After an encouraging 8-2 victory on Saturday (box score), the St Louis Cardinals faced the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon, needing any kind of win to halt a four-series losing streak. They would give the ball to young Jack Flaherty (who would turn in a strong effort).
But, standing in the way was veteran Texas left-hander Drew Smyly.
It’s funny how some tendencies follow a club over the course of decades – regardless of the makeup of the club. In St Louis, the boogeyman has been almost any flavor of left-handed pitcher, but especially the soft-tosser. In this context, Smyly isn’t the softest of soft tossers, but with a fastball that topped out at 92.6 (according to Brooks Baseball), Drew doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters with sure speed. But it’s enough fastball to tantalize and to set up his curve and changeup.
On a superficial level, you tell yourself that it doesn’t just happen to the Cardinals – that these guys are getting other teams out as well. But someone is hitting these pitchers. Smyly entered the game with a 6.85 ERA. And, in the early going, it looked like the Cards had him solved. In quick succession, Drew allowed a double, a walk, and a two-run double. Quickly, it was 2-0 St Louis.
But that would be it. Smyly would face 16 more batters before ending his four-inning stint. St Louis would score no more runs and manage just one more hit against him. Drew wouldn’t figure into the decision, of course (a 5-4 Texas win in 10 innings – St Louis’ thirteenth loss in its last 17 games). Along the way, he would walk 3, but he would also strike out 4 of those last 16 batters faced.
It doesn’t stand as a dominant game, per se, but by the end it fell along familiar parameters. St Louis finished 3 for 15 (.200) against Drew, and just 5 for 29 (.172) during the three-game series against Texas’ left-handers. They are down to .235 against them for the season.
While losing two of three in Arlington, St Louis did manage to score 15 runs in the series, but hit only .236 (26 for 110) and couldn’t cash in on other opportunities. The Cards are hitting just .241 this month.
St Louis’ complex outfield picture got more complex over the weekend. With Jose Martinez moving into the DH slot in the American League park, Harrison Bader was able to start all three games in center. Bader was nothing but spectacular. He, of course, made several sparkling plays in center. He also went 7 for 12 (.583), including a home run and 2 doubles (a 1.000 slugging percentage) at the plate.
Harrison started the season as the regular centerfielder. But he started off slowly at the plate, and when he went down briefly with a hamstring pull, Martinez found his way into the lineup and hit his way into a permanent spot.
While his opportunities have been infrequent, Bader has hit .326 (15 for 46) since his return, and is now hitting .306 (11 for 36) for the month.
Bader had multiple hits in all three games in Texas, and it seems hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup when the season resumes Tuesday night.
Harrison was only 1-for-4 against left-handed pitching in the series, but was 6-for-8 against the righties. While not qualifying, yet, as a regular, Bader is hitting .357 this month (10 for 28) against righties – the highest on the team for anyone with more than 20 plate appearances against them.
As you might suppose, St Louis isn’t overburdened with batters who are flourishing against left-handed pitching. One who has been succeeding all year is Paul DeJong. The righty was 2-for-3 against Texas’ left-handers in the series – his hits being a double and a home run. For the season, Paul has the team’s second highest average against lefties. In 32 plate appearances against southpaws (and there haven’t been an awful lot of lefties to face the Cards so far this season), Paul now has 2 singles, 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 6 walks. He has driven in 7 runs against lefties so far, with a .346/.469/.769 batting line against them.
Everyday catcher Yadier Molina – who has been so consistent all season – had a tough series in Arlington. He was just 2 for 13, going hitless in two of the games. Over his last 5 games, Yadi is hitting just .150 (3 for 20) with no runs scored and one run batted in.
Dexter Fowler had his one big moment. Capping a nine-pitch at bat in Sunday’s ninth inning, trailing by one, Dexter lined a game-tying home run into the upper deck in right. The home run (clutch as it was) broke an 0-for-15 streak. Fowler – over .300 for much of the season – is hitting just .195 this month (8 for 41). Bader had almost as many hits in the Texas series as Dexter has had all month.
Fowler – a switch hitter – is getting fewer and fewer opportunities against lefties. He is hitting .208 against them this season (5 for 24) with no extra-base hits. Lately, though, he has been struggling against right-handers as well. He is 6 for 32 (.188) against them this month.
In the Saturday victory, Kolten Wong was held hitless in 5 at bats – breaking his encouraging little five-game hitting streak. Wong – who has struggled lately – was 6-for-18 (.333) during that streak.
Paul Goldschmidt walked 4 times in the 3 games in Texas. He subsequently scored 3 runs and drove in a run with a ground ball. But he had no hits in the series (0-for-10). Paul hasn’t had the best of starts. He is 16 for 65 (.246) this month with 2 extra-base hits (1 home run). He has driven in 5 runs in 18 games in May. He is 6 for 28 (.214) this season against left-handed pitching. Paul has 1 home run against lefties this year.
It’s safe to say that there is an explosion coming from Mr Goldschmidt.
Cheers for the Rotation
As we approach the end of May, almost any good news from the pitching staff in general and the rotation in particular is cause for celebration. The overall numbers from the Texas series are not particularly warm or fuzzy. The staff finished the series with a 4.73 ERA, and the starters finished at 7.43 and a .327/.383/.582 batting line.
The actuality wasn’t as bad as the numbers. Game One starter Miles Mikolas was driven from the mound after 1.1 innings, having allowed 7 runs on 9 hits (including 2 home runs).
From the moment Mikolas left the mound through the end of the series, the Cardinal pitching staff contained the Texas offense to just 7 more runs in 25.1 innings. Their 2.49 ERA was backed by a .195 batting average against. Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty followed Mikolas with quality starts, and the bullpen – pitching as many innings as the starters in this series – were flawless (until the end of the Sunday game).
As I said, any hint of light at the end of the tunnel is welcome.
Miles Mikolas had tossed three consecutive quality starts – throwing a total of 20 innings – before his meltdown in the first game. He had pitched three straight games without allowing a home run.
Dakota has also been steadily improving. He served up 8 April home runs in just 24 innings – contributing to a 5.63 ERA. In 23 innings over 4 starts (3 of them quality starts) in May, Hudson has allowed just 1 home run and holds a 3.13 ERA (that ERA figure is a little deceptive in that it doesn’t include the 6 unearned runs he allowed a couple of starts ago).
Among the most encouraging notes from the Saturday win was Dakota Hudson dominating lefties. Until that night, the 101 lefties to face Hudson had owned him to the tune of a .388/.475/729 batting line with 8 home runs. Saturday night they (lefties) finished with just 4 singles in 21 at bats against Hudson (.190).
In the Saturday game, Paul DeJong – in addition to getting two hits – drew a walk. It is already his twenty-fifth walk of the season. All last year he drew 36 – his current career high.
Then in the Sunday game, Paul drilled his seventeenth double of the season. All of last year, he only hit 25.
With their fifth straight series loss, St Louis (holding a 10-14 road record) is now 2-5-1 in road series. They are also 2-5-1 in series when they lose the first game.
This was also their eighth series so far this year against a team that had won its previous series. They are also, now, 2-5-1 in those series – going 11-13 in those games.
(This post was originally composed Monday, May 20).