Tag Archives: Miller

On a Roll on the Road

When Nolan Arenado flipped a single through the nearly vacant right side of the Met infield to drive in Paul Goldschmidt in last night’s eighth inning, it put a bow on three days of an offensive orgy in Citi Field.  Last night’s 11-4 final (box score) featured 16 hits – 8 of them for extra-bases.  The outpouring brought the offensive totals for the three games (all wins) to 25 runs on 41 hits (including 9 doubles and 6 home runs).  The team-wide batting line for their visit to the Apple was an encouraging .331/.378/.548.

So what do we make of this?

It seems we’ve been fretting over this offense for the entire year.  We look at the lineup and we scratch out heads.  So this is an offensive breakthrough that is long overdue, right?  Well, sure.  But there’s another element at play here that can’t be dismissed.  It’s an aspect of this team and its situation that we actually discuss here several times a year every year since I’ve done this blog.

Let’s just say, it’s not a coincidence that this sudden offensive outpouring happened on the road.

Last night was the eighth time the Cards have scored ten or more runs.  Seven of those games have occurred on the road.  In 73 road games, St Louis has scored 5 or more runs 32 times.  They have been held under 4 runs 32 times also.

In 72 home games, they have hit the five-run mark just 23 times, being held under 4 runs 39 times.

For the season, the team holds a .242/.311/.378 batting line at home (.689 OPS), where they score an average of 3.71 runs per game.  They have 64 home runs in their home park – hitting one every 40.1 plate appearances.

The batting line on the road is .240/.313/.423 (a .736 OPS).  This has resulted in 4.68 runs per game.  With 103 road home runs, their rate away from Busch is one home run per 27.1 plate appearances.

As the team’s hitters have started to come together, the gulf between the home and road splits is becoming cavernous.

Beginning on August 10, when they began a 6-0 road trip through Pittsburgh and Kansas City, the Cards have won 14 of their last 19 road games.  The offense has performed at near video game levels.  St Louis has scored 119 runs over its last 19 road games (6.26 runs per game), and have done so while hitting .287/.353/.512.  In the 19 road games, they have bashed 34 home runs – hitting one every 22.2 plate appearances.

In between the 19 road games, they have played 15 at home.  They are 7-8 in those games – games in which they have scored 45 runs (3.00 per game) while hitting .218/.287/.346.  They have 12 home runs in their last 15 home games – one every 45.2 plate appearances.

The knee-jerk perception is that the home games – since they included a series against the Dodgers – included tougher teams than the road games.  Apart from the Dodgers (who they split four games with), that’s not as true as you might think.  The home games included five games against Detroit and Pittsburgh (games the Cards went 2-3 in while scoring a total of 13 runs).  The road games included three each in Cincinnati and Milwaukee – as well as the three against the Mets, who were a .500 team when the Cards hit town.  St Louis was 6-3 in those games, scoring 55 runs.  They scored 20 runs in the three games in Milwaukee against one of baseball’s most feared pitching staffs.

This will actually be the subject of a significantly more in-depth exploration after the season is over.  It’s timely as the organization has finally recognized that there is a deep divide here.

For now, I want to suggest that the offense that we’ve been kvetching about all summer is probably better than we give it credit for.  We have seen multiple moments where things seemed to be coming together, only to watch the offense suddenly dry up.  Probably, we didn’t connect the offensive surges with their road trips and the sudden bouts of futility with their returns to their pitcher-friendly home park.  As the organization is finally prepared to do something about this (hopefully something other than moving the fences in), this dynamic may change significantly next year.

The immediate future, though, is a little complex because of this dichotomy.  Should this team hold on to the final playoff spot, they will predominately be a road team through the rest of their playoff existence.  This could be a positive, as the team has been playing exceptionally well on the road lately.

In the specific, though, this initially means Los Angeles and San Francisco – two of the most Busch-like parks in the league.  One of those two teams will win the West Division and finish with the league’s best record (barring a surprising finish from Milwaukee).  This will give that team the right to face the winner of the Wildcard game in the first round.  The team that doesn’t win the division will go in as the first Wildcard and host the game that St Louis is fighting to get into.

The door prize for the second Wildcard team is the league’s two best teams lined up and waiting for them.  The upside of that, though, is that these first two levels of the playoffs will be the shortest series.  One will be a one-and-done, and the other will be a three-of-five. 

If you have to get past the Dodgers and Giants, your odds are best in short series.  And maybe if they can figure out how to score a few runs in their last 9 home games, they will find an approach that will work in the big ballparks on the West Coast.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continues his inexorable climb to the .300 mark after a struggling start.  Paul singled, doubled and homered last night, and has now hit in 7 of his last 9 games, with three multi-hit games in the mix.  Goldy’s average in these games is .364 (12 for 33).  He has scored 9 runs in the 9 games, while slugging .636 (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Paul is one of several Cardinals off to scorching hot Septembers.  Goldschmidt has been to the plate 59 times already this month, contributing 8 singles, 3 doubles, 4 home runs, 13 runs scored (in 14 games), 7 runs batted in, 10 walks and 2 stolen bases – a .306/.424/.612 batting line.  The surge has also carried Goldschmidt to a .324 average in the second half (68 for 210) with a .590 slugging percentage (15 doubles, a triple, and 13 home runs).

Edman

Tommy Edman singled and doubled last night, pushing his hitting streak to 6 games.  It was his second straight two-hit game, but still leaves him hitting just .286 (8 for 28) during the six games.

Tommy has been one of the bats at the forefront of the recent road success.  Over the last 19 road games, Edman is hitting .325 (27 for 83) and slugging .566 (8 doubles and 4 home runs).

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill stretched his young hitting streak to 5 games in a row – getting two hits in each of the last three – when he singled and doubled last night.  O’Neill is hitting .381 during the streak (8 for 21).  This is part of an even longer hot streak for the young outfielder.

Tyler has hit safely in 9 of his last 11 – with multiple hits in 5 of the games.  Over his last 11 games, O’Neill is hitting .372 (16 for 43) and slugging .721 (3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He has scored 11 runs in those games.

O’Neill leads the team for the month of September in batting average (.333 on 19 of 57 hitting) and slugging percentage (.667 on the strength of 4 doubles and 5 home runs).

Arenado

Kind of the missing offensive link, cleanup hitter Nolan Arenado seems to be turning the corner and heating up with the rest of the team.  He singled and homered last night, giving him a baby five-game hitting streak, and his second multi-hit game during that streak.  Nolan is now 7 for his last 20 (.350) with a triple and 3 home runs in those at bats (.900 slugging percentage).  He has 8 RBIs in his last 5 games.

Arenado is one of the primary players who has been hurt by his home field.  Since the break, Nolan is a .304 hitter on the road (28 for 92) with a .652 slugging percentage (3 doubles, a triple and 9 home runs).  He has 21 runs batted in over his last 24 road games.

In the 29 home games since the break, Nolan is hitting .191 (22 for 115) with just a .230 on base percentage (he has 6 walks).  For the season, Nolan is slashing .230/.289/.444 with 13 home runs and 47 runs batted in at home, and .280/.332/.557 with 19 home runs and 52 runs batted in on the road.

Sosa

While his series began with his errant throw drilling an umpire, Edmundo Sosa ended up going into New York to do what everyone goes to New York for.  He became a star.  He had hits in all three games – including an opposite field home run on Wednesday, made several exceptional defensive plays, and ran the bases with an alert aggression.

As each day passes, Sosa looks less and less like a flash in the pan, and more and more like the shortstop of the future.  In 76 at bats over his last 26 games (20 starts) – a substantial sample size – Edmundo is hitting .355 (27 for 76).  He is up to .316 for the month of September (12 for 38) and .321 (34 for 106) in 43 games in the season’s second half.

Half of his six home runs have been hit to the opposite field, and another shot out to straight-away center.  Only two have been pulled.

Edmundo is hitting .377 (23 for 61) in his last 16 road games.  He’s scored 14 runs and driven in 13 in those games with a .639 slugging percentage (1 double, 3 triples and 3 home runs).

Bader

Harrison Bader is another Cardinal who comes home on a hot streak.  Bader has hit in 4 of his last 6, getting multiple hits in 3 of those games.  He is 8 for his last 23 (.348) including 2 doubles and last night’s home run – good for a .565 slugging percentage.  Harrison is now hitting .308 (16 for 52) and slugging .538 (3 doubles and 3 home runs) for the month.

Bader seems like a natural fit for a large stadium like Busch, but his hitting approach only rewards him on the road.  In the season’s second half, Harrison is a .313/.353/.573 hitter on the road, and a .210/.282/.257 hitter at home.  All 6 of his second-half home runs have come on the road.

For the season, Bader is a .294/.350/.534 batter away from home, and a .200/.272/.290 performer at home.  Ten of his 12 home runs have been hit on the road.

Lester

Pushed around early, Jon Lester turned in another strong, strong performance last night.  In 3 September starts, Jon is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA.  Over his last 5 starts he has 3 quality starts, a 2-0 record, and a 2.12 ERA.  Lester has allowed 7 earned runs over his last 29.2 innings – 6 of them on solo home runs.

Lester has been something of an anomaly as he has pitched far better on the road (1.93 ERA in 23.1 innings) than he has at home (6.08 ERA in 26.2 innings) since he became a Cardinal.

A Miller

Andrew Miller faced three batters last night, and all got hits.  He didn’t make a lot of bad pitches, and much of the contact against him was soft – but that’s how it’s been going for Miller in a very snake-bit year.  Off and on the injured list with foot blisters, Miller has pitched to a 7.30 ERA and a .340/.393/.560 batting line in 12.1 innings since the break.

Miller has been a kind of microcosm of what most of the pitching staff is experiencing.  Andrew has a 7.07 ERA in 14 innings on the road this year, but a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings at home.

NoteBook

The 7-run lead the Cards took into the ninth inning last night was their largest ninth-inning lead since they carried an 8-run lead into an eventual 15-4 rout of Milwaukee on September 3.

The three games in New York averaged 3:56.3 per game – making it the longest series by average time of the season. An abbreviated, two-game set in Chicago (July 9-10) that ended the season’s first half had been the longest, the two games averaging 3:44.5.

The Met series presented the Cards their fifteenth opportunity to sweep a series, the ninth such opportunity they’ve had on the road, and the fifth time they had a chance to sweep a team that had won its previous series (the Mets, in fact, had won 10 of their previous 15 before falling victim to the Cards).  St Louis has now completed the sweep 10 of 15 times overall, 5 of 9 on the road, and 3 of the five against teams fresh off a winning series.

O’Neill’s two-run, first-inning double gave him his sixth game-winning RBI of the year.  Arenado (14), Yadier Molina (14) and Goldschmidt (12) are far in the lead in this category, but Tyler has moved into fourth, just ahead of Bader and Edman, who have 5 each.

It took them 145 games, but the Cards finally have 50 quality starts for the season.

Lester has yet to throw a wild pitch this year.  In his sixteenth season, Jon has bounced at least one every season so far.

While he’s been an important fresh face in the Cardinal bullpen, T.J. McFarland is no rookie.  He is pitching in his ninth big-league season, and had 400 career innings pitched before joining the Cards.  During those seasons, McFarland has shown flashes of being a pretty good pitcher – he posted a 2.76 ERA in 58.2 innings in 2014, and a 2.00 ERA in 72 innings in 2018, but this year has been out-of-nowhere good for the 32-year-old lefty.  At his current pace, TJ will set career bests for ERA (1.82) walks per nine innings (1.52) average against (.212), on base percentage against (.255), slugging pct against (.308) and OPS against (.562).

Bader’s home run tied his career high (12) and his 3 RBIs set a new career high at 41.  His 3.5 home run percent will also be a career high if he can keep it there, and – importantly – his 19.8 strikeout percentage will be – by far – a career low.  Bader has never finished a season of any length with a strikeout rate of less than 26.1%

After the barrage of last night, the team slugging percentage has crept back up over the .400 mark to .401.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Wanted: Some Margin for Error

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

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

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

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

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

Margin for Error box, checked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McFarland

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

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

A Miller

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

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

Edman

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

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

Sosa

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

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

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

Carlson

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

If They Can Just Get Them to Hit the Ball

With one out in the second inning of a scoreless contest, Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson stroked a double down the right-field line.  Six pitches later, the Cards were dealing with a situation.

Choosing not to deal with right-handed slugger Adam Duvall, Cardinal starter Wade LeBlanc teased him with a few tosses off the plate, and when Adam showed no inclination to chase, St Louis passed him to first intentionally, preferring to deal with the lefty Joc Pederson.  It was a strategy that seemed to have worked when Pederson dribbled a slow roller to third.  But, instead of taking the sure out at first, Nolan Arenado threw to second to force Duvall.  When second-baseman Matt Carpenter didn’t make it to the base in time, St Louis found itself in a bases-loaded, one-out situation.

As they would prove and re-prove later in the game, anything imaginable (and a few things unimaginable) can happen when St Louis pitches with the bases loaded.  But it wasn’t time yet for the Commedia dell’arte.  LeBlanc caused Kevan Smith to chop into the double-play that ended the inning.

It was a moment that would be lost in the aftermath of Atlanta’s series-sweeping 8-4 victory (box score), but a moment that shouldn’t be completely forgotten – if only because it serves as a reminder of how good this pitching staff can be when they actually make the opposing team hit the baseball.

With this double-play as a highlight, of sorts, Atlanta finished the game 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.  Since the All-Star Break, teams are hitting just .203 (29 for 143) against St Louis with runners in scoring position.  For the season, the team’s .225 batting average against in that situation is the National League’s fourth lowest figure.

If only things were that simple.

In the eighth inning, another Swanson double (this one with two outs) chased Giovanny Gallegos from the game and brought closer Alex Reyes into the contest in an attempt to preserve the 4-4 tie.  What happened next nearly defies belief.

Alex faced 5 batters.  None of them got a hit.  But Reyes didn’t retire any of them either.  Alex hit the first batters and then walked four straight – the last three with the bases loaded.  After managing to find the strike zone just 4 times in 21 pitches, Alex left the mess in the lap of Justin Miller – who tossed in one more bases loaded walk, for good measure.

As August began, St Louis carried a 52-52 record and sat 9.5 games behind the division-leading Brewers.  Not an exceedingly favorable situation.  Things have only gotten worse, so far, this month.  The Cards have surrendered two more games in the standings while losing 3 of their first 4 August matches.

In the spotlight is a bullpen that has welcomed August with a 7.62 ERA and 5.54 walks per nine innings over their first 13 innings of the new month.  On May 19, these Cards were 25-18 and 3.5 games ahead in the division.  They are 28-37 since then, surrendering 15 games in the standings – a prolonged skid that has not only left their playoff hopes on life-support, but now threatens this franchise with its first losing season since 2007 – the only losing season St Louis has endured this century.  So far.

Just before the Break – when the Cards managed to take a series from San Francisco – managed Mike Shildt emphatically instructed the collected press that “this team can play with anyone.”

I presume that he means when they actually force them to hit the ball.

LeBlanc

Wade LeBlanc – last night’s starter – has, for the most part, done everything that this team could have asked of him.  After 6 rock-solid innings, Wade left the game with a 3-2 lead and what should have been his first Cardinal win.  In four second-half starts, Wade holds a 3.05 ERA – the best on a staff that has only two qualifying starters.

Atlanta was only 1 for 5 against Wade with runners in scoring position.  Over his brief stay in St Louis, opponents are only hitting .158 against him (6 for 38) in these dangerous moments.

Cabrera

Another day, another superb seventh inning from Genesis Cabrera.  This one wasn’t as clean as the night before.  Genesis allowed a runner when he hit a batter – a runner subsequently thrown out trying to advance on a ball in the dirt.  Over the 8 innings covering his last 9 appearances, Cabrera has walked 5 and hit a batter while only throwing 57% of his pitches for strikes.  But he has given only 2 hits over those 8 innings, allowing no runs.

Gallegos

Trusted all year long with the eighth inning, Giovanny Gallegos has been stung for back-to-back, three-run outings, losing both of the last two games.  In 10 second half innings, Gallegos’ ERA has bumped up to 6.30.

A Miller

After all the silliness, Andrew Miller came in to end the ninth inning for the Cards.  He faced one batter and induced the double-play.  Over his last 17.2 innings, Andrew holds a 1.53 ERA.

During that span, opponents are only 2 for 15 (.133) against him when batting with runners in scoring position.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt drove in what looked to be the icing run with a seventh-inning single.  All of his numbers this year haven’t been quite what Goldy would have hoped for – not yet, anyway.  But he has been a season-long factor with runners in scoring position.  Paul is now hitting .305 (29 for 95) with the ducks on the pond.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill had his second multi-hit game in his last three contests.  Tyler has 7 hits in 13 at bats over his last 4 games (.538).

NoteBook

The 21 runs that Atlanta scored in the series are the most the Cards have allowed in a set since Pittsburgh roughed them up for 21 over four games from June 24-27.  It was the most runs scored against them in a three-game series since the Dodgers scored 25 runs from May 31 – June 2.

Last night was the ninth time this season that St Louis needed a win in the final game of the series to avoid a sweep, and the fifth time that they couldn’t avoid the broom.  Six of the 9 have been in three- or four-game series, with the sweep occurring in 4 of the 6.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

The Wait Continues

First of all, it should be said that Carlos deserved better luck than he received.  In last night’s battering at the hands of the Phillies, Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez threw five innings.  Four of them were perfect, and the one that wasn’t could easily have been.

Two ground balls that could have been outs were not, and a flyball to center that might have been caught was knocked down by the wind, and all of a sudden it was a catastrophe in the making.

If, however, it’s true that Carlos deserved better on this night, it is also true that this most current loss – a 9-2 falling to Philadelphia (box score) – continues a distressing trend for a man who was once the ace of the staff, a former 18-game winner, and an All-Star.

Since his last victory as a starter, Carlos has appeared in 78 games (counting relief appearances) with a 5.33 ERA.  In his last eleven starts, he has totaled just 49.2 innings – never recording an out in the sixth inning in any of them – while going 0-8 with an 8.15 ERA.

Part of Martinez’ fade has been caused by some injuries over the last few years.  There’s been a fair share of bad luck mixed in.  But mostly it’s just been Carlos not doing as well in situations that he used to shine in.

The glaring example from last night is Martinez dealing with runners in scoring position.  Carlos was nearly flawless as long as no runner advanced as far as second base.  But the moment that Didi Gregorius’ bouncer snuck under Matt Carpenter’s glove, sending Alec Bohm to third, all the bad things started to happen.

The last nine batters of the inning would come up with runners in scoring position.  Three of them would get hits – two of them doubles.  And if it was bad luck that Jean Segura’s fly ball dropped for the first double, there was nothing soft or fluky about Andrew McCutchen’s single or Bryce Harper’s double (which left the bat at 103.1 mph).  There were also two walks (one of them intentional) and two hit batsmen mixed in.  The first batter hit might have been the turning point of the game.

Just after Segura’s double fell in, the Cardinals (trailing just 1-0 at that point) walked eighth-place hitter Mickey Moniak to load the bases and bring up pitcher Zach Eflin.  When Zach was grazed by an inside sinker, it made the score 2-0, turned over the lineup, and set in motion the damage that would follow.

Runners in scoring position used to be where Carlos made his money.  Through his first six seasons, Martinez faced 871 batters with runners in scoring position.  They hit .212 with a .304 slugging percentage against him.  Over the last three seasons, Martinez has suffered a .348 batting average against – with a .573 slugging percentage – when dealing with runners in scoring position.

So far in the early days of the 2021 season, 18 batters have faced Martinez with runners in scoring position (RISP).  They have 4 singles (two of them infield hits), 2 doubles, 1 home run, 3 walks (1 intentional) and 2 hit batsmen.  It works out to a batting line of .538/.667/.923 with 11 runs batted in.

When early season numbers look a little distressing, it’s proper to say “it’s early.”  So, yes, it is early, and there is plenty of time remaining for Carlos to right the ship.  But this is a drift that has been going on for quite a while now.  Long enough to sustain some serious worry about Martinez’ ability to re-discover the Carlos Martinez of old.

Whitley

Kodi Whitley is one of the young arms trying to establish himself as a big league presence.  He added some to the grief as he served up a two-run homer, but also retired all three batters to face him with runners in scoring position.  The league, so far this year, is 0-for-6 against Kodi with runners in scoring position.  In his cameo last year (Whitley threw 4.2 innings in 2020), batters were 0-for-1 with a runner in scoring position – so, so far, so good.

Miller

In to mop up in the bottom of the eighth, Andrew Miller found more trouble.  Philadelphia added a final run against him on two singles around a walk.  Miller has now been scored on in each of his last three outings, yielding 4 runs over 2 innings.  He also allowed both of his inherited runners to score.  The last 16 batters to face Andrew have 5 singles, 1 double, 1 home run and 4 walks – a disheartening batting line of .583/.688/.917.

After Philadelphia went 1-for-2 against Miller with runners in scoring position, Andrew has now seen the league start off 2021 going 5 for 8 against him in RISP situations.  Well, it’s early.

Edman

With two more hits last night, Tommy Edman pushed his hitting streak to 11 games.  Edman is hitting .348 during the streak (16 for 46).  He has had multiple hits in 4 of the games.

Molina

While Tommy’s hitting streak continued, Yadier Molina’s streak ended at ten games with last night’s 0-for-4.  Yadi was 13 for 34 (.382) during the streak with 2 doubles and 2 home runs.  Yadi drove in 7 runs and slugged .618 over the 10 games.

NoteBook

With Philadelphia scoring 6 times in the second, the Cards have now scored first only once in their last 7 games.

At 2:34, last night’s game was St Louis’ first of the season to check in at less than three hours.  The 12-1 loss in Cincinnati on April 4 clocked in at 3:00 even.

While not the 40,000 we are used to seeing, the Cards first home-stand since 2019 to allow fans through the gates saw average “crowds” of 13,104 socially distanced fans.  The opener of the Phillie series drew 10,842.

On the last day of that home-stand, Edmundo Sosa made the start at shortstop, leaving third-baseman Nolan Arenado as the only Cardinal to have started all of the first 13 games of the season at the same position.  Edman has also started all 13 games, almost evenly divided between second base (7 starts) and right field (6 starts).

After winning the opening games of their first three series, St Louis has dropped the opener of the last two.

Coming in on the heels of a sweep at the hands of the Mets, Philadelphia is the second consecutive team, and third in the last four series, to face the Cardinals after losing their previous series.

When Justin Williams hit his first major league home run in the eighth inning last night, it halted the Cardinal’s scoreless streak at 19.1 innings.

My Designated Hitter Rant

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

Carlson Finding His Calm

The first 3-2 pitch that Dylan Carlson saw in the big leagues was a fastball from the White Sox’ Lucas Giolito.  There were two out in the fifth inning, and Giolito brought it at 94 miles an hour.  The pitch was up, but a bit away, and Carlson skied it to fairly deep right-center field, where it was easily caught.

The most recent 3-2 pitch that Dylan saw came in last night’s sixth inning, with Dexter Fowler on first base and the Cards up 3-1.  This, too, was a fastball (delivered this time by Milwaukee’s Cory Knebel).  It was virtually in the same spot as Giolito’s fastball – and a little faster at 96-mph.  But this time Carlson wasn’t of the disposition to pull the ball.

With the relaxed, confident swing that Cards have been waiting all summer to see, Dylan sent a scorching line drive off the left-center field wall for an RBI double.

I’m not sure that there are any two swings that more dramatically show the difference between Dylan Carlson before he went back to camp and after.

The difference is clear in the numbers.  Dylan limped back to camp carrying a .162/.215/.243 batting line.  Since his return – and after driving in 3 runs last night with a home run and that double – Dylan is succeeding to the tune of .320/.333/.760.  Not coincidentally, the Cards have won 6 of the 8 games since Carlson has been back.

But the difference has been in more than the numbers.

The Dylan of summer quickly became pull-conscious, and shortly thereafter became prone to chasing pitches.  His swings became increasingly tentative and off-balanced.

The Dylan of fall has found his calm.  He is much less given to chasing breaking balls (he seems to be seeing them very well right now) and is comfortable in driving outside pitches the other way – and doing so with authority.

Even hitting late in the count doesn’t ripple his calm.  All of his at bats last night lasted at least 4 pitches, and he saw at least 2 balls each time up.

In his 27 plate appearances since returning, Dylan has hit in two- or three-ball counts 59.3% of the time (16 of the 27).  He is 6 for 15 (.400) with a walk in those at bats, with 4 extra-base hits (including both of his home runs since his return).  He is slugging .933 in deep counts since his resurrection.  He is 2 for his last 4 in full count at bats.  The major leagues as a whole hit .223/.391/.391 after ball two is thrown, and .188/.448/.326 once the count goes full.

It’s a small sample size, but the prospect who returned looks so decidedly different from the one who went down that it is almost difficult to believe that they are the same individual.

St Louis has waited through about 50 of their scheduled 60 games to find one of their young outfielders who would lay claim to a job.  They have been, effectively, waiting for a hero.

Even though the season has dwindled to the final few games, it is not too late.  Improbably – given the adversity set before them – the playoffs are still within grasp.  If Dylan Carlson has an extended hot streak in him, now is not a bad time.  He just needs to keep his calm.

Edman

Tommy Edman contributed a couple of singles to the attack, hitting a 1-0 pitch from Corbin Burnes in the third, and a 1-1 pitch from Ray Black in the eighth.  The Tommy Edman from 2019 is still very much alive and well – but only when he hits early in the count.  Before the count reaches ball two, Tommy is hitting .357 with all 4 of his home runs (and 10 of his 12 extra-base hits).  He is a .108 hitter with a .135 slugging percentage once the count reaches ball two.

Yadi

Yadier Molina rode his recent hot streak to his 2000th career hit, a clean, line-drive single off a 98-mph fastball from Justin Topa.  Yadi has 4 multi-hit games over his last 7, and is hitting .375 (9 for 24) in those games.

The landmark single came after an uncharacteristically long at bat for Yadi – a 7-pitch duel.  The fastball came on a 2-2 pitch.  Of Molina’s four plate appearances, that was the only one that reached a two-ball count.  For the season, 38.4% of Yadi’s at bats are over before the pitcher throws ball one – the highest percentage of anyone on the team with more than 40 plate appearances; and 69.2% of his at bats don’t make it until ball two.  That is also the highest percentage on the team for anyone with at least 20 plate appearances.

Fowler

Just back off the DL, Dexter Fowler looks OK at the plate, but things haven’t quite fallen in place yet for him.  He is 2 for 11 (.182) in his early at bats back.  He has, however, drawn 3 walks.

Dexter extended three of his four at bats to a ball three count.  For the season, Dex ends up in three-ball counts 31.5% of the time – tied with Brad Miller for most on the team.

Kim

Kwang Hyun Kim was the starter and winner with another solid start.  After allowing 1 run over 5 innings, Kim finishes September with a 2-0 record and a 2.01 ERA.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera is starting to string together fine outings.  He retired 4 of the 5 to face him last night, and over his last 6 consecutive scoreless innings, Genesis has allowed just 3 hits – all singles.  He has struck out 9.  He has a 1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings this month.

A Miller

When Eric Sogard poked his opposite field single against Andrew Miller, he interrupted quite a hitless streak against him.  The previous 26 batters to face Miller had gone 0-for-21 – albeit with 3 hit batters and 2 walks.  Miller has a 1.35 ERA for the month of September in 6.2 innings.

NoteBook

At 3:43, last night’s game was the longest contest the Cardinals have participated in since August 29, when it took them 4:06 to lose a 2-1 game to Cleveland.  That, of course, was a 12-inning game.  The previous longest 9-inning game came the night before – a 14-2 pounding they received at the hands of those Indians that took 3:51.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Pitching Staff or MaSH Unit?

Perhaps the Cardinals should start a practice routine for pitchers replacing an injured pitcher.  It’s trickier business than it sounds.

Technically, a pitcher replacing an injured pitcher has as much time as desired to warm up.  The problem is that the entire game comes to a complete halt, waiting for the new pitcher to proclaim himself ready.  It’s difficult for the replacing pitcher not to feel a little self-conscious in that situation.  More times than not, they’re not completely ready to go when they say they are – and more times than not, the batting team takes full advantage.

As the Cardinals are now making a habit of losing pitchers in action, perhaps this is something that needs to be more thoroughly rehearsed.

When Dakota Hudson walked off the mound last night before throwing his first pitch if the third inning, Austin Gomber became the fourth Cardinal pitcher in the last 10 games to be suddenly summoned to the mound.  Most of those appearances have not worked out well.

The first of the pitchers to fall in the line of duty was then-closer Giovanny Gallegos.  This happened in the seventh inning of the second game of the September 10 doubleheader against Detroit.

Pitching with a 2-run lead, Giovanny walked the first batter.  Then, somewhere during Victor Reyes’ at bat, Gallegos strained a groin muscle.  He didn’t leave immediately, laboring through two more batters (both of whom singled) before he surrendered to medical necessity.  It was still a 3-2 St Louis lead when Ryan Helsley took over.  Whether he was fully loose before he proclaimed himself ready is anyone’s supposition.  But once he decided to get on with things, the Tigers went intentional walk, line drive double play, two-run homer and groundout – all enough to provide the Tigers a 6-3 win (boxscore).

Two games later, the Cards are in Cincinnati on September 12.  After six very strong innings from Hudson, Genesis Cabrera came in to pitch the seventh.  He didn’t throw a pitch.  During his warm-ups he developed issues with a nail on his pitching hand and had to be summarily replaced.  Tyler Webb came in, and navigated the situation as well as could be hoped – tossing 1.1 scoreless innings (boxscore).

The next night, the Cards lost John Gant.

The Cards were clinging to a 5-4 lead over the Reds, as John came in with a runner on first and one out.  Tyler Stephenson – the first batter he faced – bounced a single into right, moving the tying run to second – but keeping the inning-ending double play in play.

But, on his first pitch to Aristides Aquino, Gant’s groin balked, and that was the end of the night for him.

In to manage the situation came Andrew Miller – a veteran who must have done this before.  Again, his readiness for the situation is open to question.  He hit the first batter he faced, walked in a run, wild pitched home a second run.  A third run scored on a ground ball.  Cincinnati would go on to a damaging 10-5 victory (boxscore).

This brings us to last night and Gomber.  Carrying a 0.52 ERA for the season, and inheriting a 1-0 lead, Gomber was knocked around for the first time this season.  He crept back to the dugout after 1.2 innings, after surrendering 4 runs on 4 hits (including the second home run allowed to a left-hander in his career) and 2 walks (boxscore).

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 4 emergency relief appearances totaling 4.2 busy innings that saw the scoring of 7 runs (in addition to the scoring of all 4 inherited runners) on 7 hits, (2 of them home runs) 4 walks (1 of those intentional) a hit batsman and a wild pitch.  The 24 fortunate batters that came to the plate against these relievers slashed an impressive .368/.500/.737 leading to a 13.50 ERA.  The 18% swing-and-miss rate by those batters is another tip off that, perhaps, the pitchers were not sufficiently lose.

All I’m saying is that if this is going to keep happening for the rest of the year, perhaps it’s something that should be practiced.

Offense MIA

Two of those struggling appearances cost the team a late lead, setting up a pair of costly defeats.  Gomber also surrendered a lead, but it’s more than likely the team would have lost that game anyway.  With one run scored and two hits on the board, the offense was done for the day.

In losing their last two games, the Cards have managed 1 run on 4 total hits – all singles.  Even that doesn’t tell the full story.  Of the 4 hits, only Tommy Edman’s RBI single last night was actually well hit.  The others were two dribbling singles that beat the defensive shift, and an infield grounder that was deflected by the pitcher.  The Cards truly have the look of a team that could get no-hit on any given day.

Yesterday’s loss was St Louis’ seventh in its last 10 games.  The pitching has contributed to the woes.  They have a 5.87 ERA over the last 10 games (4.56 from the starters and 8.01 from the pen) – giving up 15 home runs over their last 79.2 innings.

For their part, the bats are hitting just .203 with only 7 home runs in those games.  They have scored all of 28 runs.  Manager Mike Shildt denies that the fatigue of the schedule is responsible for any of this.  Some of the hitters sound (and look) like that might not be the case.

B Miller

Brad Miller spent a good chunk of the summer hitting well over .300.  When you remember that his career average is around .240, you can’t be too surprised to find him regressing to his norm.  Over the last 10 games, Brad is hitting .194 (6 for 31) after his 0-for-3 last night.

Ravelo

After his 0-for-2 last night, Rangel Ravelo is now hitless over his last 16 at bats.

Hudson

To no one’s shock, the Cards have lost another important pitcher.  Gone for the rest of the regular season is Hudson – whose effectiveness and importance was probably second only to Adam Wainwright’s.  Since the season’s re-boot, Dakota was 3-1 in 7 starts with a 2.08 ERA and a .145 opponent’s batting average.

Gomber

While Austin has, indeed, pitched very well this season, in the month of September he has had surprising difficulty keeping the bases clear.  Yesterday was a continuation of that trend.

Of the 10 batters Austin faced last night, 4 of them came up with the bases empty.  Three of them reached – 2 singles and a walk.  Batters are now hitting .462 (6 for 13) against Gomber this month when hitting with the bases empty.  He has also walked 4 others, so their on base percentage against him is .588.

Webb

Tyler Webb was scuffed for the final run of the evening on a sacrifice fly.  The run snaps a streak of 9 straight scoreless appearances by Webb (9 innings).  He gave 8 hits and 3 walks while striking out 9 during the streak.

Although he inherited one runner, Tyler also made some of his own trouble, giving 3 hits over his 1.2 innings.  Of the 7 batters he faced, 5 of them came up with runners on base.  This is Webb’s norm.  Whether they are other people’s runners or people he’s put on base himself, 54.8% of the plate appearances against him have come with at least one runner on base.

A Miller

Andrew Miler’s outing last night was not uncommon.  He walked the first batter he faced, and then hit the next batter.  He then retired the last three without allowing a run.  Of the 17 batters he has faced this month, 10 have come up with at least one runner on base.  Those hitters are 0-for-7, with 1 walk and 2 hit batsmen.

NoteBook

Last night, St Louis dropped the opening game of a series for the third consecutive time.  Seven of their last 9 series have begun with a loss.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Waino Still Playing Stopper

A strange thing happened in the seventh inning of the Sunday night game.  The Cardinals didn’t score.  That same strange thing happened in both the eighth and ninth innings.  Inexplicably, the Cards didn’t come from behind to win their fourth straight game – and the third in a row on a walk-off.

Of course, in baseball you don’t win them all – even if sometimes you start to feel invincible.  Certainly losses have been few and far between for this franchise lately.  The loss on Sunday night was only their fifth in the previous 23 games – a great roll that has carried this team to a three-game lead in its division.

But while the occasional loss will happen, I am always very interested to see how the team responds to the loss.  How difficult is it to saddle this team with consecutive losses?  How well can they stay out of losing streaks?

In fact, the record after a loss this year tells the Cardinal story in microcosm.  They hit the All-Star Break just 22-21 after having lost the game before.  They began the second half 5-2 after a loss.  That carried them to the California trip in early August – a troubling swing through Oakland and Los Angeles which saw our heroes lose all five games – the last four after having lost the previous game.

And then they flipped the switch.  With yesterday’s 3-1 victory (box score), St Louis has won their last 6 games in a row after a previous loss – and are now 11-6 in the second half in those games.

As has been the case 150 times since 2007, it was Adam Wainwright playing stopper.  He was in vintage form, muffling the Giants on 4 hits over 7 shutout innings.  Over his career, Waino is 76-42 with a 3.55 ERA when pitching after a loss.  Those wins are 26 more than the second place pitcher this century – that would be Chris Carpenter, who was 50-26 as a Cardinal after a loss.

Of the 150 Wainwright starts, St Louis has wins in 98 of them – a .653 winning percentage.  Carpenter (again, second on this list) made 131 starts after a Cardinal loss, with the team going 71-40 (.640) in those games.  For the century, St Louis is a .575 team (842-623) after enduring a loss the game before.

Regarding the season as a whole, 2019 hasn’t been Adam’s most consistent season, but it is trending upward as October looms.  Over his last 5 starts, Adam is 3-1 with a 3.49 ERA.  In the second half, Waino has pitched 4 games after a St Louis loss.  He is 2-1 in those games with a 2.55.

AndrewMiller

It is just almost never easy for Andrew Miller.  After being the only pitcher in the pen not used at all in the double, double-headers, Miller entered with one out in the eighth inning against San Fran, holding a 3-1 lead.  He faced two batters, walking the first and striking out the second.

In 16.2 innings since the All-Star Break, Andrew has walked 13 batters and served up 4 home runs.  In spite of ranking eleventh on the team in innings pitched in the second half, his walks are the third most on the staff, and his home runs allowed are fifth.  By comparison, Jack Flaherty has pitched 55.1 second half innings, allowing just 15 walks and 3 home runs.

Nonetheless, Andrew has given just 9 total hits in those 16.2 innings while striking out 17 with a 3.24 ERA.

CarlosMartinez

In spite of pitching for a third day in a row, Carlos Martinez continues to solidify into the closer’s role.  Yesterday afternoon was Carlos’ sixth consecutive scoreless outing, covering 6.1 innings.  He has allowed one hit in those innings.  His swing-and-miss percentage is 39% during this run in which he has struck out 10 and gotten 78% groundballs from those batters who have put the ball in play.

Martinez has been a big part of the winning streak.  He has pitched in 10 of the 24 games, saving 6 (in 6 opportunities) and winning two others.  Over his last 10 innings, Carlos has pitched to a 1.80 ERA.

HarrisonBader

Harrison Bader had moments in the Cincinnati series, but overall his bat seems to be slowing a bit.  Harrison is 4 for 17 (all singles) for a .235 batting average over his last 6 games.

With yesterday’s 0-for-3, Harrison has played in 8 games after a loss in the second half.  He is 0 for 17 in those games, and is now down to .189 (21 for 111) after a Cardinal loss this year.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s RBI triple brings him to 55 RBIs this season.  He is 6 behind his career high set in 2015.

St Louis has won the first game of its last five series, and 7 of the last 8.

In the win, the Cards snapped a six-game streak in which they trailed at some point of the game.

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).

Things Get Better Once You Chase the Lefty

July ended on something of an apprehensive note.  Dominated by Chicago right-hander, Kyle Hendricks, the July 31, 2-0 loss marked the third loss in the Cards’ final four games that month.  Their one-game lead in the division had disappeared, and the current home series against the Cubs was now even at one game each.

The good news was that for the rubber game St Louis would give the ball to Jack Flaherty.  The bad news was that he would be opposed by lefty Jon Lester.  Like most left-handers, Mr. Lester had enjoyed consistent success against this organization.  Even though this has now become a lineup dominated by right-handed “impact bats”, their recurring issues with left-handed pitching hadn’t seemed to get any better.

But a funny thing happened on the way to watching the Cubs take over first place.  The Cards drove Lester from the mound.  Jon lasted just 5, giving 5 runs on 9 hits – more than enough offense for Flaherty and the Cards (box score).

Considered an outlier at the time, batting around lefties has become almost a meme this month.  Yes, there was a start against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw that didn’t go so well, but the birds recovered to cuff around the Pirates’ Steven Brault and the Reds’ Alex Wood.

In addition, the Cards had big moments against lefty relievers Derek Holland (Cubs) and Wei-Chung Wang (A’s).

All of this made for interesting context ahead of last night’s game against Milwaukee lefty Gio Gonzalez.  As Dexter Fowler stepped in to face him, St Louis carried a .312/.353/.523 batting line against left-handed pitchers this month.

But Gonzalez didn’t get the memo.  On the seventh pitch of his start, Fowler struck out swinging at that slider that ends up low and out of the zone.

It wouldn’t all be that easy.  Gio faced a number of long grinding at bats – to the point where he left the game after 5 innings having tossed 92 pitches.  He walked 4 during his outing, but struck out 6 (all on that slider), gave only 3 hits and just 1 run.

Belying their earlier success, St Louis finished 4 for 23 (.174) against Gonzalez and left-handed reliever Drew Pomeranz.  Things were actually looking pretty bleak, as Milwaukee held a 2-1 lead when they turned the game over to their bullpen.

But what Milwaukee’s left-handers were able to so easily achieve turned out to be much more difficult for the right-handers.  The Cardinals bruised Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra and Matt Albers to the tune of 6 for 10 with 4 walks and a hit batsman.  They scored 4 runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings to secure a 9-4 victory (box score).

While the early innings still leave questions about St Louis’ comfort level against left-handed pitching, the win gives them victories in 9 of their last 11 games, and keeps them a half-game in front of Chicago.

Over the course of this streak, the offensive numbers have certainly perked up.  Over the last 11 games, St Louis is averaging 5.45 runs per game, and hitting .261.  The numbers are a bit deceptive, though, as there has been no consistency whatsoever in the Cardinal attack.

They have, in fact, spent the last two weeks trading good games with bad.  Beginning with the first game of the Pittsburgh series that began on August 9, the Cards hit the Bucs with 6 runs in a 6-2 win, followed that up with just 3 runs in game two (enough for a 3-1 win), and then finished up the sweep with an 11-9 slugfest.  But in the first game against Kansas City they were held to just 2 runs (again, enough for a 2-0 win), but then bounced back with 6 runs the next night (a 6-0 win).  The four games against Cincinnati held form.  One run in the first game (a 2-1 loss), followed by the 13-run eruption against Luis Castillo, followed by 1 run in a 6-1 loss, followed by 5 runs in the finale (a 5-4 win).

This series began with St Louis scoring just 3 runs on 5 hits in the opener (another shutout win), and now 9 runs last night.

You will forgive the pitching staff if they’ve gotten a little seasick.  It has been 21 games since the Cardinals scored at least 4 runs in consecutive games (July 22 through 26).

One hundred and twenty four games into the championship season, and this team is clinging to first place.  And this, in spite of the fact that the question marks still heavily outweigh the certainties.

MarcellOzuna

Marcell Ozuna paced the offense last night with three hits, his second 3-hit game in his last 5.  Ozuna is 8 for his last 21 (.381), and is 13 for 40 (.325) over the last 11 games.

JohnGant

A revelation early in the season, John Gant has regressed sharply.  In 16.1 innings over his last 18 games, Gant given 12 runs (11 earned) on 22 hits – a 6.06 ERA and a .338 batting average against.  He has allowed runs in 8 of the 18 games.

Throughout the season’s first half, Johnny dominated left-handed hitters.  They were only 7 for 50 against him (.140).  But lefties are clocking him at a .400 clip in the second half (6 for 15), with 4 of the hits going for extra-bases, including a home run – an .800 slugging percentage.  John surrendered an RBI single to Eric Thames that tied the score in the sixth inning.

AndrewMiller

Andrew Miller contributed a scoreless seventh inning last night.  Miller has had a very, very solid second half, with a 3.14 ERA over 14.1 innings.  This is in spite of the fact that – after last night’s walk – he has walked 11 over those innings.

The first two batters that Miller faced last night were right-handers.  He walked one (Lorenzo Cain) and got the other (Yasmani Grandal) to bounce into a double play.  In the season’s second half, right-handed batters are just 3 for 30 (.100) against Andrew.  That being said, 2 of the 3 hits have been home runs, and there have been 4 walks mixed in.

NoteBook

Miller pitched in his fifty-seventh game last night – tying his total from 2017 (he had already surpassed last year’s 37 games).  Miller is on pace to pitch in 70 games for the third time in his 14-year career.

Balmy days in St Louis in August are a rarity.  The 77 degrees that was the official game time temperature made this the coolest game in St Louis since July 15, when the birds pushed past Pittsburgh 8-0 in 74 degree weather.

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.