Tag Archives: Mikolas

Starting Pitching Continues Strong

The St Louis Cardinals ended their most recent homestand with an improbable four-game series against San Francisco in which the Giants didn’t score a single run off any of the four Cardinal starters.  The encore in the first series of the road trip in Pittsburgh fell short of that exalted standard.  Just barely.

With Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty in “October form,” the Cardinal starters combined for 20 innings in the series.  They gave 14 hits (10 singles, 3 doubles and 1 triple) and all of 2 runs – an 0.90 ERA backed by a .203 batting average against and a .275 opponent’s slugging percentage.

It all continued a remarkable starting pitching renaissance that has contributed principally to St Louis’ recent surges – and the Cards have won 23 of their last 30 and 55 of their last 84.  Nine games into September, and St Louis’ starters (according to baseball reference) lead all rotations in baseball with a 1.36 ERA (Atlanta is a distant second at 2.20).  The combined slugging percentage against the Cardinal starters this month (who have allowed just 2 home runs in 9 games) is just .249 – leading the season-long slugging percentage against St Louis below .400 for the season.  Now at .397, the Cards hold baseball’s third best slugging percentage against (and second to the Dodgers’ .386 in the NL).

It’s rarefied air, and this remarkable pitching effort is one of the strongest reasons for optimism as the playoffs approach.

Miles Mikolas

The only one of the Cardinal starters this weekend not to get credit for a quality start was Mikolas, and that only because he pitched just five innings – five very strong innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits.  After enduring a rocky stretch, this would have been Miles’ third consecutive quality start.

Even at that, Mikolas has still allowed just 5 runs on 11 hits (8 singles, 2 doubles and 1 home run) over his last 17 innings.  If these numbers pale somewhat in comparison to some of the other St Louis starters, his 2.65 ERA, his .180 batting average against, and his .262 slugging percentage against over these starts is still plenty good.

Miles’ two starts this month have been against divisional opponents Cincinnati and Pittsburgh – two teams that have seen him a lot.  Interestingly, of the 44 batters he’s faced in those two games, only 3 have hit his first pitch.  Across all of baseball, about one out of every 9 batters hits the first pitch.  Apparently neither the Reds nor the Pirates were getting what they expected from Miles with that first pitch.

Bullpen Misadventures

After Mikolas left the game with a 4-1 lead, the usually reliable bullpen got knocked around for the second time in 3 games.  After the Giants punched them around on Wednesday, Pittsburgh stung them for 8 runs on 9 hits over the last three innings of the game to walk off with a 9-4 victory (box score).  One of the Cardinal strengths over the course of this season, the bullpen begins September with a 5.33 ERA (ranking twenty-fifth in baseball to this point of the month).

Jack Flaherty

It is getting to the point with Mr. Flaherty that when you look at the line score and see that he allowed 5 hits in 8 innings, you assume he didn’t have his good stuff that night – never mind the zero on the scoreboard.  Jack has now thrown consecutive eight-inning starts, allowing no runs.  He is unscored on in 3 of his last 4 starts, 6 of his last 8, and 7 of his last 10.  Over his last 9 starts, he has allowed more than 4 hits just twice, and he has allowed that many just 3 times over his last 12 starts.  Flaherty has been other-worldly of late – with an 0.80 ERA over his last 12 starts (78.1 innings).

Jack has been especially devastating over his last 8 starts.  He has thrown 7 quality starts, going 6-1 in those games, with one other lead lost by the bullpen.  Over his last 54 innings, Jack has been brushed for just 4 runs – 3 earned (an 0.50 ERA).  He has struck out 65 in those innings while allowing just 25 hits (16 singles, 7 doubles and 2 home runs).  That ERA combines with a .137 batting average and a .208 slugging percentage against.  This is a nasty, nasty stretch of pitching.

August’s pitcher of the month, Jack has begun September with 16 innings of zero.  In 11 second half starts (71.1 innings) Flaherty holds an 0.76 ERA.

Offensive Contributions

Although they only scored twice in the series finale (enough for a 2-0 win), it was another productive offensive series, as St Louis finished with 16 runs across the three games.  They are now scoring 5 runs even per game in September, and 5.02 runs in 55 games since the All-Star Break.

Matt Carpenter

After fighting through an endless slump through most of the year, Matt Carpenter is finally showing signs of fighting his way out of it.  He was the only Cardinal with two hits yesterday afternoon, and, after going 3 for 4 in the series he is now 6 for his last 8.  This recent offense has pushed Carp up to the .400 level of the month.

Paul DeJong

With his 0-for-4 on Sunday, Paul DeJong had a six-game hitting streak snapped.  DeJong was 7 for 23 (.304) during the streak, with a double, two home runs and 6 runs batted in to go with a .609 slugging percentage.

Yadier Molina

Also having his hitting streak snapped on Sunday was catcher Yadier Molina.  Molina had hit in 7 consecutive games overall, and 14 consecutive games in which he had had an official at bat.  During the 14 games, Yadi hit a very loud .379 (22 for 58) with 5 doubles, 4 home runs and a .672 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Starting to struggle of late is lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler.  After a 1-for-10 series against the Pirates, Dex is just 4 for 26 over his last six games, with all the hits being singles.  He has walked just once in those games, so his batting line for September is just .154/.185/.154.

NoteBook

Fowler initiated Saturday’s rout with an RBI single in the third inning – his only hit of the series.  It held up as his fifth game-winning hit of the season.  He is now tied for fourth on the team with four other players (Carpenter, Tommy Edman, Jose Martinez and Molina) with 5.  Just ahead of them is DeJong, who has 6.  Marcell Ozuna (13) and Paul Goldschmidt (12) are vying for the team lead.

With ten strikeouts on Sunday, Flaherty now sits at 196 for his 168.1 innings this season.  With probably 4 starts left, Jack is in great position to reach the 200 mark for the first time in just his third season.

St Louis has now won six consecutive series. In their last nine series, they have won eight and split one.  After struggling on the road for much of the season, St Louis is now 35-36 away from home.  They have won 10 series, lost 11 and split 2 others on the road.  This Pittsburgh series was also just the seventh time in the 21 times they have lost the opening game of a series that they came back to force a rubber game.  They are now 5-2 in those rubber games.

St Louis continues to be the team you don’t want to try to turn things around against.  Pittsburgh was the nineteenth team to play the Cards after having lost its previous series (Colorado will be the twentieth).  St Louis has won 15 of those series, splitting 3 others.  Only the Padres – who won 2 of 3 to open our season at home – have bounced back against the Cards.  St Louis is now 45-16 (including 5-0 in rubber games) against teams that have lost their previous series.

St Louis scored first in all 3 games against the Pirates, and have scored first in their last 4 consecutive games and 6 of their last 7.

A victory tomorrow night in Colorado will give them 24 in their last 31 games.  It has been almost exactly a decade since they have managed that (August 8 through September 11, 2009).  Their 55 wins in their last 89 games is the first time they’ve managed that since June 19 through September 26 of 2015.  This has been one of this franchise’s more impressive hot streaks in quite a while.

Cards Come From Behind for Another One-Run Win

In many ways it was a signature loss in what – at the time – looked like it was a season-defining spiral.  The date was May 28, and the Cards were in Philadelphia.  The birds had just come off a disappointing home stand, in which they had lost 3 of 5 to Kansas City and Atlanta.  Once 20-10, they had now fallen to 26-26, already 4.5 games back in the division.

Against the 31-22 Phillies, the offense got to work early.

Seventeen pitches into his evening, Phillie starter Nick Pivetta had already served up 3 runs on home runs by Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna.  But, as happened all so often in the season’s early days, the offense checked out after they put their early 3 on the board.  For the entire rest of the game, St Louis batsmen bounced two singles and drew two walks – and, of course, scored no runs while striking out 11 times.

Philadelphia began its comeback against Adam Wainwright in the third.  A two-run double from Bryce Harper brought them to within one.  In the fourth inning, a two-run homer by Cesar Hernandez gave Philadelphia the lead.  And concluded the scoring for the evening.  Not yet a legend, Giovanny Gallegos worked a six-up, six down seventh and eighth (striking out three).  But with no more offense coming, the effort availed nothing.  The Cards lost 4-3 (box score).  Philly would push them around the next night, 11-4, to complete St Louis’ 6-18 collapse, and drop them to 26-28, five games in arrears in the division.

The interest in this particular game – other than the fact that it was a general blueprint for most of their losses in May – was that it was their seventh consecutive loss in one-run games.

And that provided a very convenient storyline for 2019.  The team that was almost good.  That competitive little bunch from St Louis that’s almost good enough to win.  One-run games are one measure of a club’s character.  At that moment, the Cards were 5-15 in one run games – almost all you would need to know about a team that was two games under .500.

The season then began to turn ever so quietly.  St Louis managed to claim the finale against Philly, and braced for a visit by their rivals/nemeses from Chicago.

With the confidence of Cardinal Nation somewhat compromised, a first-inning 1-0 Cardinal lead wasn’t overly inspiring.  And sure enough, Cub pitcher Yu Darvish settled in.  St Louis only pushed one more runner into scoring position in Darvish’s six innings.

Luckily, Cardinal pitcher Miles Mikolas was as good – he held the Cubbies to 1 run over his seven innings.

The bullpens took over in the bottom of the seventh, and did so in dominant fashion, combining to retire the next ten batters.

Now, there was one out in the top of the tenth inning, and Daniel Descalso worked a walk from then closer Jordan Hicks.  A wild pitch promptly moved him into scoring position, with Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant coming up.  With the Cardinal offense looking like it would never score again, this seemed to be that moment that this game would slip away.

But Hicks stood up to the moment.  He struck out Schwarber and got Bryant on a routine grounder.

One out into the bottom of the inning, Kolten Wong stung Chicago lefty Mike Montgomery for a double.  After two walks loaded the bases, Matt Carpenter beat the Chicago shift with a looping fly ball into the wide open space down the left field line.  And St Louis had a surprising 2-1, ten-inning win (box score).

As the Cardinals’ route back into the heart of the division race has been more than a little serpentine, it is hard to call this the moment when the season turned.  However, from the moment that Carpenter’s fly ball touched down in left field through last night’s win, St Louis is 40-30.  Including, now, wins in 10 of their last 13 games, this has become the most sustained stretch of solid baseball we have seen from this club this year.

As far as one-run games go, that evening against Chicago did change everything.  Last night’s 6-5 victory (box score) was the twentieth one-run game St Louis has played since the Philadelphia loss.  They have won 13 of the 20, bringing their season record in one-run games to 18-17.  The pace has accelerated in the second half.  Since the All-Star Break, the Cards are 7-3 in one-run games.

The one sustained constant in this turnaround is the sparkling Cardinal bullpen.  Last night – in support, again, of Mikolas – the Cardinal pen closed out the last three innings giving no runs on no hits and two walks.

Over the last 20 one-run games, the bullpen has pitched to a 2.68 ERA, allowing 52 hits over the 74 innings they’ve pitched in those games – a .200 batting average against.  Only 12 of those hits have been for extra-bases (7 doubles and 5 home runs) for a slugging percentage of just .285.

This bullpen has also been central to the recent 10-3 streak.  They have worked 42.2 innings over those games with a 2.32 ERA, a .193 batting average against, and a .247 slugging percentage against.

Over the last 13 games. The Cardinal bullpen has served up just one home run (Pittsburgh’s Pablo Reyes took Andrew Miller deep in the ninth inning of the August 11, 11-9 victory).

The starting rotation has shown occasional flashes, and literally every other game the offense comes through with a handful of runs.  But the constant through it all has been a mostly dominating bullpen.

Giovanny Gallegos

Gallegos’ evening last night was brief.  He took the mound to start the eighth inning, holding a one-run lead, and facing Rockie slugger Nolan Arenado as the tying run.  Giovanny tossed 3 pitches, got a fly out, and turned the ball over to Miller.

Gallegos has now pitched 18 innings over 15 second half games.  He has given just 1 run on 6 hits (4 singles, 2 doubles), while striking out 20.  Gio holds an 0.50 ERA, while holding batters to a .100 batting average and a .133 slugging percentage.

This just in.  Gio is pretty darn good.

Gallegos has also been a big part of the bullpen dominance in one-run games.  He has pitched in 12 of the 35 with a 1.35 ERA in 13.1 innings.

Andrew Miller

Miller finished up the eighth throwing 7 pitches. All of them were strikes – an uncommonly sharp outing for the lefty who has walked 9 batters in the last 10.2 innings.  Andrew now has a 3.00 ERA and a .140 batting average against in his 15 second-half innings.

Andrew has now pitched in 23 of the 35 one-run games this season.  Like last night, these have been some of his better efforts, as he holds a 2.95 ERA across 18.1 innings in these games.  While striking out 25 batters, Miller has allowed just 12 hits – 10 singles and 2 home runs.

Miles Mikolas

After beginning the second half with a series of strong performances, Mikolas has gotten back off track.  Last night’s starter lasted six innings, giving up 5 earned runs for the third game in a row.  Over his last 16 innings, Miles holds an 8.44 ERA, and has allowed 5 home runs.  In 4 August starts, Miles is 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA and a .308/.337/.538 batting line against.

Last year, 11 of Miles’ starts ended up as one-run games.  He was 6-0 with a 2.91 ERA in those games.  He is 1-3 this year in 7 starts that have ended as one-run games, with a 4.71 ERA.

Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt has been one of the key cogs in the Cardinal resurgence.  With his two singles last night, Goldy is hitting an even .300 (15 for 50) over those last 13 games.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman has also been hot.  After his two hits last night, Edman is hitting .354 (17 for 48) with 2 doubles, a triple and a home run over the last 13 games.

Edman has been scorching in the one-run games played in the season’s second half.  He is 16 for 37 (.432) with 4 doubles and a home run – a .622 slugging percentage.

NoteBook

Now in his seventh season, Carols Martinez has never pitched an entire big league season without making at least one start.  That seems more and more likely to happen this year.  After posting a total of 7 saves in his first six season, Carlos nailed down his fifteenth of this season last night.  It was his thirty-second game of the season.  Last year, he pitched in 33 games (18 starts, 15 relief games).  That total is the second most games he has pitched in in the majors.  In 2014, he pitched in 57 games (7 starts).

Lost in his miserable 2018 season (when he posted just a .576 OPS) was the fact that during the two previous seasons, Dexter Fowler OPSed .840 and .841.  The slump-dominated season was also the third straight season that his health was compromised.  Both of those issues seem to be behind Dexter this year.

Last night was Fowler’s 116th game of this season, leaving him with 363 at bats.  Since 2015 he hasn’t played in more than 125 games or collected more than 456 at bats.  His home run was his ninety-first hit of the season.  He has never had more than 111 during his time in St Louis.

Meanwhile, that home run was his fifteenth of this season.  His career high is the 18 he hit in 2017.  He also drove in a career high 64 runs that year.  He is up to 52 already this year.

After hovering just under 4 for the past few games, giving up 5 runs to the Rockies has pushed the team ERA back up to 4.00.

The Cards have now won the first game of four of the last five series.

Fall probably isn’t truly on its way yet, as it’s still late August.  But last night’s game temperature of 72 degrees was the second time in the last three games that the official temperature was below 80.  At 72 degrees, last night was the coolest game in St Louis since June 26.  They lost to Oakland 2-0 that evening in 70 degree weather (box score).

Of course, another sign of autumn is the starting of the school year.  Possibly, the combination of it being a school night (Thursday) and the visiting team sporting a losing record contributed to a disappointing attendance total of 36,465.  That constituted the sparsest crowd at Busch since only 35,819 showed up to an April 22 game against Milwaukee.  The folks who stayed away missed a good one – a 13-5 Cardinal win (box score).

This Rookie Can Play

If you were to glance over the Cardinal’s top 30 prospect list from last year, I wonder if the same omission would jump out to you that jumps out to me.

For nostalgia purposes, the 2018 list read Alex Reyes (1); Nolan Gorman (2); Dakota Hudson (3); Ryan Helsley (4); Andrew Knizner (5); Randy Arozarena (6).

Of the first six, only Gorman hasn’t appeared in the majors – and shown significant promise.  Continuing, we come to:

Elehuris Montero (7); Justin Williams (8); Conner Capel (9); Griffin Roberts (10); Max Schrock (11); Dylan Carlson (12) – yes Carlson, the current number 2 prospect was twelfth behind Max Schrock just a year ago.  Then we had some lower prospects who vaulted past higher rated guys:

Genesis Cabrera (13); Junior Fernandez (14); Edmundo Sosa (15).  After these guys, the rest were mostly lower level guys, but still legitimate prospects:

Luken Baker (16); Jonatan Machado (17); Jake Woodford (18); Steven Gingery (19); Ramon Urias (20); Lane Thomas – yes, that Lane Thomas was #21 last year; Seth Elledge (22); Giovanny Gallegos, believe it or not, was just our number 23 prospect last year; Wadye Ynfante (24); Johan Oviedo (25); Alvaro Seijas (26); Evan Mendoza (27); Delvin Perez (28) – remember what a big deal his selection in the first round a couple of years ago was?; Daniel Poncedeleon (now spelled Ponce de Leon) (29); and Connor Jones (30).

There are a couple of pitchers that I would have thought would have been on that list.  Austin Gomber would be one, and glaringly Jordan Hicks didn’t make the list, although he certainly would have qualified.

Also not making that list is a player who has been in the bigs slightly more than two months, and even though the positions he plays are usually manned by established major-league stars, he has so ingrained himself that manager Mike Shildt can’t keep him out of the lineup.

Yesterday afternoon, Tommy Edman (nowhere to be found on the 2018 prospect list) singled twice, drove the fifth home run of his big league career, and scored twice – every bit of that production critical as the Cards held on for a 5-4 win over Cincinnati (box score).

Fifty-four games and 185 plate appearances into his major league career, Tommy’s numbers are decidedly average.  He is hitting .271/.303/.429 for a modest .732 OPS (the major league average according to baseball reference is .761).  Nothing here – you would think – to entrench him in the lineup.

And, truthfully the numbers – at least some of the numbers – don’t suggest that Tommy is anything special.  But you don’t have to watch Mr. Edman go about his business for very long before your eyeballs tell you something the numbers don’t quite, yet.

Tommy Edman is a ballplayer.  Defensively, Edman plays everywhere.  He has started games at third, second and right field, and could play anywhere else on the diamond (not sure about catcher, but I wouldn’t be surprised).  He never seems out of place anywhere he plays.  He is a smooth, effortless fielder with a strong and accurate arm.

And he plays with a very even demeanor.  Already he has been through some slumps, but you could never tell by watching him whether he was 10 for his last 20 or 0 for his last 20.

A switch-hitter, Edman’s swing is very polished from both sides of the plate.  Already he appears very comfortable fouling off the more difficult pitches to wait for one he can put into play.

In his 16 plate appearances in Cincinnati over the long weekend, Tommy swung at 31 pitches.  He fouled off 14 of those pitches (45.2%), put 13 other pitches into play (41.9%), and missed on just 4 swings (12.9%). These numbers are mostly consistent with Edman’s performance across his brief major league stay – especially recently.

For the month of August – a month in which his 60 plate appearances ranks second to only Paul Goldschmidt’s 61 – Edman leads the team by putting the ball in play with 46.2% of his swings (the team average is just 33.7%).  He has missed on just 15.1% of his swings – which also leads the team (the average is 26.7%).

While the split in Cincinnati was a bit disappointing, those wins give St Louis victories in 7 of its last 9 games.  In those games, Tommy is 14 for 36 (.389).

For a 24-year-old rookie, Edman is very advanced.  Even if his primary numbers don’t suggest it clearly yet, everything else about Tommy suggests that he is going to be a very good player for a very long time.  For now, he is someone that Shildt will continue to find at bats for.

KoltenWong

Kolten Wong didn’t start on Sunday (possibly because Cincy was starting a lefty?) one day after his 0-for-3 interrupted a six game hitting streak (in games that he started).  There are few hitters hotter than Kolten right now.  During the streak, he hit .500 (10 for 20) and slugged .750 (2 doubles and 1 home run).

Kolten is a .381 hitter this month (16 for 42), and a .371 hitter in the second half.

DexterFowler

In game two of the series, the Cards rapped out 18 hits on their way to a 13-4 victory (box score).  For the other three games, they totaled 17 hits.  So more than one Cardinal finished the series with big numbers that were mostly the product of that one game.  Dexter Fowler is one of those.  He finished the series hitting .357 (5 for 14), with 3 of those hits coming on Friday night.

Still, Dexter has been one of the driving forces of the offense over the last 9 games.  He is slashing .310/.417/.586 over his last 36 plate appearances.

MarcellOzuna

Like Fowler, Marcell Ozuna also had 3 hits on Friday and finished the series 5 for 14 (.357).  Marcell is 10 for 31 (.323) over the last 9 games.

There has been a very subtle change in Marcell’s at bats since he returned from his injury.  Before the injury, Ozuna swung at 47.3% of the pitches thrown to him, and his at bats averaged only 4.05 pitches per.  In 16 plate appearances against Cincy, Marcell saw 72 pitches (4.50 per) and only swung at 32 (44.4%).  Since his return, the percentage of pitched that he is offering at has decreased to 40.7%, and his pitches per at bat has risen to 4.52 – the most on the team this month.

PaulGoldschmidt

Goldschmidt was 5 for 15 (.333) against the Reds, with 4 of the 5 hits going for extra-bases – including 2 home runs.  Paul is 12 for 34 (.353) over these last 9 games, with 3 home runs, 10 runs batted in, and a .676 slugging percentage.

MichaelWacha

Michael Wacha started the Thursday game and was almost on the wrong side of history (box score).  Although saddled with the close loss, Wacha did throw five encouraging innings.  Relegated to fifth starter status, Wacha has only pitched 8.2 innings this month, but in those innings Michael has induced 21 ground balls to 11 fly balls – a 65.6% ratio.  A very good sign for Wacha.

AdamWainwright

Adam Wainwright got the Friday start and the benefit of all of the runs.  Waino has had some starts where offensive support was hard to come by, but has also now had three starts since the All-Star break where the team has scored in double-digits when he’s pitched – a 12-11 win over Cincinnati on July 19, and a 14-8 conquest of Pittsburgh on July 24.

MilesMikolas

Miles Mikolas had a second consecutive rough outing on Saturday (box score).  He is 0-2 with a 6.61 ERA for the month of August, and over his last 17 starts, Miles is just 3-11 with a 4.44 ERA.

JackFlaherty

Jack Flaherty finally gave up a run this month (in the first inning of the Sunday game), but that was all the damage done against him.  In 4 August starts, Jack is 3-0 with a 0.35 ERA.  In 7 starts since the break, he holds an 0.83 ERA over 43.1 innings.

NoteBook

After making 29 consecutive starts at shortstop, Paul DeJong began Saturday’s game on the bench.  It had been the team’s longest consecutive starting streak at the same position.  That mantle reverts back to Goldschmidt, who has now made 24 consecutive starts at first base.

Ozuna drove in the first run of Friday night’s avalanche – bringing him to 10 game-winning RBIs this season, and temporarily tying him with Goldschmidt for the team lead.  Paul regained the lead with his eleventh GWRBI on Sunday.

Friday’s start was Wainwright’s twenty-third of the season.  After making just 8 starts last year and 23 in 2017, Waino is on pace to make 30 starts for the first time since he made 33 in 2016.  His 126.2 innings pitched are already his most since throwing 198.2 innings in 2016.  With 127 hits and 85 runs allowed already, Adam will also probably end up with more hits and runs given up in any season since 2016 as well.

The home run he served up on Friday night was the sixteenth hit off Adam this season – already the third highest total in his 14-year career.  His career high came in 2016 when he served up 22.

With the walk allowed, Waino has 50 for the season.  He has reached 60 walks only twice so far in his career.

Adam’s 6 strikeouts Friday bring him to 124 for the season – already more than either of the last two years.  At this pace Adam may end up with more strikeouts than in any season since he fanned 179 in 2014.

Fowler’s last healthy, full season was 2015.  He played 156 games and had 596 at bats that year, and hasn’t played in more than 125 games or had more than 456 at bats since.  Sunday was his 112th game, providing his 349th at bat of 2019.

In his three seasons in St Louis, Dexter has never had more than 111 hits.  With 5 against the Reds, Fowler already has 87 this year.  Last year he had a four-year streak of twenty or more doubles broken.  His double Friday night was his eighteenth on this season.  With his home run that night, Fowler is within 4 of his career high – 18 set in 2017.

Goldschmidt has still played in every game this year – all 122 so far.  He played 158 last year.  The closest he has come to playing all the games was 2013, when he played in 160.  He is now, also, up to 457 at bats after finishing with 593 last year.  He has been over 600 at bats in a season just once in his career.

Up, now, to 28 home runs this year, Paul is just 5 behind the 33 he hit last year.

Mikolas – Saturday’s starter – continues to gain on many of the career highs he set last year.  The start was his twenty-fifth of this year, leaving him just 7 starts away from the 32 he made last year.  The 7 hits allowed bring him to 153 already this year, after allowing 186 last year.  With 2 walks given up. Miles has walked just 25 batters this year – but walked just 29 last year.

The 5 runs scored off of him last night bring him to 72 for the season – a career high.  He allowed 70 all last year.  He also allowed 2 home runs.  Having already set a career high in that category, Mikolas reaches the 20-mark in home runs allowed for the first time in his career (he has now allowed 21).

When St Louis opened up a 12-0 lead on Cincinnati during Friday’s game, it was their biggest lead in a game since May 9, when they beat Pittsburgh by 13 runs – 17-4.

Friday’s win brought the team earned run average under 4 (3.99) for the first time all season.  The stay was brief.  After the Reds dropped 6 runs on the Cards the next night, the team ERA popped back up to 4.01.

Little Things Decisive in Dodger Victory

Neither hit was very much, really.  Not highlight reel smashes by any means.  But in the professional levels of any sport, little things are frequently most important.

It is the bottom of the second inning of last night’s game in Los Angeles.  St Louis is holding a 1-0 lead.  The Dodgers have the tying run at third base, but there are two outs.  Cardinal starter Miles Mikolas only needs to get eighth-place hitter Kristopher Negron to hold the lead into the third.

But Negron manages to float a Texas-league single into short center, and the game was tied.

Now it’s the seventh-inning.  The Dodgers have added a run in the interim, and now lead 2-1.  Andrew Miller is into the game for St Louis.  The Dodgers have a big insurance run on second base – but again, there are two outs.  Miller will be facing left-handed hitting Max Muncy.  Again, all Andrew needs is an out and we go into the eighth-inning still a one-run game.

Muncy’s ensuing ground ball wasn’t exactly stung.  But it was perfectly placed as it snuck through the shifted infield, driving Edwin Rios home with the extra-run that padded Los Angeles’ 3-1 win (box score).  A win that sent the Cardinals to their fourth consecutive loss, and seventh in the last nine games.

All throughout the losing spell, there have been two constants.  There has been a nearly total absence of offense (over their last 9 games, the Cards are hitting just .225 and scoring 2.22 runs per game).

There has also been an abundance of two-out RBI’s against them.  For the month of August (in which they are 1-4), 13 of the 21 runs batted in against them have come with two outs. Over the last 9 games, 19 of the 37 runs batted in have been two-out RBIs.

The offense, of course, has had their two-out opportunities as well.  Last night, they were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, 0-for-3 with two outs.  A two-out, bases empty, ninth-inning single from Andrew Knizner was St Louis’ only two-out hit in 10 such at bats.

For the month they are hitting .232 with only 3 runs batted in with two outs.  Over the nine games, they have just 4 two-out runs batted in.

For the Dodgers, everything is coming very easily right now.  That is far from the case in St Louis these days.

Having forced their way back into contention in the division, the Cardinals are consistently coming up short in the money moments of these recent games.

Mikolas

In an increasingly troubled rotation, Miles Mikolas continues to be a beacon.  Although he took yesterday’s loss, Miles contained the dangerous Dodger lineup to 2 runs over 6.2 innings.   Since he re-tooled over the All-Star break, Miles has 4 quality starts in 5 games with a 2.18 ERA.  In 33 second-half innings, Mikolas has walked just 5 batters.  Although he has already served up a career high 17 home runs, he has allowed none over his last 3 games, and just 1 in the second half.

Miller

As Andrew Miller has opened the second half, he has had a little trouble early on here getting that third out.  In last night’s game, he gave a two-out RBI single to Muncy in the seventh.

Since the break, Andrew has faced 17 batters with two outs.  Those batters have 3 singles, a home run, and 4 walks – a .308/.471/.538 batting line.

Tyler Webb

With little fanfare, Tyler Webb has thrown the ball very, very well since his last return from the minors.  With last night’s perfect eighth inning, Tyler’s last 7 games have seen him serve just 1 run on only 1 hit (a pinch home run off the bat of Oakland’s Chad Pinder in Saturday’s game).  Tyler has fanned 8 of the last 16 batters to face him, and has 10 over the 7.2 innings of his last 7 games, while walking just 1 – giving him a batting average against of .042 and an on base percentage against of .080.

Webb has been quite good all season at claiming that last out.  Batters facing Tyler with two out are 6 for 42 (.143) – albeit with 7 walks.

Paul Goldschmidt

Back among the offensively downtrodden is centerpiece Paul Goldschmidt.  Hitless (with 2 strikeouts) last night, Paul is now 0 for his last 11 with 5 strikeouts, and has gone 6 games without driving in a run.

July’s Player of the Month, Paul has scuffled through the early games of August.  In his first 20 plate appearances this month, Goldy has 2 singles, 1 double, 1 walk and 7 strikeouts – a batting line of .158/.200/.211.

In the statistical anomaly department, all four of Paul’s at bats last night came with one out.  That 0-for-4 makes him just 3 for 17 (.176) with one out over these difficult last 9 games.  He has hit .308 (4 for 13) with no one out, and .333 (2 for 6) with two outs.

NoteBook

Last night’s attendance total of 53,070 was the largest crowd for any Cardinal game this season.  The previous high was the 48,555 in St Louis’ game against Pittsburgh on Sunday May 12.

In his 18-win 2018, Miles Mikolas set all of his significant career highs, including games (32), games started (32), hits allowed (186), runs allowed (70), earned runs allowed (63) and walks (29).  Mostly because his first half was difficult, Miles is closing in on surpassing all of those numbers (23 games and starts, 139 hits allowed, 61 runs  – 58 earned, and 22 walks).

It’s been three years since Dexter Fowler has played in over 130 games.  He played in his 102nd last night.  That season (2016) was also the last time that Dex had over 450 at bats – he has 316 already this year.

Runners, Runners Everywhere – But Not a Hit to be Had

Cardinal nemesis Kyle Hendricks took the mound last night against his favorite patsies.  Kyle struck out the side in order in the first.  Still in there in the seventh, Kyle retired all three batters to face him on little pop ups.  It took him ten pitches.

In the five innings between Hendricks’ first and last innings, the Cardinals advanced a runner into scoring position in each inning.  They would finish the game with 9 hits – including 5 doubles – on their way to 15 plate appearances with a runner in scoring position (RISP).

They ended the game with no runs in a 2-0 loss (box score) that dropped them back into a first place tie with the visitors from up North.

In many offensive areas, this team has improved considerably since the break.  Taking nothing way from Mr. Hendricks, who made it look easy last night, hitting with runners in scoring position is not a skill that the Cardinals are getting better at.

For the season, they are hitting .250 in RISP opportunities (second worst in the league to Milwaukee, according to baseball reference).  Their .744 OPS in these situations leads only Miami’s .704.  They have driven in 286 runs with ducks on the pond.  The Marlins, again, are the league worst, just 13 behind the Cards at 273.

In the month of July, these numbers got even worse.  In spite of the fact that St Louis finished the month with a 16-9 record, they were only 39 for 173 (.225) in RBI opportunities. Nine of the 39 hits were of the infield variety – with 5 of those failing to deliver a run.

Both of their RISP hits last night fall into that category.  Infield dribblers by Miles Mikolas and Tyler O’Neill.  Before the evening was over, St Louis would advance two runners to third – in both cases with less than two outs.  In all, five Cardinals had opportunities with a runner at third.

But the zero on the scoreboard never did go away.

I can’t speak to games before 2012, but for the eight seasons that I have been tracking RISP at bats, this was the most in any game in which the Cards were shut out.  Previously, they have had three games in which they had 11 at bats with runners in scoring position and were shutout anyway.  Two of those three occurred in 2015 (May 22 – a 5-0 loss to Kansas City and August 22 in an 8-0 loss to San Diego).  That 2015 team was also shut out by Atlanta 4-0 on October 2 in a game when they had 10 RISP at bats.

Many of you may remember that series right at the end of the season.  The Cards had their division title wrapped, and ended the season with three meaningless games against the Braves.  They were shutout in all three games, a harbinger to their losing the division series to the Cubs that year.

So this game was – I suppose – somewhat historic.

After rolling through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh on the road, the Cards have returned home to face contenders in Houston and Chicago – and abruptly have lost the ability to get that hit with the runner right there.  In losing three of the last four, St Louis is 3 for 39 with ducks on the pond – with none of those hits accounting for runs.  Two of those happened last night.  The third came on Sunday afternoon against the Astros.  It was the third inning, and the Cards already trailed 2-0, but had runners on first and second with one out against Wade Miley.  O’Neill delivered the single to left, but Tommy Edman running from second couldn’t advance past third.

As it turned out, he never would get home.  Paul DeJong struck out and Matt Wieters grounded out.

For those of us who still have concerns about this team’s character, this is an unsettling trend.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt has been on quite a tear lately.  He has been hitting lots of singles and home runs, but almost no doubles.  Curiously, a hitter who is annually over 30 doubles had only hit 10 coming into last night’s game.  He slashed 2 against Hendricks – getting left on base both times.

The hits extend Paul’s hitting streak to 9 games – games in which he is hitting .378 (14 for 37) with 9 extra base hits (7 of them home runs).

With that, Goldschmidt wraps up a month that might very well get him some votes for player of the month.  Goldschmidt hit 11 home runs and drove in 27 runs for the month (25 games), while batting .308/.360/.725.

Ironically, the red-hot Goldy was the only Cardinal starter not to get a RISP opportunity last night.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong also ended July on a strong note.  While his hitting streak hasn’t been as noisy as Goldschmidt’s it has been encouraging.  With his 2 singles last night, Kolten has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 starts – hitting .390 in those games (16 for 41).

Wong ended the month as the Cardinals’ leading hitter.  Kolten hit .357 in July (25 for 70).

Miles Mikolas

As with Adam Wainwright the night before, Miles Mikolas came within one out of a quality start.  Also, like Waino, Mikolas allowed just one run.  That’s where the similarities mostly ended.  Mikolas’ run was unearned, and the run Waino allowed wasn’t enough to get him beat.

Miles took another tough loss, but wrapped up an excellent month of July.  In 5 starts he tossed 3 quality starts (and almost a fourth).  In his 30.2 innings, he maintained a 2.93 ERA.  Miles walked just 4 batters all month, while allowing just 2 home runs.

Over his last 8 starts, Miles has pitched to a 2.64 ERA.

On the reverse end of the RISP discussion, much of Mikolas’ improvement has come in this situation.  Miles is a guy who gives up a lot of hits, so there are almost always RISP opportunities against him.  Through the end of June, opposing hitters where battering Miles to the tune of .296 (21 for 71) when they had those shots against him.

Last night, the Cubs were just 1 for 6 against Miles in RISP situations.  For the month just ended, batters were only 4 for 23 (.174) against him with ducks on the pond.

Giovanny Gallegos

As with the night before, Giovanny Gallegos relieved in the sixth with runners on base (only two last night) and ended the inning getting a flyball from Kyle Schwarber.

Gallegos ends July with an 0.69 ERA in 13 innings for the month.  He closes the month on a 9-game scoreless streak in which he’s allowed 2 hits over 12 innings – leading to an .053 batting average against.

Giovanny has stranded all of the last 10 runners he has inherited, and has been absolutely brilliant when pitching with runners in scoring position.  In July, batters were 0-for-12 in RISP at bats, and for the year they are just 3 for 39 (.077) in this vital situation.

John Gant

Although the run was unearned, John Gant surrendered a run in his third straight outing.  He was also touched for 2 doubles in 1.2 innings.  Gant finished July with a 4.50 ERA over 10 innings.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia gave the Cards at least the chance of a comeback with a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth that featured 2 strikeouts.  Since returning from paternity leave, John has pitched 15 innings over 11 games with a 2.40 ERA and a .170/.214/.226 batting line.

NoteBook

Miles Mikolas may not get enough credit for his durability.  Miles made his twenty-second start of the season last night – after making 32 last year.

While Miles has been much better since the break, his rugged first half has him on the brink of re-setting most of the career highs he set last year.  The 6 hits allowed last night bring him to 133 for the season.  He allowed 186 last year.  The run scored off him was the fifty-ninth of the season – he allowed 70 last year.  The walk he allowed was just the twenty-first he’s given up this year, but he walked only 29 last year.

Kolten Wong, having his healthiest and perhaps best season, played in his 105th game last night.  The 127 he played in last year were the second most of his career.  In the only other “complete” season Kolten has had in the big leagues, he played 150 games in 2015.

Mostly because he is playing everyday, but also because he is having a better season, Kolten is already about to eclipse (and in some cases has already eclipsed) last year’s numbers with still two months left in 2019.  He already has 334 at bats after getting 353 last year.  With his two hits last night, Wong has equaled last year’s 88 hits.  After rolling up 137 total bases last year, Wong has 131 already this year.

With his stolen base last night, Kolten has not only more than doubled the 6 he stole last year, but has matched the 15 he stole in 2015.  His career high is the 20 he stole in 2014.

St Louis has now surrendered the first run in each of the last five games, and in seven of the last eight.

Please Tell Memphis that Mr O’Neill Sends his Regrets

No AAA affiliated franchise has things easy.  Almost without fail, as soon as someone starts to really put things together, the parent club decides that they have a need for that individual, and he magically disappears from the AAA team’s roster.

In Memphis, the Cardinals’ AAA affiliate, that situation might be less volatile than in some other cities.  With a mostly static roster, the Cards have found it relatively easy to leave their hot prospects in their minor league abodes, honing their various crafts.

Such has been the situation for one Tyler Alan O’Neill.  Once upon a time, Tyler O’Neill was a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners, becoming a Cardinal almost exactly two years ago today as the result of a July 21, 2017 trade.  Since then, he has had 216 at bats in St Louis, and 573 in Memphis.  He came north with the parent club this year, but, with playing time hard to come by, was returned to Memphis when Luke Gregerson was ready to come off the injured list.

And there Tyler stayed.  With his rookie status already exceeded, O’Neill was no longer listed among the Cardinal prospects.  So while Cardinal Nation followed the progress of the Nolan Gorman’s and the Randy Arozarena’s with considerable focus, Tyler O’Neill labored in relative anonymity.

Memphis, however, was more than happy to have him.  In about a year’s worth of at bats (573) Tyler has delivered 49 home runs for Memphis.  Add the 14 he’s now hit in the show, and, in just under two years in the organization, Tyler O’Neill has accounted for 63 home runs.  He has averaged one for every 11.7 at bats in AAA Memphis.

Who knows how long he might have remained there.  But about 14 games ago, Marcell Ozuna fractured some fingers while on the base paths and the big league birds were in need of an outfielder.  The thinking was that – as before – once Ozuna was pronounced fit, Tyler would be returned to his minor league venue.

Those plans may now be on permanent hold.

Yesterday afternoon, Tyler O’Neill drilled his fourth home run of the recent home stand and was a significant contributor to the Cards 6-5 victory over Pittsburgh (box score).  O’Neill was 7 for 12 against Pittsburgh (.583) with three of the hits being home runs.  He drove in 6 runs in the 3 games, and slugged 1.333.  The win was St Louis’ fourth in the last 5 games of the home stand.  Tyler hit .500 over the 5 games (10 for 20) and slugged 1.2000 (2 doubles, 4 home runs), while driving in 11.

O’Neill has now hit safely in 8 straight starts, hitting .438 during the streak (14 for 32), and slugging .875. For the month of July, Tyler O’Neill is carrying a .400 batting average (16 for 40) and a slugging percentage of an even 1.000.

It’s a very small sample size, I grant you.  But if this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to Memphis.  If this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to the bench when Ozuna comes back.  Someone else will lose those at bats.

In baseball, if you hit, you play.  If you hit a lot, you play a lot.

By the numbers, the Tyler O’Neill of July is very unlike the O’Neill we’ve seen here before.  If anything, his aggressiveness has increased.  Last year, he swung at 52.3% of the pitches thrown his way.  In his first 48 plate appearances this year, he swung at 52.4%.  In his 42 July plate appearances, O’Neill has chased after 58.3%.  Over the last 5 games, Tyler has swung at 50 of 79 pitches thrown his way – a super-aggressive 63.3%.

This aggression is even more pronounced on the first pitch.  Last year, Tyler went after the first pitch 36.6% of the time, and 37.5% during the early part of this year – both aggressive numbers.  He has offered at the first pitch 52.4% of the time so far this month.  He went after 8 of 12 (66.7%) against the Pirates.

But, even though he is swinging more often, he is making contact as never before.  As a rookie in 2018, O’Neill missed on 44.3% of his swings.  He was up to an amazing 50.5% of his swings through his first 48 plate appearances of 2019.

In July, Tyler is missing on just 28.6% (team average is 23.8% for the year).  In 31 swings against the Pirates, O’Neill missed the ball just 4 times (12.9%).

Thirty-one swings is far too few to prove anything definitively.  But if, indeed, Tyler O’Neill is making serious progress on connecting when he swings, then he will definitely not be going back to Memphis.

Little Other Offense

In winning two of three from Pittsburgh, the Cardinal offense was led, principally by O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt.  Together, they drove in 10 of the 14 runs the Cards scored in the series.  After them, there weren’t an awful lot of contributors, as the team finished the series with just 20 hits and a .220 batting average.  There are a handful of Cardinals who are still trying to turn things around.

Kudos to the Rotation

Aside from Tyler O’Neill, the heroes of the Pittsburgh series were the arms of the rotation.  Daniel Ponce de Leon’s short start on Wednesday broke a string of six consecutive quality starts.  Even with that, the rotation contributed 19.2 innings against the Pirates with a 2.29 ERA.  They walked just 5 (2 of those intentionally) and allowed just one home run.

In winning 4 of the last 5, St Louis has done so behind a rotation that has carved out a 1.93 ERA and a .222/.295/.299 batting line against.

Miles Mikolas

Monday’s starter, Miles Mikolas set the tone for the series – not just in effectiveness (he threw a complete game shutout) but also in style.  Of the 32 batters to face him, 29 hit the ball in play, with 20 of the 29 (69%) hitting it on the ground.  Miles threw just 3.13 pitches per batter faced (leading to just 11.11 pitches per inning) while throwing 73% of his pitches for strikes.

For the series, the Cards finished up getting ground balls 57.7% of the time, throwing just 3.58 pitches per batter (14.04 per inning), and throwing strikes 66.5% of the time.

For the season, Miles has thrown 1099 of his 1658 pitches for strikes.  His 66.3% ratio is the highest of any Cardinal pitcher who has thrown at least 700 pitches.

Jack Flaherty

Tuesday’s starter, Jack Flaherty, came fairly close to losing his second consecutive 1-0 game.  He avoided the fate by driving in his own run with a double to earn himself a no decision.

The 0-1 record aside, Jack has been very good his last two times out – allowing 2 runs in 14 innings. Three starts into the month of July, Jack holds a 2.89 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Carlos Martinez

Ending a fabulous run of performances, during which he gave just 1 run over 12 innings, Carlos Martinez was touched for runs in both of the last two games pitching in the closer’s role.  He gave a total of 3 runs in 2 innings, earning a loss and a scuffling save.

Even though Carlos’ pitches were up more than usual, he still had batters pounding the ball into the turf.  Of the 10 who put the ball in play against him, 7 hit the ball on the ground.  For the season, Carlos’ 65.0% ground ball rate is second on the team only to Jordan Hicks (67.2%).

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run homer on Wednesday proved to be the game-winning RBIs.  Paul now has 5 GWHs on the season, ranking him third on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9) and Paul DeJong (6).

Before the Goldschmidt home run, St Louis went into the seventh inning trailing 4-3.  It was the first time in seven games that they trailed after six innings.  On July 6, in San Francisco they trailed 5-1 after six on their way to an 8-4 loss (box score).

All of the Cards’ last four series have gone to rubber games – with St Louis winning three of those.  They are now 5-5 in rubber games on the season.

On Tuesday night, the Cards eclipsed the two million mark in home attendance.  With 128,928 attending the three-game set against the Pirates, St Louis now sits at 2,053,573 for the season – an average of 42,782.8 per home game.

There’s Your Run, Big Boy

Evidently, Corey Dickerson lost the line drive in the lights.

It was the first inning of a scoreless game against the Pirates.  A two-out walk brought Tyler O’Neill to the plate.  O’Neill would put his stamp on the game later, but this time he should have ended the inning.  Tyler jumped on a 2-0 fastball from Pittsburgh starter Joe Musgrove and drilled a sinking liner to left – basically right at Dickerson.

But Corey couldn’t find the ball.  It eventually fell in between his legs and rolled to the wall.  The run scored, O’Neill ended up at second, and the Cardinals held a 1-0 lead.

Back in the day – as now-broadcaster Mike Shannon tells it – when Bob Gibson would pitch and the offense would push across a run (and frequently it was Gibson himself providing the run), they would say to him, “there’s your run, big boy.”  The expectation was that if Gibson was on the mound, one run was all that he would need.  It’s amazing how often that proved to be true.

(Gibson, of course, has been in all of our thoughts and prayers recently.  One of the greatest competitors of all time is battling pancreatic cancer.)

The current Cardinal rotation hasn’t achieved quite that stature, but recently they have been getting close. Neither of St Louis’ last two starters (Adam Wainwright on Sunday nor Miles Mikolas last night) gave up runs – with Mikolas’ outing being the most impressive.  Miles shut the Pirates out on 100 pitches even.

Luckily for Mikolas it doesn’t matter how he gets the run, so long as he gets it.  It’s hard to tell how the game might have progressed if the Birds hadn’t benefited from Pittsburgh’s defensive generosity.  Another misplay by Dickerson in the third allowed two more soft runs.  When Mikolas took the mound for the fifth inning ahead 3-0, it could be argued that he and Musgrove had pitched similar games, with the primary difference being that while Dexter Fowler raced into deep right-center fielder and – at full extension – stole a certain double and RBI from Starling Marte (in fact, turning a should-have-been double into a double play), Dickerson was dropping to fly balls hit right at him.

Regardless, the Cardinals are grateful, as they have struggled all year to push across that go ahead run.  Officially, they were 0 for 3 last night while the score was tied.  This month they are slashing .222/.260/.394 in 106 plate appearances in tied games.  For the season, 949 Cardinals have come to the plate with the game tied.  They are hitting .225/.304/.398.  Ninety-two games into the season, and the Cardinal pitching staff has pitched with a lead only 35.8% of the time.

Hard to string a lot of wins together under those circumstances.

Compounding the frustration was the pitching staff’s inability to hold onto that lead that the offense worked so hard to get.  Through the end of June, the pitching staff held a 4.23 ERA when they pitched with a lead.  If that lead was one or two runs, that ERA was 4.25.

But, if July is a new page (and St Louis is 6-4 so far this month), the change is the pitching staff.  Their 3.21 ERA ranks them sixth in the entire major leagues this month (according to baseball reference), and one of the most significant improvements has been pitching with a lead.

The month is still early, but to this point, Cardinal pitchers hold a 2.58 ERA and a .234/.308/.319 batting line against when they hold any kind of lead, and a 2.50 ERA with a .224/.303/.299 batting line against if that lead is one or two runs.

From the very beginning of the season, we knew that if this team was going to be special, they would be special first in the pitching staff.  For the past five games – especially the last five starts – they have been very special.  How long they can sustain that will determine how long they can hang in the race.

Mikolas

Miles had lost 7 of his previous 8 decisions.  He spent the break watching film.  He found a very tiny inconsistency.  He was falling to the first base side too much (this according to the story filed at mlb.com).  It sounds simple, but it caused his breaking balls to misbehave.  MLB.com earlier filed a story on the recall of Chasen Shreve.  The flaw he found was that his hands in the set position were slightly different.

Pitching – and hitting, too, for that matter – are such finely honed techniques that even slight variations can have catastrophic results.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill broke the game open late, his two two-run home runs turning the 3-0 lead into the 7-0 final (box score).  Tyler had three hits for the game, and has hit safely in each of his last 6 starts – and it hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak.  He is hitting .417 (10 for 24) in those games, with 2 doubles and 3 home runs.  None of the home runs have been pulled.  The two he hit last night went to straight center field.  The home run on Saturday soared over the right field wall – and all of this happened in spacious Busch Stadium, were there are no cheapies.

Since Tyler has been recalled from AAA, he is hitting .325 (13 for 40) and slugging .625.  He is 12 for 32 so far in the month of July (.375) with half of the hits going for extra-bases.  He has driven in 9 runs in 9 July games, while slugging .750.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong was hit by a pitch, but went 0 for 3 otherwise.  The game snapped Wong’s five-game hitting streak.  Kolten hit .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters has certainly had some big moments as he has substituted for Yadier Molina.  After his 0 for 4 last night, though, Matt has only 3 hits in his last 17 at bats (.176).  In 8 games since Molina’s injury, Matt has hit 3 home runs and driven in 5 runs, but is hitting just .241 (7 for 29).

Harrison Bader

Manager Mike Shildt has moved Harrison Bader back into the lineup, but nothing yet has turned his bat around.  Harrison was hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is 1 for 14 (.071) over his last 7 games.  Bader has had 24 plate appearances this month.  They have resulted in 3 singles, 1 double, 1 walk, 1 double play and 8 strikeouts.  Harrison has no runs batted in this month, with a .174/.208/.217 batting line.

NoteBook

The seven run victory was the largest margin of victory – and, in fact, the first time the Cards had led by as many as seven runs  – since they beat Kansas City 10-3 back on May 22.

Cards Waste Another Quality Start in San Fran

Oh, come on, now.  You didn’t really think Jack Flaherty would make it through a whole start without getting touched for a home run, did you?

The impressive and encouraging thing about the Cardinals’ last game before the All-Star break was how long it took for that ubiquitous home run to show up.  Seventy-five pitches and 6.1 innings into the contest, Flaherty had not only not allowed a home run.  He had given no hits whatsoever.  His seventy-sixth pitch, of course, was the misbehaving slider that Evan Longoria crushed deep over the left field wall for the only run of the game (box score).

Jack has now allowed at least one home run in seven straight starts.  The total is now 11 in his last 37.2 innings.

Even in defeat, though, it was a welcomed performance from Jack, who had managed only one quality start in his previous six outings.

As far as the Cardinals’ wasting excellent pitching, this was hardly an isolated moment.  Eighty-eight games into the championship season, the Cards have only gotten 38 quality starts from its rotation.  Eight of those 38 starters have been saddled with the loss in these games.  Flaherty has now absorbed the loss in both of his last two quality starts.  Of the 38 quality starts, this is now the third time that the Cardinal pitcher received no support runs at all.  This has now happened to Jack (who has now gone five consecutive starts since the last time he saw at least four runs of support) twice in his last 4 starts.

In all, St Louis has failed to score more than 3 runs for their starter in 24 of their 38 quality starts.  In all honesty, our rotation hasn’t been as dominant as often as expected.  But, on those rare occasions when they are, it is almost to be expected that they will get minimal run support.

To this point of the season, St Louis is 25-13 (.658) when they get a quality start from their pitcher.  That seems pretty strong, but if that figure holds, it would tie the Cardinals’ lowest winning percentage in quality start games in any year in this century.  The 2008 team (50-26) finished at .658 when they got quality starts.

Last year’s team was 50-18 (.735).  Through all the games this century up to this year, the Cards are 1187-425 (.736) when their starter puts them into position to win.  They have won over 70% of these games in 15 of the first 19 full seasons of this century.

The 2017 team was the one I labeled “the team that blinks.”  They lost 21 quality start games (out of 76 – a .724 winning percentage).  But Sunday’s loss was so reminiscent of one of those games, it’s impossible not to take a look back.

May 20 that year was a Saturday.  The evening in St Louis was a balmy 79 degrees with a few clouds.

The Cardinal pitcher was Carlos Martinez.  That evening, Carlos may have thrown the best game by a Cardinal pitcher since Chris Carpenter in Game 5 against Philadelphia.  In just 93 dominant pitches, Martinez tore through the Giants, walking off the mound after nine complete innings, having allowed no runs on just two hits and 1 walk.

Making the best start of his career, Carlos didn’t walk off the mound with a complete game.  He wasn’t awarded a shutout.  Carlos didn’t even get the win.  That, of course, would be because while Martinez was turning away the Giant batters, San Francisco’s pitcher – yes, it was Jeff Samardzija that evening as well – was similarly frustrating the Cardinal batsmen.

After 12 scoreless innings, San Francisco finally broke through with 3 runs against Kevin Siegrist, and held on from there for a 3-1 victory (box score).

It was a signature loss that year.  Like Sunday’s loss, it was the kind of game that playoff teams rarely lose – especially against losing teams which the Giants are so far this year and were in 2017 when they lost 98 games.  But not that night.

So, just like that the Cards hit the All-Star break with a .500 record.  As the rest of the division has hung around waiting for them, they find themselves just two games out of the division lead.

Dakota Hudson

On the other end of the spectrum – at least this time out – is Dakota Hudson.  Hudson was provided with 6 support runs while he was pitcher of record, as the Cards were on their way to a 9-4 win on Friday (box score) – their only win of the series.

After throwing 8 consecutive quality starts, Hudson missed qualifying for the second consecutive start.  He still navigated through 5 innings, allowing 3 runs, and took the win.  Over his last 10 games, Dakota is 5-1 with two potential wins lost by the bullpen, and a 2.83 ERA.

Miles Mikolas

Saturday’s losing pitcher (box score) was starter Miles Mikolas.  Done in by a grand slam, Miles lasted just 4, giving 5 runs on 6 hits.  In his last 10 starts, Miles is now 1-7 with a 4.99 ERA.

They were only two singles, but San Fran was 2 for 3 with a sacrifice fly against Mikolas when they hit the first pitch.  No pitcher on the staff has had the difficulties with his first pitch that Mikolas has.

Batters are now 25 for 52 (.481) when they hit Miles’ first pitch.  The hits are generally not soft, either.  Opposing hitters have 3 doubles, 2 triples and 6 home runs when jumping Miles’ first pitch – a .962 slugging percentage.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz got another start Sunday afternoon – and responded with two hits.  He was the only Card with multiple hits that afternoon.

Munoz – who hit .345 in sparse duty in June – is starting to work his way more and more frequently into the lineup.  Much of this has been facilitated by injuries to Matt Carpenter and now Kolten Wong.  But production is also in the equation.  Yairo has played 6 of the last 8 games, starting 5.  He is hitting .316 in those opportunities (6 for 19).

Dexter Fowler

After getting 5 hits through the first two games, Dexter Fowler was held hitless on Sunday.  That 0-for-4 broke a nine-game hitting streak (counting only games in which Fowler had an at bat).  He was 12 for 29 during the streak (.414) with a double, a triple and two home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the streak, with a .724 slugging percentage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Don’t look now, but Paul Goldschmidt has put together a pretty noisy seven-game hitting streak.  After going 5 for 13 against San Fran, Paul is 9 for 26 (.346) during the streak.  He has 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a .654 slugging percentage over his last 7 games.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters finished the Friday blow-out win with 2 hits.  He went 0-for-7 through the last two games.  Matt is now 4 for 19 (.211) in his cameo subbing for Yadier Molina.  It should be pointed out, though, that 2 of those 4 hits have been home runs.

Harrison Bader

So far, July hasn’t been any kinder to Harrison Bader than June.  Hitless in 6 at bats in San Francisco, Bader is now 5 for 52 (.096) over his last 19 games.  He has no extra-base hits, or runs batted in in those games.  He has drawn just 3 walks in that span – none in his last 9 games.

For July, Bader is off to a .200 (3 for 15) start.

NoteBook

With 4 hits in the series, Kolten Wong is now up to 68 for the season.  He finished 2018 with just 88 hits.  He is also up to 105 total bases after amassing just 137 all last year.  Kolten is also about to pass last season’s totals in runs (34 after scoring just 41 times all last year) and runs batted in (35 after driving in 38 all of last year).

Miles Mikolas – whose ERA is up almost two full runs over his 2018 season – continues to gain quickly on all his totals from last year (which were, by the way, his career highs).  The home run he allowed Saturday was his sixteenth – tying his career high.  The 5 runs allowed brought him to 52 for the season, and the 4 earned runs leave him with 50 in 2019.  Last year’s totals were 70 and 63 respectively in 200.2 innings.

Then, on Sunday, Jack Flaherty – whose 2019 ERA is also up precipitously – allowed his twentieth home run of the season – matching his career high from 2018.  As with Mikolas, Jack is quickly reaching several other career highs set last year in hits allowed (108 – he has 87 already), runs (59 last year, 51 already this year) and earned runs (56 last year and 50 already in 2019).

St Louis is now 3-5 in rubber games this season.  All 5 losses in rubber games have come against teams that had won its previous series (we are 1-5 in rubber games against those teams).

Overall, St Louis has played 14 series against teams that won their previous series.  They have won 3 of those series, lost 10, and split the other.  They are 17-25 when pitted against teams coming off a winning series.

The Friday game was the first time in 9 games that St Louis didn’t trail at some point, and their 5 run lead after seven was their biggest lead heading into the eighth since they held a seven-run lead on Kansas City in an eventual 10-3 win on May 22.

Meanwhile, the 1-0 loss on Sunday ended a streak of 8 straight games in which they had held a lead at some point.

At 2:19 the Sunday game was the quickest of the season.  The previous quickest game was the 4-3 loss in Philadelphia on May 28.  That game lasted 2:28.

Cards Miss Too Many RISP Opportunities in San Diego

When Yairo Munoz stepped to the plate in the top of the sixth inning yesterday, the Cardinal position was a bit precarious, as they tilted on the verge of being swept in San Diego.

Trailing 3-0, St Louis had the bases loaded with two out.  They were riding a streak of 0 for their last 12 with runners in scoring position.  For the series, at that point, St Louis had scored all of 3 runs in 23.2 innings.  With runners in scoring position (RISP), for the series to this point, St Louis had managed two infield singles in 18 previous at bats.  One of those dribblers (by Michael Wacha on Friday) had accounted for the only run batted in in a RISP situation to this point of the series.  Reaching back to the last game of the Oakland series – from Paul DeJong’s ground-rule double that gave the Cards a temporary 3-1 lead in the second inning – St Louis had just those two infield hits to show for their last 29 at bats with runners in scoring position.

Batting with runners in scoring position is one of those numbers that almost cannot be over-emphasized.  In that Friday game, for example, the Cards finished the game with 9 hits – a solid total that included 2 doubles.  But the Cards ended on the losing end of a 3-1 contest (box score) because, of the 15 total runners they had in scoring position across 11 such plate appearances, they only managed to get one of them home.

Munoz, by the way, would come through with a two-run single that was instrumental in the St Louis comeback that salvaged the finale of the series, 5-3 in 11 innings (box score).

Before the game would end, Tyler O’Neill would loop a single to right with a runner at second that would lead to the tying run.

Even with the strongish finish, St Louis would lose two of the three games – in no small part because they finished 4 for 22 (.182) with runners in scoring position.  All the hits were singles, and accounted for just 3 runs batted in – while setting up a fourth run to score on an error after O’Neill’s hit.

After the All-Star Break last year, the Cards hit .274 with RISP, with a .444 slugging percentage.  They added a .272 RISP batting average in April.

They faded to .253 (albeit with a .438 slugging percentage) in May opportunities with runners in scoring position.  The struggling series in San Diego ended a month in which St Louis hit just .240 with “ducks on the pond,” slugging just .353 in those opportunities.  In 198 such plate appearances in June, St Louis finished with 10 extra-base hits.

This futility contributed materially to a month that saw the Cards score 3.54 runs per game, while they hit .223 and slugged .357.  According to baseball reference, they finished worst in all of baseball in those categories last month – along with on base percentage (.286), and of course, OPS (.643).  It’s rather sobering to think that for the entire month this team was baseball’s worst in each of the batting line categories.

For the season, now, they hold the National League’s fourth lowest batting average (.241), fifth lowest on base percentage (.318), third lowest slugging percentage (.395 – they are one of only 4 teams in all of baseball whose slugging percentage is below .400), and third lowest in OPS (.713).

Against the background of all of that, one almost feels lucky that this team managed to split their 26 June games, entering July with a humble 41-41 record.

Barring any real explanation, all that is left for us to do is the same thing that manager Mike Shildt is doing.  Waiting for some of these guys to start hitting.

YairoMunoz

Munoz was a welcomed spark in an offense that otherwise hit just .209 and slugged .291 in the three games in San Diego – games in which they scored a total of 8 runs.

Munoz played in all three, and started one.  Yairo left San Diego with 4 hits in 7 at bats.  In those 7 at bats, he led the entire team in runs batted in for the weekend.  He drove in 3.

Munoz is now 7 for his last 14 (.500) over 8 games.  He finished June hitting .345 (10 for 29).

YadierMolina

Yadier Molina was the man who collected the other RISP hit of the weekend – joining the august company of Munoz, O’Neill and Wacha.  With a runner at second and no one out in the second inning of the Friday game, Yadi beat out an infield hit.  This moment actually set the tone for the series.

After Harrison Bader reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases – still with no one out – Eric Lauer escaped with no damage done getting a ground-out, strikeout, ground-out.

Still, with the hit Yadi remains one of the team’s top performers in RISP situations- he is hitting .317 (20 for 63) in those opportunities.

PaulDeJong

The long list of Cardinals who are still struggling begins with St Louis’ lone All-Star.  Riding a stellar April, DeJong has been giving ground ever since.  Paul was only 2 for 11 against San Diego (both singles) and is hitting .133 (6 for 45) over his last 11 games.  Paul has only 2 extra-base hits, and 2 runs batted in over those games.  He hasn’t hit a home run in 12 games.

Paul finished June with a .218 batting average (22 for 101).

HarrisonBader

Clearly Shildt would love to stick Bader in center and let him play.  It’s hard to watch his elite defense and not crave his presence there on a daily basis.  But a devastating slump has made this mostly impossible.  An offense that looks mostly helpless on most evenings can’t afford to carry a pure defender.

At the plate, Harrison finished the San Diego series 1 for 8.  Over his last 13 games (10 starts) Bader has managed just two hits (singles) in 37 at bats (.054).  Harrison carried the lowest June batting average of any Cardinal regular.  He hit .155 (11 for 71).

Bader was 0-for-3 during the series in RISP opportunities.  He finished June 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.  For the season, he is a .118 hitter (4 for 34) in this situation.

PaulGoldschmidt

You must have guessed that Paul Goldschmidt would end up on this list.  He might never in his career be happier to see a month pass than this June.  Paul finished the Padre series just 1 for 12 – exactly is numbers for the Oakland series before.  His 2 for 24 (.083) includes 9 strikeouts, but no runs batted in.  Paul hasn’t had an extra-base hit, or a run batted in in 8 games, and it’s been 9 games since his last home run.

For June, Paul finished at .181 (17 for 94) with 3 home runs and just 5 runs batted in.

Goldschmidt has also struggled all season in RISP situations.  Hitless in 2 opportunities against San Diego, Paul finished June 1 for 12 in RISP at bats.  For the season, he is just 10 for 49 (.204).  Nine of the 10 hits are singles – and two of those are infield hits.

TommyEdman

The hero of the Oakland series, Tommy Edman opened the Saturday game with a home run. Leading off in all three games, that would be his only hit of the series (he finished 1 for 14).

MichaelWacha

Friday’s loser, Michael Wacha nonetheless performed admirably – pitching 7 innings, giving just 2 runs on 6 hits and a walk.  With that effort, Michael completes a fairly impressive bounce back month.

Wacha made 5 appearances in June – 4 as a starter.  He gave us 3 quality starts, posting a 2.84 ERA over 25.1 innings.

MilesMikolas

Although he labored through six very creditable innings on Sunday, the one big hit served up by Miles Mikolas (that would be the Manny Machado home run) came with a runner in scoring position.  This is a recurring issue for Mikolas.  Batters were 7 for 18 (.389) against Miles with runners in scoring position during June – with 3 of the hits being home runs.

For the season, batters are 21 for 71 (.296) against Mikolas with runners in scoring position.  Seven of the hits have been home runs – leading to a .620 slugging percentage against him in that circumstance.

GiovannyGallegos

One of the reasons that Giovanny Gallegos is the Cards best reliever at stranding runners (he has stranded 21 of 24) is that no one hits him with runners in scoring position.

The Padres were 0-for-2 against him over the weekend in those chances.  Batters went 0-for-9 against Giovanny in RISP situations during June, dropping them to just 3 for 27 (.111) for the season.

NoteBook

The home runs given up by Michael Wacha on Friday night were the fifteenth and sixteenth hit off of him this year in 73 innings.  Last year, in 84.1 innings, he allowed just 9.  His career high in home runs allowed are the 19 that he gave up in 181.1 innings back in 2015.

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.