Tag Archives: Wacha

Cards Still Can’t Buy That Two-Out Hit

When Nolan Arenado scooped up Paul Goldschmidt’s short-hop smash to his right, his momentum carried him momentarily to the foul side of the third-base bag.  Nolan righted himself and tossed the ball to first, where Goldschmidt gained a hard-earned infield hit by sliding under Daniel Murphy’s attempted tag.

And just like that, St Louis had the tying run on first base.  It was the eighth-inning, with Colorado holding a 2-1 lead.  It was St Louis’ first two-out hit of the game.

It would also be their last.

Such a threat as the hit presented was extinguished 5 pitches later when Jairo Diaz struck out Marcell Ozuna.  One inning later, Tommy Edman’s double-play grounder ended the game – a 2-1 Rockies win (box score).

In an offensively ragged first half, the St Louis Cardinals ranked near the bottom of the majors in most offensive categories.  As the calendar has flipped to the second half, the birds have notably improved in most of those categories.  But not when it comes to hitting with two outs.  According to baseball reference, the Cards have the fourth fewest two-out runs batted in (219), the fifth fewest two-out hits (366) and two-out home runs (45), the fifth lowest two-out slugging percentage (.377), the sixth lowest two out OPS (.699), and the seventh lowest two-out batting average (.235) in all of the majors.

These situations are not improving.  Since the break, the Cards with two-outs have just 16 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and a .234/.320/.374 batting line (a .694 OPS).  The league average two-out batting line, by the way, is .244/.324/.421 for an OPS of .746.  In spite of the fact that they are 6-4 so far in September, there is still no two-out offense to speak of – a .208/.300/.321 batting line.

Most days the pitching and the runs put up before the second out is recorded are enough to get the victory.  Every so often, though, this flaw comes back to haunt.  Last night was one of those nights – particularly in the fifth when Dexter Fowler grounded out with the bases loaded, and in the seventh when Jose Martinez struck out with runners on first and third.

For the season, St Louis is hitting .216 with runners in scoring position and two outs (fourth-worst in all of baseball and second only to Miami in the National League).  Their 162 runs batted in in that circumstance is also fourth-worst in baseball and second worst (again to Miami) in the NL.

It’s not hard to see something like this costing this team in the playoffs – should they get there.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong contributed singles in successive at bats against San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner back on September 4.  Since the second of those singles, Wong – who has been the team’s offensive catalyst for most of the second half – has started to cool for the first time in a long time.  He endured his second consecutive hitless game last night, and is just 4 for his last 21.

Paul DeJong

Also in a recent slump is Kolten’s double-play partner, Paul DeJong.  Paul is also hitless over the last two games, and has 1 hit in his last 14 at bats.

Paul has hit 2 of the team’s 8 home runs this month, but among only 7 hits in 34 at bats (.206).  In addition, he has just 2 walks this month – holding him to a .243 on base percentage.

Michael Wacha

It is hard to imagine manager Mike Shildt doing this with either Jack Flaherty or Dakota Hudson, but for the second start in a row, Mike pinch-hit for starting pitcher Michael Wacha very early in the game.  Last Wednesday against San Francisco, Wacha threw 2 scoreless innings and was removed for a hitter.  Last night, he was removed after 4.  These actions suggest that Wacha doesn’t have Shildt’s total trust – and there is little reason that he should.

Since his return to the rotation seven starts ago, Wacha has been decent – but not spectacular.  He has pitched a total of 30.1 innings in those games, with an 0-3 record and a 4.45 ERA.

Getting that third out has been a sticking point for Wacha all year, but especially in the second half.  Colorado hitters were 2 for 6 with a walk with two outs against Michael last night.  Since the break, two-out batters are roughing Wacha up to the tune of .327/.403/.527.

Ryan Helsley

Ryan Helsley remains one of the intriguing arms – not just for the rest of this year, but for 2020 and beyond.  He pitched two innings of relief last night, and has worked more than one inning in 9 consecutive appearances.  Over his last 4 games, Ryan has given 1 run (unearned) on 8 hits over 9 innings, walking 2 and striking out 9.  He has a 1.04 ERA over 17.1 innings since his final recall from AAA.  In 19.1 second-half innings, Ryan has an 0.93 ERA with a .208 batting average against.  None of the last 80 batters that he has faced have managed a home run against the talented right-hander, and are slugging just .278 against him.

Ryan got a double play to end the fifth inning, so the only batter he faced with two outs last night was Sam Hilliard in the sixth.  Of all Cardinal pitchers who have faced at least 30 batters with two out in an inning, only the injured Jordan Hicks (.091) holds a lower batting average against than Helsley’s .139.  After Hilliard grounded out, those batters are 5 for 36 against Ryan.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos closed out the game with two scoreless, hitless innings.  Giovanny has scuffled a bit recently, but he still holds a 1.46 ERA over 24.2 second half innings.

NoteBook

St Louis never managed a lead in last night’s game.  At some point in each of the previous eleven games they had held at least a one-run lead.

This Rookie Can Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KoltenWong

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

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

DexterFowler

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

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

MarcellOzuna

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

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

PaulGoldschmidt

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

MichaelWacha

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

AdamWainwright

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

MilesMikolas

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

JackFlaherty

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reds Have Just Enough to Subdue Cards

The slider was high (at the very top of the strike zone), and Eugenio Suarez – Cincinnati’s slugging third-baseman – didn’t quite square up on it.  The pitch wasn’t stung – but it was enough.  As his looping liner dropped safely into center field, Nick Senzel raced around third to score the second run of the inning.  And of the game.  And, as it turned out, the last Cincy run of the night.

Again, it would be enough as the Reds held on for a 2-1 victory (box score).

With 7 hits, 2 walks and a hit batter, the Reds had sufficient opportunities.  Of the 34 Reds that came to the plate in their 8 innings, 15 hit with at least 1 runner on base, and 6 had opportunities with multiple runners on base.  But Suarez’ flare was the only hit they managed.  Cincy hit .333 with the bases empty, and .083 with anyone on.

Most of the time, walking off the field having allowed just two runs should be good enough for a victory.  But these days, the only certainty for the Cardinal pitching staff is to throw shutouts.

For the eighth time in 12 August games, the Cardinals were unable to score as many as four runs.  They are hitting .231 this month as a team.  Stretching back to the end of July, St Louis has been held to fewer than four runs 12 times in their last 16 games.  It’s a stretch that has them scoring just 3.13 runs per game with a team OPS of .646.

One game after being nearly no hit in Kansas City, the birds added four more hitless innings in this one, ending up with just two hits for the evening.  Offensive innings have been awfully quiet lately.

To their credit, the pitching staff has held their own under this adversity.  In 12 August games, they are holding forth with a 3.24 team ERA and a .231 batting average against.  It’s been enough to keep the team afloat (6-6) this month.

And they have done it largely the way that last night’s starter Michael Wacha did.  By toughening up once runners reach base.

Since the All-Star break, Cardinal opponents are hitting .259/.332/.382 with the bases empty, but just .227/.317/.371 once they put a runner on.  Over the month of August, these numbers have tightened up even more.  While batters are slashing .248/.335/.360 with no one on base, Cardinal pitchers are allowing just .209/.283/.331 once a runner does reach.

Wacha has had some difficulties recently.  Even though they couldn’t prevent his sixth loss in his last nine decisions, his five strong innings were nice to see.  But as we slog through the mid part of August, this club is still waiting for its offense to show up.

Matt Carpenter

Starting at third base last night, Matt Carpenter played his tenth game since coming off the injured list.  He was hit on his shoe-top with a pitch and struck out twice in his three at bats.

Of all the bats in the lineup that the Cards are holding their breath for, Carpenter’s is one of the most critical.  Mike Shildt is convinced that Matt is still the Matt Carpenter of old, and one of the most dynamic bats in baseball, so Carpenter is going to play.  Let’s hope Mike is right.

Since his return, Matt is hitting .233 (7 for 30) and is slugging .300.  He has 2 doubles in those games.  Matt is hitting .222 (10 for 45) since the break, with only those 2 doubles – a .267 slugging percentage.

Stretching back to before his injury, it has been 23 games since Carpenter’s last home run.

NoteBook

The second run surrendered by Michael Wacha last night was the 400th off of him during his career, and the sixty-first this season.  Michael’s career most are the 86 runs he allowed in 2016, one of two seasons in his career in which he has allowed 80 runs or more.

His 2 walks bring him to 44 for the season.  He has never before walked more than 58 in a season.  That happened over 181.1 innings back in 2015.

Kolten Wong played in game number 117 last night.  He played in only 127 all last year.  His 3 at bats in the game bring him to 368 this year – already more than in any season since 2015 – the only year so far in his career in which Kolten received 500 at bats.

Moreover, his double was his 100th hit of the season.  Since he racked up 146 hits in 2015, Kolten has crossed the 100-hit mark only once in the last three years – he finished 2017 with 101.

The 2 total bases from last night bring Kolten to 146 for the season.  Already with more than in all of 2018 (137), Wong now ties his total from 2017.  His next total base will give him more than in any season since the 215 he fashioned in 2015.

His run batted in – his forty-third of the season – is also his most since 2015 when he drove in a career high 61.

With the walk he drew, Wong is now up to 39 this season.  His career high is only the 41 he drew in 2017.  Yesterday’s strikeout brings him to 62 this season – again, already more than in any season since 2015 when he fanned 95 times.

Kolten’s stolen base career high is 20 – achieved in 2014.  Last night he swiped his sixteenth of this season.

The Cardinals had held a lead at some point in seven consecutive games before last night – every game since their August 5, 8-0 loss in Los Angeles (which was also the last time that Wacha started).

Winning Teams Still a Stumbling Block

Last night in San Diego, the San Francisco Giants did – and did rather handily – something that has been a challenge for the Cardinals all season.  They beat the Padres – beating them pretty badly, by the way, 13-2.  By contrast, St Louis scored just 19 runs against them in six games – four of which they lost.

The loss dropped the Padres back down to – but not below – the .500 mark at 42-42.  As such, the Cardinals’ performance against San Diego last weekend (losing two of three) holds with the pattern established throughout the season: a noted inability to beat the better teams.

Going back to the previous road trip, the Cards got themselves swept by the Cubs (currently in second place in the division).  They responded by winning 9 of their next 14 games – a streak that gave the team and its followers a shot of confidence.  But all 14 of those games were against losing teams (Miami, the Mets, Miami again, and the Angels).  When the schedule brought in two teams with at least as many wins as losses (the Athletics and Padres), the Cards resumed their losing ways – losing four of the five.

The arc of the season so far has followed precisely the trajectory of their success against the better teams.  The March/April version of this team raced out to a 19-10 record.  At the heart of that record was a 12-7 mark against these better teams.  May saw them spin out to a 9-18 record.  Underpinning that mark was a 7-14 record against winning teams (and, by the way, a 2-4 record against losing teams).

They closed June 13-13 overall, but only 3-7 against teams that currently are at least at .500.

Of all my statistical subsets that reveal a team’s character, wins against winning teams is my favorite.  I’m not sure that any other measure will paint you as clear a picture of who your team is.  That the Cards enter July having been matched against winning teams in 50 of their first 82 games speaks to how frequently this team has been tested.  The fact that this team that expected to contend is only 22-28 in those contests is evidence that – at least to this point of the season – this team doesn’t match up to that competition.

In the ten June games, the offense struggled to 2.6 runs per game on the strength of a .215 batting average.  For the season, there has been very little offensive success against these teams – a .239 batting average, leading to 4.18 runs per game.

The pitching hasn’t been any more capable.  Their June ERA against winning teams was an unspectacular 4.34, which included serving up 18 home runs in the ten games.  The season ERA against these teams is an identical 4.34 (4.48 by the starters and 4.13 from the pen).

While they haven’t always been effective against losing teams either, the schedule will at least award them that opportunity until the end of the month.  Next up, they have Seattle (37-51), San Francisco (37-47), Arizona (43-43), Pittsburgh (40-43), Cincinnati (38-44), and Pittsburgh again, until the Houston Astros (53-32) finally make a visit to Busch on July 26. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are division foes.  The Cardinals’ combined record against them is 7-6.  Any expectation that this team will roll through those games is little more than wishful thinking.

Given the schedule, it is entirely possible (although not a certainty) that their fortunes could improve somewhat over the next few weeks.  Until this team shows me, though, that they can stand toe-to-toe with some of the good teams, we’ll kind of have to take any success they experience with a grain of salt.

Marcell Ozuna

The loss of Marcell Ozuna, of course, hurts on many levels.  Not the least of which was his ability to get hits against the better teams – especially in the month of June.  In his last 8 games against teams with at least as many wins as losses, Marcell had gone 10 for 27 (.370).  Of his 20 home runs this season, 13 came at the expense of these better teams.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz’ 4-for-7 series against San Diego wasn’t really an anomaly.  Munoz has been one of our better (if rarely used) bats against winning teams.  Munoz is 13 for 37 (.351) in his opportunities against better teams.

Paul Goldschmidt

With his combined 2 for 20 against Oakland and San Diego as the lowlight, Paul Goldschmidt finished June 7 for 37 (.189) against teams that are .500 or better.  For the season, Goldschmidt has faded to .249 (46 for 185) against these guys.

Paul DeJong

June was also trying all the way around for Paul DeJong.  In the ten games last month against winning teams, Paul hit a struggling .184 (7 for 38).  He walked just once while striking out 10 times in those games.

Jose Martinez

June saw Jose Martinez work his way back into the starting lineup.  Like most of the rest of the team, though, he was of little help against the better teams.  Jose hit .179 against them last month (5 for 28).  His 5 hits were 4 singles and 1 double – a .214 slugging percentage.  He drove in no runs against the better teams he played in June.

Harrison Bader

The June struggles of Harrison Bader also reached to his ability to get hits against winning teams.  Bader played in 8 of the 10 games (starting 7), hitting .148 (4 for 27).  He had no walks in those games, against 7 strikeouts.  Of his 4 hits, though, Harrison did come through with 3 extra-base hits – including 2 home runs.  He was the only one on the team to hit multiple home runs against winning teams in June.

Bader is just a .214 hitter (25 for 117) against winning teams for the year.

Adam Wainwright

Some of Adam Wainwright’s best moments of the month came in his three starts against the tough guys.  He was impressive in a 2-0 loss against Oakland, and made two earlier June starts against Chicago – one here (a 2-1 win) and one there (a 5-1 loss).

Overall, Adam finished with two quality starts, and a 2.37 ERA in those games.

Tyler Webb

One of the surprising names that has bubbled to the top of the list against winning teams is Tyler Webb.  Tyler is not noticed as often as some others, but he has been as effective as anyone on the staff against the best competition the Cards have played.

Webb has pitched in 20 of the 50 games, working 19 innings.  He has given just 4 runs on only 7 hits – which include just 1 home run.  It adds to a 1.89 ERA, a .115 batting average against, and a .197 slugging average against.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia has had some rough moments lately, but few of them have come against the good teams the Cards have faced.  In his 24.2 innings against the higher competition, John has fashioned a 2.19 ERA, with a .187 batting average.  He has allowed only 5 extra-base hits in these games (just 2 of them home runs), while striking out 30.  He averages 10.95 strikeouts every nine innings, while allowing a slugging percentage of just .286.

John Gant

John Gant – a revelation overall in the bullpen this year – has also acquitted himself well against this level of competition.  Over his 20 games and 23.2 innings, Gant holds a 2.28 ERA and a .173 batting average against.

Giovanny Gallegos

With little fanfare, Giovanny Gallegos finds himself throwing the most innings of anyone in the bullpen against the stiffer opponents.  With 25 innings against them, Giovanny has pitched to 95 of these hitters.  He has struck out 37 of them.  His 2.88 ERA and .191 batting average against in these games is highlighted by 13.32 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jack Flaherty

More than any other Cardinal starter, Jack Flaherty has been taken advantage of by the best teams.  Like Wainwright, Jack pitched twice against the Cubs and once against Oakland in June.  He didn’t get out of the fifth in two of the three, finishing with no quality starts, giving 13 runs in 13.1 innings on 18 hits including 6 home runs.  It all added up to an 8.78 ERA, a .310 batting average allowed and a .707 slugging percentage against.

For the season, Jack has made more starts (13) against .500+ teams than anyone else on the staff.  Only 4 of them have been quality starts.  He is 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA in those games.  In his 66 innings against these guys, Jack has struck out 74 (10.09 per nine) and served up 15 home runs (2.05 per nine innings).

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha pitched a very solid game against Oakland last week, but in general his games against the better opponents haven’t gone well.  In 8 starts and 1 relief appearance, Michael has totaled 44.1 innings against teams who are at or over .500.  In those innings, Wacha has unintentionally walked 27 batters (5.48 per nine innings) and served up 12 home runs (2.44 per nine innings).  These are usually bad combinations.  Not surprisingly, Wacha’s ERA against these guys sits at 5.48.

Jordan Hicks

Also learning some tough lessons at the hands of the league’s better teams is first year closer and flame-thrower Jordan Hicks.  With relatively few save opportunities, Hicks only appeared in 13.2 innings against these guys.  Not a lot of hits given up, of course – just 11 in those innings.  But these teams combined those hits with 9 walks they were able to draw to make Jordan’s innings stressful.  Hicks has allowed 9 runs in those innings – leading to a 5.93 ERA.

The Cardinals’ injured closer will get no more opportunities this year, but there are certainly plenty of experiences that are worthy of review.

Most of our issues against the quality teams fall in one of two buckets.  We have the veterans who are surprisingly under-performing.  And we have the young players – and this team’s chances are strongly linked to quite a few key performers who have relatively little experience – working through their learning curve.

Both of these are issues that can improve.  Actually, they are issues that should improve as the season wears on.  The question is: will they?

Cards Miss Too Many RISP Opportunities in San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YairoMunoz

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

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

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

YadierMolina

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

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

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

PaulDeJong

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

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

HarrisonBader

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

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

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

PaulGoldschmidt

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

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

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

TommyEdman

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

MichaelWacha

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

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

MilesMikolas

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

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

GiovannyGallegos

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

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

NoteBook

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

No One Comfortable Facing Castillo

It all started much too comfortably for the Cards.  The first five pitches out of Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo’s hands were all fastballs (averaging 97.3 mph).  Matt Carpenter launched the second one over the centerfield wall.  Paul DeJong collected an infield single on the fourth.  The fifth was ball one to Paul Goldschmidt.

It was a less than dazzling start from a highly regarded young right-hander who would end up dominating the Cardinals and earning his sixth victory that night.

In fact, the Cardinals would never score again, and Cincinnati would break St Louis’ four game winning streak, 4-1 (box score).

With his sixth pitch, he threw his first slider of the night.  On his sixth pitch to Goldschmidt, Paul grounded out on a change.

Through the first batter in the third – Goldschmidt, again, who walked – it was Castillo who seemed uncomfortable.  His command of the fastball was inconsistent.  The slider and change also eluded him from time to time.

The first 12 Cardinal batters had 2 hits (including the home run) and 4 walks.  But only the one run.  After that, it was all Castillo.  He set down the last 12 batters to face him – six on strikeouts.

The difference was the growing confidence in and command of that slider (and especially that wipeout change) that allowed him to throw any of his pitches – and throw them for strikes – at any time.  Five of the last six strikeouts came on the change-up (all swinging).   After the first two batters hit the second pitch, only two of the last 22 he faced put either the first or second pitch into play.  DeJong grounded out on an 0-1 slider in the second, and Marcell Ozuna flew out on a first pitch slider in the sixth.

The Cardinals would get plenty of fastballs from Luis (mostly on the corners, and some of them as hot as 98 mph), but they could never tell when, and could never sit on it, even when they were ahead in the count.

Of the 24 batters that faced Castillo in his six innings, 13 got first pitch fastballs, and 5 others got the fastball on the second pitch.  Luis threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of those Cardinal hitters.  Nine of those first pitch strikes were fastballs – and 8 of those were taken for called strikes.

In fact, of the 13 first-pitch fastballs thrown by Castillo, only one was swung at.  That’s quite a trick against a team that’s looking to hit the fastball early in the count.  And evidence that not too many Cards enjoyed a comfortable evening at the plate.

Offensive Difficulties Extended

It was an impressive display from Cincinnati’s best pitcher, but it nonetheless continues St Louis’ on-going offensive struggles.  Since they rang up 14 runs on Atlanta on May 14, St Louis is hitting .215 and scoring 3.76 runs per game over its last 17 games.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters is hitting his first little dry spell after inheriting the catching job from the injured Yadier Molina.  In his first 3 games as the starter, Matt went 6 for 11.  But he was hitless in 4 at bats last night, and is now 1 for his last 12 (with 5 strikeouts).

Dexter Fowler

Red hot when he was promoted to the leadoff spot ten games ago, Dexter Fowler immediately plunged into an offensive tailspin reminiscent of 2018.  Hitless last night in 4 at bats, Dexter is 3 for 31 (.097) over his last 10 games.  He finished at .171 in May (12 for 70), and is just 7 for 53 (.132) over the last 17 games.

Michael Wacha

After being knocked around in his first trip out of the bullpen, Michael Wacha entered in the fifth inning of this one and settled things down, looking much more like the Wacha we expected to see this year.  He pitched 2.2 innings, giving no runs of his own (although he did allow an inherited run to score) and showing much improved velocity.

Wacha is still getting an awfully high number of his first pitches hit, and hit hard.  Two of the 7 he faced last night hit his first pitch, and both got singles.  In May, 24 of the 108 batters he faced hit his first pitch – a 22.2% clip that is about double the league average.   Those batters hit .500 (12 for 24) with 3 doubles and 4 home runs.

Tyler Webb

One of the low profile arms in the Cardinal bullpen, Tyler Webb has been throwing quite well of late.  He retired all four batters he faced last night, and over his last 8 innings has allowed just 1 run on 3 hits.  In 11.1 innings in May, Webb posted a 3.18 ERA and a .135 batting average against.

Tyler hasn’t allowed a home run since the last time Cincinnati was in town – on April 26.  That was 55 batters, 13.2 innings, and 227 pitches ago.

NoteBook

Matt Carpenter’s first inning home run meant that St Louis has scored first in 6 of the last 8 games.  They are only 3-3 in those games.

The Cards have now lost the first game of 5 of the last 6 series.  They went 0-3-1 in the previous 4.

With last night’s six-hit effort, the team batting average now slips to .249 for the season.

The Numbers Behind the Mystery of Michael Wacha

It was as recently as 2017 when the then 25-year-old Michael Wacha (according to BrooksBaseball) was bringing his four-seam fastball at almost 96 mph (95.64 was the actual average).  That has been his career high.  He was also throwing his cutter faster (91.25 mph) than at any other time in his career.

Both of those pitches took a slight step back last year, with the four-seamer registering at 94.33 and the cutter at 90.06.  At these levels, though, they were still effective enough to set up that money-pitch change.  Wacha was 8-2 with a 3.20 ERA in an injury-shortened season.

As the struggling Cardinals set themselves to face the Philadelphia Phillies, they will do so without a healthy Michael Wacha as part of their rotation for the first time since early in the 2013 season.

The entirety of the decline of Michael Wacha seems directly tied to a sudden and surprising loss of velocity.  For the first time in his career, his four-seam fastball is averaging below 93 mph (92.93) and the cutter has also dropped to 89.03.

The advantage this drop gives to hitters is especially profound on the first pitch of the at bat.  What Michael would like to do – and what he has always done – is to use his fastball and cutter to get ahead in the count, putting the batter in a position where he has to offer at the changeup.  But – especially this month (in which he bears a 6.64 ERA) – that strategy has become a liability as batters are jumping on Michael’s first pitch.

Across all of baseball, the first pitch is hit about 10% of the time.  In May, 21 of the 95 batters Wacha has faced have jumped on his first pitch – about twice the usual rate.  And they have done so with predictable results.  Again, across all of baseball (according to baseball reference) batters who hit that first pitch (or are hit by that first pitch) slashing .348/.359/.610.  Against Wacha the 21 first-pitch hitters have 9 hits (a .429 average) that includes 2 doubles and 2 home runs – the two home runs being the defining moments of Michael’s struggles.

Of the 9 first-pitch hits surrendered by Wacha this month, 4 have come off that diminished fast ball.  Those pitches have averaged just 91.45, and when they have been up – and all four of them were up at least a bit – they become not much more than batting practice pitches.  Both doubles and one of the home runs hit against Michael came off this limping fastball.  In fact, the home run he allowed was on the fastest of these pitches – although fastest in this context is still just 93.1 mph.

That pitch came in the third inning of the first game of the May 22 doubleheader against Kansas City.  Already ahead 4-0, KC had a couple runners on base and were looking for the knock-out blow.  At the plate Jorge Soler was looking for that fastball, which, even though it was many inches inside was manageable enough that he drove it down the line and over the wall in left.  Knock-out blow achieved.  That pitch was well inside, but it was up.

As problematic as the fastball has been, the cutter may have become even more of a liability.  As the gap between the four-seamer and the cutter condenses – and it is now just a difference of 3.9 mph – its ability to slow down opposing bats also diminishes.  Three other first-pitch hits came off the cutter.  But this is a pitch that Wacha throws on the first pitch about one third of the time he throws the fastball.

It was a cutter – up in the zone of course, but slightly in on his hands – that Chicago’s Taylor Davis jumped on for the grand-slam home run that tied the May 4 game in Chicago at five each in the fourth inning.

As much, perhaps, as any other moment, that swing may have turned the tide on the Cardinal season.

The message from these numbers is fairly clear.  When Michael can get ahead of hitters, he still has plenty of weapons to polish him off.  Even in this difficult month of May, batters who fall behind Wacha are hitting just .136 (3 for 22) with no extra-base hits.

The problem is getting there, as Wacha has been ahead of less than 26% of the batters he has faced this month.  The clear reason is that he no longer has enough fastball to be able to leave it upstairs early in the count.

Where did the fastball go?  Well, that is the part of the mystery that we don’t have an answer for just yet.  But there almost certainly is an answer out there somewhere.  Michael insists that there is no physical difficulty – and I tend to believe him.  Wacha has extensive experience with injuries and knows how counterproductive it is to pitch through them.

So that leaves mechanical.  And mechanical means that – at some point – an answer should be found.

The move to the bullpen is not at all intended to be temporary.  Although the twists and turns of the season may bring him back into the rotation, that is clearly not the intention.  The Cardinals have – in essence – moved on.  Prospect Genesis Cabrera will get the first look, and behind him are Austin Gomber and Alex Reyes as they heal from their various ouchies.  With Macha not expected to be back next year, the organization clearly feels it’s time to turn the page.

That, however, does not necessarily mean that Michael Wacha’s significance to this organization is over.  As the recent bullpen fissures suggest, this team could certainly find an important relief role for a veteran pitcher with a 96-mph fastball.

Provided, of course, that someone can find where that 96-mph fastball has disappeared to.

Schizophrenic Cards Win and Lose in Doubleheader

Yesterday afternoon the cross-state neighbors dropped by for their annual visit to St Louis.  The entire St Louis portion of the matchup between the Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals played out in a double-header yesterday – thanks to the unyielding rain that washed out Tuesday’s scheduled contest.

As the Cardinals have been two entirely different teams this year, it is only fair that the Royals got to play them both.  For the afternoon tilt, the home team trotted out its May version – a team that was appropriately spanked 8-2 (box score).  In the night-cap, the vintage March/April version of the team dropped by, orchestrating a 10-3 victory (box score).

What to make of the schizophrenic Cardinals will be a mystery that we will probably be all summer unravelling.  The question of this teams’ character, though, continues to hover over this franchise.  The victory in the second game brought a temporary respite to a losing streak that had reached 14 of their previous 18 games.  The Cubs went through an early season skid in which they lost 8 of 10 before regaining their footing.  Sometime later, the Brewers lost 12 of 18 before rebounding.

It remains to be seen when (or if) the team in St Louis can turn itself around.

This is one reason I’m fond of the “After a Loss” statistic.  In baseball, everybody loses games from time to time.  That’s unavoidable.  But teams with championship character are hard to saddle with a second loss.  That’s the test.  How do they respond?

In the Cardinals’ case, the answer here is as schizophrenic as their season has been.  The March/April Cardinals were 7-3 the game after a loss.  In May, that team is 5-9 after a loss – leaving them an even 12-12 for the season.

Much of the recent damage has come at the hands of the Braves, Phillies and Cubs.  Those three teams are next up, so if St Louis has a response in them, this would be a good time.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna had a productive double header.  He drove in the Cards only two runs in the first game, then drove in 3 more in the night-cap with a three-run first-inning homer.  With 2 hits in the last Texas game, Marcell is hitting .417 (5 for 12) over his last three games.  He has only 8 hits over his last 8 games, but 6 have been for extra-bases (3 of them home runs).  He has driven in 11 runs in those games.

Michael Wacha

If there is one recurring theme in this lost month of May – especially when it comes to games after a loss – it is the continuing struggles of the rotation.  Michael Wacha was, in this sense, a microcosm of the season in yesterday’s first game.  He lasted almost 5 (4.2 innings to be precise), but after the Royals battered him for 6 in the third, the outcome was never in doubt.  In the 14 games after a loss this month, Cardinal starters hold a 6.26 ERA, with a .281 batting average against.  This is no way to stop a skid.

As for Wacha, he is now 2-2 in 4 starts this month with a 6.64 ERA.  Three of those starts have followed a Cardinal loss.  He has lasted 15.1 innings in those three starts, yielding 16 runs (14 earned) on 22 hits and 8 walks.  It’s an 8.22 ERA with a .349/.417/.556 batting line against.  Certainly a trend to be concerned about.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright struggled through 5 innings in the second game.  He gave 6 hits and 4 walks, but only 3 runs to be awarded the victory – however shaky.  This hasn’t been Adam’s best month. He threw 7 excellent innings against the Pirates on May 10, but his other three starts have been more or less a mess.  He is 1-2 in his 4 May starts with a 6.43 ERA.

Additionally, the three worst starts have come after a Cardinal loss.  He has lasted just 14 innings in those 3 games, allowing 14 runs.  For the season, Adam has made 5 starts after a Cardinal loss.  He is 2-2 in those games with a 7.13 ERA and a batting line against of .287/.387/.494.

More consistency on offense would be greatly welcomed.  However, without notable exception, everyone close to this team understands that the Cardinal fortunes hinge on the development of the starting pitching.

NoteBook

With the paid crowd of 42,529 in the second game, the Cardinals surpassed the 1,000,000 mark in home attendance (1,038,590) in their twenty-fifth home game.  They average 41,543.6 per home game.

Marcell Ozuna’s first inning home run stood up as the game-winning RBI.  He has 7 already this year.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.

Marcell doubled in both games – bringing him to 11 for the season.  He doubled just 16 times all last season.

He also grounded into double plays in both games.  Marcell has now tied his double-play total from all of last year at 10.

Kolten Wong’s late home run brought his season RBI total to 25.  He drove in just 38 all of last year.

On Again, Off Again Offense Off Again

The story is told of three statisticians who went duck hunting.  As the first duck flew overhead, the first statistician shot at him – but his bullet flew 50 feet too high.  Before the duck could disappear from sight, the second statistician also fired.  His bullet went 50 feet to low, prompting the third statistician to declare, “What do you know, we got him.”

The St Louis Cardinals will take the field tonight having outscored their opponents over the last six games (four games against Pittsburgh and two against Atlanta) 39-25.  This is a dominant enough differential that you might the Cards had won at least 5 of the 6 if not all of them.

Certainly, you would think the Cards would have won more than the two that they have, in fact, won.  But, like the duck in the story, the Pirates and Braves have taken little lingering damage, and the Cardinals have only statistics to comfort them.

One week ago tonight, the Cardinals battered Pittsburgh 17-4 and promptly lost the next three games as the offense disappeared.  On Tuesday evening, they landed on the Atlanta Braves to the tune of 14-3.  Last night they struggled to come up with three hits in a 4-0 shutout loss (box score).

For all of the fact that they managed so few hits, St Louis did have opportunities.  In a game that was just 2-0 until Atlanta’s last at bat, St Louis added 5 walks and a hit batsman to the mix.  They had 12 plate appearances with at least one runner on base, including 6 with two or more – highlighted, of course, by Paul Goldschmidt’s bases loaded opportunity with one out and the game still scoreless in the third.

Including the double-play that Atlanta starter Mike Soroka got from Goldschmidt, St Louis was 1-for-8 batting with a runner on base, 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and 0-for-4 with 2 double plays with two or more runners on.

Through March/April this team averaged 5.45 runs per game, scored at least once in every game, and managed at least four runs in 24 of the season’s first 28 games.

Beginning with the last game in April, this offense has been shut out 3 times, and has failed to score as many as four runs 8 times over the last 15 games – 7 times over these last 13 games.  Yet, for the 13 games, St Louis is still averaging 4.38 runs per game, thanks to the intermittent outbursts.

As the losses mount, the frustration level climbs.  But answers are hard to come by.  So is consistency.

Marcell Ozuna

While not disappearing completely, Marcell Ozuna has certainly faded recently.  He did hit the home run that started Tuesday’s onslaught, but that has been his only hit over the last 4 games (he is 1 for his last 17).  He is just 7 for 52 (.135) over the last 13 games, and is now hitting .179 for the month of May.

Matt Carpenter

The Cardinals are still waiting Matt Carpenter to find himself.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Matt has 1 hit over his last 5 game, and is hitting .115 (3 for 26) over his last 8 games.  His average for May has faded to .192 (only slightly lower than his season average of .199).  Yes, there are still the walks – he walked once last night and has 8 for the month.  But at some point, the Cards will need some hits from Carpenter.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul’s third-inning double play might have been his most telling at bat.  Goldschmidt did also draw a couple of walks, but otherwise went 0-for-2.  It brought a halt to Goldschmidt’s baby five-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Paul hit .476 (10 for 21).

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha failed to deliver the team’s fourth consecutive quality start, but he did give the team five innings on 90 pitches and left trailing 2-0.  For the season, Wacha has been pretty good at working out of messes with runners on base (hitters carry just a .236 average against Wacha with runners on base).  That success carried over last night, as the Braves were 0-for-8 against Michael with runners on.

His problem, of course, was keeping Braves off the bases in the first place.  Of the 13 batters that faced Michael with the bases empty, 2 walked, 2 singled, 1 doubled and Austin Riley collected his first major league home run.  While the Braves only touched him for 2 runs (1 earned), the constant traffic on the base paths added to the stress of Michael’s evening and hurried his exit.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos isn’t a reliever we’ve paid a whole lot of attention to – and with some reason.  Giovanny has had his ups and downs.  He pitched a perfect seventh last night, striking out two – an inning that highlighted two things that Gallegos – in his limited opportunities – has done quite well.

First, is keeping people off base.  With his perfect seventh, only 3 of the last 19 batters to face him have reached.  For the season, his .244 on base percentage against with the bases empty is the second lowest on the club – behind only Tyler Webb’s .240.

The two strikeouts bring his season total to 29 in 17 innings – an average of 15.35 per nine innings.

Miklas and Waino and Three Days of Raino?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Wainwright

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

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

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

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

Miles Mikolas

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

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

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

Dakota Hudson

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

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

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

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

Michael Wacha

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

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

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

John Gant

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

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

Andrew Miller

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

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

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

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

John Brebbia

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

Offensive Roller-coaster

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

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

Jedd Gyorko

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

Yairo Munoz

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

Jose Martinez

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

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