory (box score).

Carlos the Closer?

The two innings and 40 pitches preclude Martinez from being used again anytime soon, but does raise the intriguing concept of Carlos Martinez as Cardinal closer.  Norris has done an admirable job through most of the season, and a couple of bad outings in a row doesn’t necessarily mean that he is collapsing.  So any continued faith that Shildt has in him would not be unjustified.

At the same time, Bud has never been a closer in September for a team in the hunt.  This is unknown territory for him.  It is also so for Martinez, who did pitch out of the bullpen in September and the playoffs during his first two years (2013-2014) – but not as closer.

Since the All-Star Break, Norris is 6-for-6 in save opportunities when entering with a 3-run lead, allowing no runs and just 2 singles in 6 innings in those games.  He is only 5-for-8 when he has less than those three runs.  In the 6.2 innings he’s lasted in these contests, Bud holds an 8.10 ERA, with a .355/.487/.581 batting line against.

For the season, Norris is 14-of-14 with a 1.84 ERA and a .152/.200/.152 batting line against in save opportunities of 3-or-more runs.  When brought in to protect a 1- or 2-run lead, he is a much more pedestrian 14-of-19, with a 4.82 ERA and a .286 batting average against.  He has walked 9 batters and hit another in those 18.2 innings.

Carlos has only made 7 relief appearances – only once as the closer – but so far so good.  He has allowed just 1 run in 8.1 relief innings.

Should Martinez get more of these late-game opportunities, it raises an intriguing possibility.  Carlos was the team’s opening day starter in New York, where he threw the first pitch of the Cardinal season.  The Cardinal second half began on the road in Chicago, where Martinez again threw the first pitch of the second half.  St Louis’ season will end in Chicago, giving Carlos the opportunity to throw the last pitch of the Cardinal season.  I’m sure it’s been done before, but that would be a curious trifecta.

Miles Mikolas

Having already surpassed his career-high in innings (at least at the major league level – he threw 188 in Japan last year) Mikolas has struggled some, recently.  Although he missed by one out last night, Miles has only 1 quality start in his last 5 outings, while pitching to a 4.60 ERA over 29.1 innings.

This was the second time in three starts that Miles has served up 12 hits (Colorado had that many in 4.2 innings on August 24).  Over the 16.1 innings covered by those last three starts, Mikolas has served up 32 hits, with a .421 batting average against.

That being said, Miles hasn’t shown much signs of prospering on extra-rest.  He was pitching on six-days rest last night.  Since the break, he has pitched on extra rest 5 times.  In those games, he has worked 29.1 innings with a 4.91 ERA and a .336 batting average against.  His ERA is just 2.16 in the 4 games this half he has pitched on four-days of rest.

He has a 2.35 ERA this season when starting on four-days.

Fireworks from the Offense

After driving 40 home runs and averaging 5.29 runs per game in 28 games through that exciting August, the offense took a little breather during the first three games of September – all loses.  In those games, they totaled 7 runs and 1 home run.

Frankly, the only reason St Louis isn’t off to an 0-5 start this month is the return the last two games of the August offense.  Over their last 18 innings, Cardinal batsmen have smacked 8 home runs and piled up 18 runs – in both cases, barely enough to survive short starts and shaky bullpen efforts.

Marcell Ozuna

One of the things the offense could really use is a return to 2017 form for Marcell Ozuna.  Hitless in his first 8 at bats after a short DL stint, Ozuna has been one of the heroes of the last two games.  Marcell drilled two home runs on Tuesday night, and followed with 4 singles last night.

Ozuna – whose second-half average is up to .298 (45 for 151) with 8 home runs – was starting to turn things around noticeably in August before his injury.  In 20 August games, he hit .321 (26 for 81).

Jose Martinez

After leading the team with a .389 batting average in August, Jose Martinez began September in a mini-swoon (one single in his first 15 at bats).  He looked more like the old Jose last night, as he contributed 3 singles.  Martinez is now hitting .336 (48 for 143) in the second half.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter didn’t contribute as loudly as he usually does in a Cardinal victory, but he still added a single, a double, a run batted in and 2 runs scored.  Since the break, Matt is a .290/.418/.639 hitter with 16 home runs, 36 runs scored, and 33 runs batted in in 46 games (and those kind of RBIs are tough to achieve when you hit leadoff).  Matt has also been intentionally walked 13 times over his last 46 games.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong hit one of the home runs in Tuesday’s game, but can’t seem to keep anything sustained.  After his 0-for-5 last night, Paul is still hitting just .200 in the second half (34 for 170) – albeit, now, with 8 home runs.

NoteBook

Up next is a three-game set in Detroit.  After that St Louis plays 13 of its next 16 at home.  If this team can figure out its own home park (they are 37-31 at home) they could have an opportunity to open up some ground in the wild-card race.  And, since they then close the season with three games in Wrigley, if they can pick up a couple of games on Chicago in the process (they are currently 4.5 games behind), that could make for a very interesting closing series.

First, though, they will have to resolve – again – that bullpen.

Pitchers and Front Offices Under Stress

While victories haven’t been plentiful in the month that cost the Cardinals the services of their manager, there has been plenty of excitement.  The Cards have scored 68 runs during July’s first 13 games (5.23 per), and they have surrendered 64 runs in those games (4.92 runs per game).

During these mostly offensive contests, there have been many moments of fine pitching.  The difference lately has been pitchers on both sides handling the stress of having multiple runners on base.

In the last game before the All-Star break, Cardinal pitchers held Cincinnati batters to a .188/.350/.250 batting line with no one on base.  For the month so far, Cardinal pitchers are performing well with the bases empty – a .215/.280/.297 batting line.

Similarly, the Cardinal hitters did little against the Cincinnati pitchers with no one on base – the .217/.217/.478 batting line was improved by the two solo home runs.  This month, so far, Cardinal hitters have been less than dominant with the bases empty – .237/.295/.381.

But when the heat was on, both pitching staffs struggled under the added stress.

With two or more runners on, Cincinnati went 4-for-7 in Sunday’s game – including Adam Duvall’s two-run single and Jose Peraza’s RBI single, both with the bases loaded in the fourth.  Opposing batters are hitting .368/.417/.513 this month with multiple runners on base.  This includes 8-for-21 (.381) with the bases loaded.

For their part, the Cardinal hitters have returned the favor.  They only had 5 at bats on Sunday with multiple runners on base, but came through with two very clutch hits – Tommy Pham’s two-run single with the bases loaded, and Yadier Molina’s RBI single with runners at first and second in the decisive four-run Cardinal fourth.  They are hitting .368/.413/.632 this month with more than one runner on base. 

Stress – as they say – can be a killer.

On Sunday, it was just enough heroics to give the Cards a squeaky 6-4 victory in Mike Shildt’s managerial debut (box score).  Even with the win, the Cards begin the second half of the season tomorrow night just 48-46 and 6-7 for July.

Paul DeJong

One of the casualties of the managerial change was the end of Paul DeJong’s hitting streak.  Stretching back to before his injury, Paul was riding a nine-game hitting streak.  Granted, it wasn’t the world’s most destructive hitting streak.  He hit only .286 during the streak (10 for 35), with only 2 doubles and 1 run batted in.  Paul has only one extra-base hit since returning from his broken wrist – so his power stroke hasn’t completely returned just yet.  But he does look like he’s getting closer.

Before his injury, DeJong was a better ignitor than he has been since his return.  Presented with bases empty situations, Paul was 24 for his first 86 – a .279 batting average.  He was 0-for-3 with the bases empty on Sunday, leaving him 4-for-18 (.222) with the bases empty after his injury.  Not only are all the hits singles, but two of those hits were infield hits.  Paul has only walked once in his last 19 plate appearances with the bases empty.  Through all of this, I have gotten the distinct impression that Paul just isn’t comfortable yet.  It will come.

Paul did have an opportunity to put the game out of reach in the fourth.  He was up with runners at first and second and two out – Cards holding a 6-3 lead.  He lined out to end the inning.  Throughout the beginning of his young career, Paul has done a lot of impressive things.  Hitting with multiple runners on base has not yet been an area of excellence.  He is only 6 of 32 so far this season (.188) with two or more runners on – although three of those hits have been three-run home runs.  Last year, he had 65 plate appearances with ducks (plural) on the pond.  He responded with 10 singles (2 of the infield variety), 5 doubles, 2 walks (1 intentional), 17 strikeouts, one hit-by-pitch, and one sacrifice fly – a .246/.277/.328 batting line.  He is now 21 for 93 (.226) in these situations for his young career.

Jedd Gyorko

Inheriting a spot in the every-day lineup due to Jose Martinez’ defensive inconsistencies (or, perhaps consistencies), Jedd Gyorko limped to the end of the first half.  Hitless in 3 at bats on Sunday, Gyorko is 1 for 14 (.071) over his last 4 games.

Nobody responds to multiple baserunners better than Jedd.  His hitless at bats on Sunday all came with less than two runners on.  He is now hitting .218 (41 for 188) this season in those situations.  He is a .524 hitter (11 for 21) when he gets to hit with multiple runners on base.

Kolten Wong

Also limping to the end of the first half was Kolten Wong.  Torrid through most of the month, Wong finished 0-for-3 on Sunday and finished the half 1 for 13 over his last 4 games (.077).

Speaking of bases-empty situations, Wong – who has re-invented himself as an ignitor – has never warmed this year to these opportunities.  All of his at bats Sunday were in bases empty situations.  He is now a .176 hitter this year (23 for 131) in his opportunities to get things started.

Miles Mikolas

Miles Mikolas finished a very strong first half on a less than spectacular note.  He finished only 4 innings, giving 3 runs on 6 hits.  He had produced quality starts in 7 of his previous 8 starts, going 4-3 in those games.  His 2.76 ERA over those starts was complimented by a .224/.273/.301 batting line.

All of Cincinnati’s opportunities with multiple base-runners on Sunday came during Miles abbreviated start.  This has been something of an enduring problem for Mikolas.  In those high-stress situations, Miles has allowed 15 hits in 44 at bats – a .341 batting average.

John Gant

Perhaps earning a larger role in the season’s second half is John Gant.  He got the win in Shildt’s first game with 4 scoreless innings of relief.  He has pitched in 5 games since his last recall from AAA – three starts and two relief appearances.  In the combined 24.1 innings represented by those games, John holds a 2.22 ERA and a .149 opponent’s batting average (he has surrendered just 13 hits in those innings).

Jordan Hicks

Is it the innings?  The Cardinal’s talented 21-year-old rookie ended the first half with 48 innings pitched.  Has the league adjusted on him?  Is the fact that his command has never been stellar finally catching up with him?

Whatever the reason, the formerly untouchable Mr. Hicks is now one of the team’s most hittable relievers.  Trying to reel in Sunday’s win, Jordan Hicks held on for the save – but not until he surrendered another run on 2 more hits.  This is now four consecutive games in which Jordan has surrendered runs – a total of 7 runs over his last 3.1 innings.  In addition, he has allowed 4 of his last 5 inherited runners to cross the plate.  The last 21 batters he has faced are hitting .474 against the flame-throwing Hicks.  He has thrown strikes with just 59% of his last 80 pitches.

On the Dismissal of Mike Matheny

Speaking of performance under stress, one game before the end of the first half, the Cardinal front office announced that manager Mike Matheny (and two of his coaches) would serve as scapegoats for the team’s struggling start.

This happens all the time in baseball, and no one should be too surprised when it shakes out this way.  Clearly, though, this is just a cosmetic move on the part of what has become a questionable Cardinal management group.

Far from being the problem, Matheny’s performance under the stress of the 2018 season has been – I think – admirable.

Let’s begin with the injuries.  First and foremost, the bullpen.  A suspect area from the beginning of the season, such arms as Matheny was given to face an increasingly challenging division went down in droves.  Matthew Bowman, Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson, Greg Holland, Dominic Leone, Tyler Lyons and Ryan Sherriff – all of whom were counted on to play prominent roles in the Cardinal pen – have missed significant time due to injuries.

If that weren’t bad enough, many of these pitchers have tried to compete in spite of their compromised health – resulting in more than a few damaging performances.

In addition, Matheny had to battle with most of his anticipated starting rotation missing much of the first half.  Alex Reyes and Adam Wainwright have missed virtually the entire season, while Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha have each missed substantial parts.

He also had to deal with the loss of perhaps the most indispensable Cardinal – Yadier Molina – for about a month.

But this was only the tip of the adversity of the first half.

In addition to the loss of the guts of his pitching staff, Matheny’s Cardinals endured horrific slumps from most of his most needed bats.  Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong all spent most of the first half hitting below .200.  After a torrid start, Tommy Pham joined the slumping hitters.  Marcell Ozuna has never settled in – he hit the All-Star break with a very pedestrian .268/.309/.385 batting line, and promising shortstop DeJong joined most of the pitching staff and Molina on the disabled list for about half of the first half.

And in spite of all of this, Matheny’s Cards hung in the race at 47-46.  In my mind an impressive feat in and of itself.  Even more impressive to me is that his team never gave in to the adversity.  At no point did they blame injuries.  At no time did they divide.  The pitchers never pointed at the hitters, the starters never faulted the bullpen.  To a man, every player on that team – through the end of Matheny’s tenure – believed that they would overcome all of this and make the playoffs.  In spite of mounds of statistical evidence that paints this team as a mediocre collection, the team itself never bought into that.

In fact, Matheny stayed with his struggling hitters until all of them (except Fowler) eventually worked their way out of their slumps.  Against the outside pressure on him to give up on these players – especially Fowler and Wong – Mike maintained his belief in them.  That is a hard thing to do.

In fact, if anyone’s feet should be held to the fire over the Cardinals’ tepid start this season, it should be that management group.  They are, essentially, coming off three or four pretty bad off seasons in a row.  Over the last couple in particular, these guys have brought Fowler, Ozuna and Holland to the team with great fanfare.  To this point, it is clear that all of these big “gets” were significantly over-rated by the front office – which also truly failed to fix the bullpen problem that they knew they would enter the season with.  In the case of Marcell Ozuna, his acquisition cost the Cardinals the career of the electric Sandy Alcantara – a decision I fear the franchise will regret for quite a few years to come.

Interestingly, another of the big “gets” over the last winter was pitching coach Mike Maddux.  While Matheny paid with his head for the team-wide struggles, hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller suffered similar fates for the team hitting struggles.  But although the tepid bullpen (they finished the first half with a woeful 4.48 ERA) is as responsible for the team’s stagnant start as the inconsistent hitting, apparently Mr. Maddux gets a pass.  In the end, Mike Matheny pays for the consistent failures on John Mozeliak and the management group.

The upshot here is not devastating for the Cardinals.  There are other very fine managers out there – and Mike Shildt may prove to be one of those.  In temperament he seems similar to Matheny.  (Matheny – by the way – becomes the first Cardinal manager to be dismissed during the season since Joe Torre in 1995.  Things worked out well enough for Mr. Torre, and I have no doubt that if Mike Matheny wants to continue managing, he will enjoy great success elsewhere.)  I hope that – if this management group can find another fine manager, they will support him with a better cast of players.

The thing, ultimately, that I find most disturbing about this is that the Cardinals have now become “that” organization.  A team whose recent past has been governed by long-term value, has now become that franchise that reacts – and even over-reacts – to short term pressures.  With one of the most promising farm systems in baseball about to send a great many exciting players to the majors, I am increasingly concerned that management will continue to give them away in their insatiable lust for that “impact bat” for the middle of the lineup.

It is here hoped that the ownership group will keep a close eye on them and make some kind of intervention before this would be allowed to happen.

That would go a long way to reducing my stress.