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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.