Tag Archives: Ponce de Leon

Still Comes Back to Pitching

The way that the Cardinal’s hot streak came to a thudding halt against Houston at home this weekend should serve as a reminder of some fundamental principles.  The first of these principles affirms that it is the depth of the lineup – not necessarily whatever impact bats might be in the middle of it – that determines your offensive performance.

Toward the end of the Cardinal hot streak (and most recently here), the mlb.com game accounts have connected the St Louis surge to Paul Goldschmidt’s recent heroics.

It is no surprise that sports’ journalists should – like the fans – gravitate towards the achievements of the game’s superstars.  Sunday’s loss brought to an end a six-game home run streak from Goldschmidt (although not his hitting streak – more on that below).  This is a significant achievement.  There are precious few mortals anywhere on this planet who are capable of doing things like this.

But the structure of baseball minimizes the impact of any one player – even the superstars.  Unlike football (where you can give the ball to your star running back as often as you like) or basketball (where you can funnel the ball to your top scorer every time down the court), in baseball, Goldschmidt has to wait until everyone else has had their at bat before he can hit again.  Thus, the more production you get from the rest of the lineup, the more runs you will score over the course of the game (or season).

This was somewhat dramatically born out in the Cardinal losses in this last series.  Paul homered in the Saturday game, and added a single on Sunday, but St Louis scored just two runs in each game because too few of the rest of the Cardinal hitters were able to contribute.

It feels a little obvious pointing this out, but there are times that I’m not sure that management understands that this is how offense works in baseball.

The other fundamental principle is that everything begins with pitching.  Paul may well have hit two home runs in each of the last two games, and the birds would probably have lost them both anyway as the starting pitchers in those two contests never really gave the team a chance.

In the Friday game (a 5-3 win), starter Jack Flaherty crafted a quality start against this very accomplished Houston lineup – he allowed just 2 runs on 3 hits over 6 innings (he struck out 9).

In the other two games – Saturday’s 8-2 loss and Sunday’s 6-2 defeat – the two starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon and Dakota Hudson) made early exits, leaving with significant deficits.

Combined, Ponce de Leon and Hudson totaled 6.1 innings at the cost of 10 runs on 11 hits (that included a double and 3 home runs), 6 walks and 1 hit batter.  They combined for a 14.21 ERA and a .407/.529/.778 batting line.

Most of the time, this kind of damage will get you into trouble.  On Saturday and Sunday, it was more trouble than the offense could overcome.

Flaherty

While the Astro series represented a step backward for the rotation overall, Flaherty’s performance continued his strong rebound.  After enduring some notable growing pains through much of the first half, Jack began turning things around with his last start before the All-Star break (a 1-0 loss).

Over his last four starts, now, Jack has 3 quality starts.  In his 24.1 innings, he has given just 4 runs on 14 hits while striking out 30.  He has a 1.48 ERA and a .165 batting average against, but still no wins as his offense has supported him with just 4 total runs over that span.

His ERA for the month of July is now down to 2.48 with a .198 batting average against.

The only runs off Jack came on a two-run home run off the bat of Michael Brantley.  The runner (Alex Bregman) was on first with one out – a potential double play opportunity.  This now makes 35 straight double play opportunities that Jack hasn’t gotten the double play on a ground ball.  A fly ball pitcher, Jack has actually gotten 5 ground balls in those situations, but 3 of those grounders found their way through the infield for singles, and the other two resulted in force-outs only.

Flaherty did actually get one double play in all of those opportunities.  Against the Pirates on July 16, Jack struck out Elias Diaz while Kevin Newman was running.  Matt Wieters gunned Newman down to complete the DP.

With their 50 swings at Jack’s offerings, Houston was only able to put the ball in play with 12 of them (24%).  Flaherty has been the most difficult of all Cardinal starters to put the ball in play against.  For the season, only 32.5% of the swings against him end up in play.

Flaherty had – overall – great success against Houston.  That success came at a price, though, as it took him 108 pitches to fight through his six innings (the ‘Stros fouled off 28 pitches against him).  He averaged 4.91 pitches per batter faced.

As is common for strikeout pitchers, Jack throws a lot of pitches per batter.  For the season, his 4.19 pitches per batter faced is the highest among all starters who have been in the rotation all year.

Ponce de Leon

Daniel pitched his way into the rotation with four very impressive spot starts.  He has now relinquished that spot as he hasn’t pitched well since being named the fifth starter.  In his last three starts he has totaled 9 innings pitched, giving 10 runs on 14 hits and 10 walks.  Opponents have a .368 batting average and a .500 on base percentage against him in those outings.

After a strong start, Daniel now has a 4.87 ERA for the month with 11 walks in 20.1 innings.

Hudson

At one point earlier this season, Dakota Hudson had thrown 8 consecutive quality starts – a feat unapproached by anyone in the rotation this year.

But Dakota has been undergoing some growing pains of his own lately.  His last 6 times out, Hudson has been saddled with a 5.46 ERA, a .301 batting average against, and a .593 slugging percentage against.  He has been touched for 9 home runs in his last 28 innings.

Normally an extreme groundball pitcher, only 43 of the last 89 batters to put the ball in play against him have hit the ball on the ground (48%).

John Brebbia

John Brebbia tossed a scoreless inning on Friday and then threw two more on Sunday.  While he has had some ups and downs this season, overall there have been a lot more ups.

In 10 games (14 innings) since his paternity leave, Brebbia has allowed 4 runs on 9 hits, walking 2 while striking out 19.  His July ERA sits at 2.57, with a .180/.226/.240 batting line against.

Of the two hits John allowed, one was an infield hit.  Through the end of June, John had allowed just one infield hit.  He has been scratched for 4 this month.

Over the two games, John faced 3 double play opportunities, and didn’t get the ground ball for any of them.  For the season, Brebbia has been in that double play situation 32 times and has gotten just 1 double play.  He only got ground balls on two other occasions – one resulting in an infield hit, and the other a dribbler back to the mound that advanced the baserunners.

Of the two batters that John struck out on Sunday, one (Carlos Correa) was caught looking at strike three.  Brebbia is getting more called third strikes than usual lately.  Of his first 48 strikeouts this season, only five looked at strike three.  Seven of his last 17 strikeouts have gone down looking.

No Cardinal pitcher who has faced more than 50 batters has had a higher percentage of his pitches swung at than John.  Over the weekend, Houston offered at 21 of his 39 deliveries (53.8%).  For the season, batters swing at his offerings 51.1% of the time.

John Gant

After a brilliant start to his season, John Gant has been regressing rapidly.  He pitched in 2 of the Houston games, and allowed a run in both.  He has been scored on in 5 of his last 12 games.  In a total of 10 innings, the previously almost untouchable Mr Gant has given 9 runs on 16 hits a 9 walks – his 8.10 ERA in those outings accompanied by a .381 batting average and a .490 on base percentage.

Sunday was one of the few times recently that John was brought into a game the Cards were losing, and the four-run deficit they faced was the farthest behind the Cards have been when John has entered a game this season.

In the eighth inning Sunday, Brantley came to the plate with George Springer at third, Jose Altuve at first and no one out. The score was 5-1 Houston.  Brantley drilled a double off the base of the wall in right-center driving in the runner from third.  This was the eleventh time this season that Gant had that runner at third and less than two out.  That runner has now scored 8 times.

Dexter Fowler

With his pinch home run in Sunday’s ninth inning, Dexter Fowler extended his recent hitting streak to six straight games.  Dex is hitting .304 (7 for 23) during the streak, with 4 of the hits going for extra bases (2 doubles and 2 home runs) – a .652 slugging percentage.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill was also one of the bright spots of the Houston series.  Extracting himself from a small slump, O’Neill was 4 for 10 in the 3 games, with 3 walks.  Tyler is still having a very strong July, hitting .312 this month (24 for 77).

Goldschmidt

As mentioned above, Paul’s home run streak ended at six games.  Goldschmidt did, though, get a single on Sunday to push his hitting streak to seven games.  He is 10 for 29 during the streak (.345) with 4 singles to go with the 6 home runs – a .966 slugging percentage.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong had gotten a hit in 8 consecutive games in which he had had a plate appearance until he went 0 for 3 on Saturday.  He started his next streak with a single and a run scored on Sunday.

In the last 10 games in which he has had a plate appearance, Kolten is hitting .371 (13 for 35).  He is up to .344 (22 for 64) for the month.

Paul DeJong

After his big series against Pittsburgh, Paul DeJong finished the Houston series just 1 for 9.  He is still hitting just .225 (18 for 80) in July.

Harrison Bader

Nothing will drop in for Harrison Bader.  Hitless in 5 at bats during the Houston series, Harrison is now 0 for his last 14 at bats.  He is hitting .146 for the month (6 for 41), and is down , now, to .195 on the year.

Yairo Munoz

Not much went Yairo Munoz’ way against Houston, either.  Hitless in 8 at bats in the series, Yairo is now working on an 0-for-10.

Over his last 6 games, Yairo is 4 for 24 (.167), and is now hitting just .233 (14 for 60) for the month.

Final Notes from the Pirate Series

Yairo Munoz got the start in left field on Wednesday, breaking Tyler O’Neill’s streak of 11 consecutive starts in left.   That had been the longest active streak by any Cardinal at a single position.  That mantle now reverts back to Paul DeJong, who – after the conclusion of the Houston series – has made 14 consecutive starts at shortstop.

While Miles Mikolas – the Thursday starter – has pitched notably better since the All-Star break, he is still well on pace to set new career highs (all set last year) in runs, earned runs, hits allowed and walks.  He gave 3 more runs (all earned) on 5 more hits and a walk in his six innings, and has now served up 58 runs (56 earned) on 127 hits and 20 walks for the season.  His career highs were the 70 runs (63 earned), 186 hits and 29 walks he gave last year.  At his current pace, Miles will give up 92 runs (89 earned), 202 hits and 32 walks this season.

With their 6 runs on Thursday, St Louis finished the series with 30 runs scored – the most runs they have scored in any series this year (of course, this was a four-game series).  The previous high was the 26 runs they scored against the Dodgers from April 8-11 (also a four-game series).

NoteBook – Houston Series

Paul Goldschmidt picked up his seventh GWRBI with his Friday home run.  He is 2 behind Marcell Ozuna for the team lead.

When St Louis out-homered Houston 2-1 on Friday, they brought themselves into home run parity for the season for the first time since the twelfth game of the season  (they were actually ahead of the opposition at that point, 19-18).  The Cards ended Friday with 134 home runs hit and 134 home runs allowed.  As recently as game number 90 (on July 13), they were 16 home runs shy of the opposition (109 hit and 125 allowed).

With his 3 at bats on Thursday, Dexter Fowler surpassed the 289 at bats he totaled in his slump-and-injury plagued 2018 season.  Dexter now has 292 at bats for the 2019 season.

Carlos Martinez has started at least 1 game every year of his seven-year career.  On Friday he pitched in his twenty-fifth game of the year – all out of the pen.  He is 8 games pitched away from the 33 he pitched last year, when he was mostly a starter.  Even after missing the first part of the season with injuries, Carlos is still on pace to pitch in 39 games, which would be his most since he pitched in 57 games when he was mostly a reliever in 2014.

But no starts, yet.

Carlos has already set career highs in games finished (17, after finishing 13 in 2014) and saves (he has 10 this season after recording just 7 previously in his entire career).

One thing about Kolten Wong’s season.  He won’t be able to complain that he did have ample opportunity.  Kolten, who has had annual issues staying healthy (and producing enough to stay in the big leagues) played his 103rd game of the season on Sunday.  He played only 127 all last year.  His 10 at bats in the series brought him to 328 for the season.  He totaled 353 all last year.

The consistent playing time has seemed to pay off some.  Wong already has 85 hits (with his 3 against Houston) and 128 total bases this year, after finishing last year with 88 hits and 137 total bases.

He already has more runs batted in this year (40 after his Friday RBI) than he had all of 2018 (38).

When the Friday game started, St Louis had gone 8 games being at least tied in the game after 6 innings, but they trailed in this one by a 2-1 score at that point of the game.

In Saturday’s loss they broke a streak of ten straight games where they held the lead at some point of the game.

George Springer’s home run in the first inning on Sunday meant that Houston scored first in all three games of the weekend set.  The Cardinals have now surrendered the first run in five of the last six games.

St Louis is now 11-5-1 in series after winning the first game.

Finding a Way to Win the Close Ones

In his remarks after the game, Paul Goldschmidt (whose grand slam had sent home the winning runs) more or less put his finger on the issue.  He said:

“I think we’re going to have to find a way to win these games.  There’s going to be the games you just lose, and there’s going to be the ones you come out there and win.  But we have to find a way to win the close ones.”

These words of wisdom (quoted in the mlb.com game account) came in the aftermath of another one-run game – this one a 6-5, ten-inning conquest of the Pittsburgh Pirates (box score).

The Cardinals have now played 17 games in the month of July, and nearly half of them (7 to be precise) have been decided by one run.  There is a romance to the one-run game.  As the Cardinal’s slugging first baseman pointed out, a season is determined by that percentage of games that could go either way.  The ones that are decided less by talent and more by character.

It’s part of my interest in one-run games.  Games where the difference is truly as thin as one at bat either way.

Almost always, one-run games are characterized by strong pitching efforts.  They are generally 4-3 or 3-2 games.  The Cardinal’s one-run games this month, though, have been decidedly offensive by comparison.

Of the 7 there were 2 that were clearly pitching duels – a 1-0 game and a 3-2 game.  But the other five are a 5-4 game, two 6-5 games, and the 12-11 game of last Friday.  In their 7 July one-run games, the birds have hit 12 home runs and averaged 5 runs a game.  But the Cards are only 4-3 in those games, because the pitching staff has scuffled to a 5.02 ERA in them.

For the season, St Louis has fought through 29 one-run games.  They have won 14 and lost 15.  The Brewers, by comparison, are 15-11 in one-run games, the Braves are 18-11, and Philadelphia is 13-10.

San Francisco is 23-10 in one-run games.

It’s a trait you almost always see in the tough teams.  But something not consistently found in the Cardinals.

Not yet, anyway.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman contributed 2 hits and a run scored to the victory.  Tommy has been in the starting lineup for 7 straight games, and is hitting .300 (9 for 30) in those games.

Edman has also been one of the team’s most consistent forces in one-run games since bursting onto the scene.  He has played in all 7 this month (starting 6) and is hitting .407 (11 for 27) in them.  He has played in 10 one-run games since his call up.  He is hitting .438 (14 for 32) with a home run and 4 runs batted in in those games.

Tyler O’Neill

After a torrid start after his recall, Tyler O’Neill – now that he has been made a fixture in the lineup – is starting to fade a bit.  After his 0-for-5 last night, Tyler is just 2 for 18 (.111) – all singles – over his last 4 games.  He has no walks and six strikeouts in those contests.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz was also one of the Cardinals held hitless last night – he was 0-for-4.  Munoz has been one of the team’s better hitters in one-run games, but not this month.  In the 7 July one-run games, Munoz is now hitting .217 (5 for 23) with no walks.

Daniel Ponce de Leon

Daniel Ponce de Leon started the affair and lasted just 3 innings.  Four walks in those innings hastened his exit.  Still, for the innings that he pitched, Daniel was only touched for one run.  When he starts, I’m surer management would like to see him get deeper into games, but for the month of July so far Ponce de Leon holds a 3.00 ERA over 18 innings.

Daniel has also been one of those players who have stepped up in the one-run games he has been a part of.  Ponce de Leon has only pitched in 5 of the 29 Cardinal one-run game (4 as a starter), but holds a 2.66 ERA and a .211 batting average against in those 20.1 innings.

Tyler Webb

Just recalled from Memphis, Tyler Webb was thrust right into the middle of another one-run game.  He threw two scoreless innings (the seventh and the eighth) to help send the game into extra-innings.

Tyler has pitched in only 4 games this month in and around his trip to Memphis, but two of those have been one-run affairs (he also pitched in the 5-4 loss in Seattle on July 2).  He pitched 1.1 hitless innings in that one as well – although he granted one intentional walk.

Webb has 3.1 hitless innings in the one-run games he’s pitched this month, and for the season has allowed just 1 run in 6.1 innings during parts of 8 one-run games.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia struck out two more batters in his .2 scoreless innings last night.  Since returning from his paternity leave, John has pitched 9 innings, giving 2 runs on 4 hits.  He has struck out 17 of the last 33 batters to face him.

Brebbia has now pitched 10 innings across 9 one-run games this season.  He holds a 1.80 ERA and a .194 batting average against in those games, while striking out 15 batters.

Carlos Martinez

This was a 6-3 Cardinal lead in the tenth inning when Carlos Martinez walked in to preserve the lead.  He did – after 6 batters and 3 hits that included a home run.  He was saved from his first blown save of the season (as a closer) when Jose Martinez cut down the tying run at the plate.

Carlos is now a troubled closer.  He has given up runs in 4 of his last 5 games.  Over his last 5 innings, Martinez has given 6 runs on 10 hits and 4 walks.  His ERA for his 8 July innings has risen to 6.75.

Carlos has all 4 of the saves the team has in one-run games this month – but they haven’t been pretty.  In the 4 innings of those saves, Martinez has allowed 4 runs on 9 hits.  For the season, Carlos has thrown 11 innings in 10 one-run games with a 4.09 ERA and a .311 batting average against to show for it.

Carlos continues to be a concern.

NoteBook

The grand slam proved to be Paul Goldschmidt’s sixth game-winning run batted in of the season.  This ties him with Paul DeJong for second on the team behind Marcell Ozuna’s 9.

Kolten Wong’s intentional walk was his thirty-third walk of the year.  He drew only 31 in 407 plate appearances last year.  In his seventh season, Kolten has never walked more than the 41 walks he drew in 411 plate appearances in 2017.

Baby Steps?

The St Louis Cardinals finished their weekend series against Arizona with 25 offensive innings.  They only managed to put their leadoff batter on base in 5 of those innings.  Getting that first batter on base has been a constant struggle since April.  For the month of July, now, Cardinal leadoff batters hold a .266 on base percentage.  For the season, they sit at just .302.

The results in those 20 other innings against Arizona were fairly predictable.  The Cards scored in only 3 of them, totaling 4 runs.   Certainly one of the factors in the slow offensive start is the fact that all too often the power hitters are up with no one on and two outs.  Nobody – it seems – wants to embrace the table-setter’s role.

The good news is that – at least during the Arizona series – the Cardinals did finally figure out what to do once they did get that runner on.  They scored in 4 of the 5 innings that their first batter reached, totaling 7 runs in those innings.

This had also been a problem.  In the six games preceding the All-Star break, the Cards put their leadoff runner on 16 times, bringing him home just 6 times (38%).  For the season, only 48% of the Cardinal leadoff batters who reach base end up scoring.  When the offense is functioning well, that number will typically be closer to 55%.

It was only three games – and only one of the many offensive issues that this team will try to correct in the second half (and the offense overall hit just .215 and scored 3.67 runs per game in the Arizona series).  In essence, the offensive turnaround so far is more hoped for than evident.

But doing something when the leadoff batter gets on is at least a healthy place to start.  A baby step, if you will.

Matt Wieters

Thrust into the lineup due to the thumb injury to Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters is starting to find a comfort level at the plate.  He caught the first two games of the series, going 3 for 6 with a home run.  Matt has only had 24 plate appearances through the early games of July.  But he has answered those plate appearances with 4 singles, 2 home runs and 4 walks – a .300/.417/.600 batting line.

Kolten Wong

Heating up, finally, is Kolten Wong.  One of the mysteries in the Cardinal lineup, Kolten finished the series with 4 hits, and now has a little five-game hitting streak underway.  He is hitting .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.

Kolten is up to .375 (9 for 24) in early July.

Tyler O’Neill

Flashing a bit of the ability that has made him so successful at AAA, Tyler O’Neill put together a fine series against the Diamondbacks.  Moreover, as he is getting consistent at bats, Tyler is starting to show some encouraging consistency.

He was 3 for 8 against Arizona – with all the hits going for extra bases, and has now hit safely in all of his last 5 starts.  He is 7 for 20 (.350) with a .600 slugging percentage in those games.  For the month of July, Tyler is a .321 hitter (9 for 28) with a .536 slugging percentage and 5 runs batted in in just 7 starts.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was a big bat in the Sunday game with an important two-run home run.  He was held to an 0-for-4 on Friday, breaking a seven-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Paul had hit .346 (9 for 26) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the 7 games, with a .654 slugging percentage.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman ended the first half hot, hitting in his last 5 games.  He finished with 6 hits in 18 at bats during the streak, including a triple and a home run.  He drove in 6 runs over the 5 games with a .333 batting average and a .611 slugging percentage.

He began the second half going 0-for-5 against Arizona.

In the early games of his career, Tommy hasn’t yet shown a great knack for leading off an inning.  He was 0-for-3 as a leadoff batter against Arizona, he is 1-for-9 leading off innings this month.  So far, Tommy has lead off in 22 innings with 5 hits and 1 hit-by-pitch (a .273 on base percentage).

Edman has only walked once in his first 60 plate appearances.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez’ bat was another important weapon that was limited during the Arizona series.  Jose went hitless in 6 at bats during the series, and is now 0 for his last 11.

Rotation Rises

The primary reason that St Louis managed victories in two of the three over the weekend was the emergence of the starting rotation.  Building off the Jack Flaherty’s sterling seven-inning performance against San Francisco just before the break, all three Cardinal starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright) followed with quality starts of their own.  The three combined to pitch 19.2 of the 27 innings of the series, allowing a total of 3 runs.  They finished the series with a combined 1.37 ERA and a .149/.240/.239 batting line against.

Daniel Ponce de Leon

Daniel Ponce de Leon turned his latest spot start into the one that has vaulted him into the rotation.  He muffled Arizona for 6.2 innings, limiting them to 1 run on 3 hits with no walks (although he did hit one batter) and 7 strikeouts on Friday.  He lowered his overall ERA to 1.99 for the season, and to 0.79 (with a .114 batting average against) for the month.

He’s been nothing but impressive so far.  He’s forced his way into a starting job.  Now we’ll see if he can stay there.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson – Saturday’s starter – tossed his ninth quality start in his last 11 games.  Hudson is 6-1 with a 2.84 over his last 11 games.

Adam Wainwright

Outdueling Zach Greinke in the series finale, Adam Wainwright threw seven scoreless innings, and has quality starts in two of his last three outings, recording a 1.93 ERA in those outings.

Carlos Martinez

Inheriting the closer’s rule in the wake of the season-ending injury to Jordan Hicks, Carlos Martinez has been as good as could be hoped.  He saved both wins against Arizona, and has now thrown 6 straight scoreless outings (covering 7.1 innings).  Not only has he allowed no runs of his own, he has also stranded all 5 runners he inherited during those games.  He has 10 strikeouts over those innings, and those that are hitting the ball in play against him are hitting it almost exclusively on the ground (10 of 13).

He hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit since June 9.

NoteBook

Yairo Munoz started at shortstop on Sunday afternoon, breaking Paul DeJong’s streak of 26 consecutive starts at short.  That had been the longest current streak of any Cardinal at the same position.  That mantle now falls to Paul Goldschmidt, who on Sunday made his eighteenth consecutive start at first.

The Saturday game registered an official temperature of 90 degrees – significant evidence that summer is in full force in St Louis.  It was just the third 90+ degree game this season, and the first since May 25 when they beat Atlanta here 6-3.  The hottest game of the year so far was played in Mexico on April 13 when we lost to Cincinnati, 5-2.

That home series against Atlanta had been the hottest by average temperature this season at 86.3 degrees.  The just finished Arizona series averaged 88.7 degrees.  And, no, it was not a dry heat.

When the Cards took their 5-0 lead into the seventh inning on Sunday, it marked the first time they held a five-run lead going into the seventh inning since May 18 when they took a 7-2 lead into the seventh in Texas – on their way to an 8-2 victory (box score).  One of the consequences of the recent offensive struggles is that any late inning lead this team holds is generally precarious.  Laughers have been few and far between lately.