Tag Archives: Wieters

Doing Damage to Lefties

Let’s go back one last time to that last day in June.  There were your St Louis Cardinals, losers of five in a row, 40-41 on the season and about to tilt out of the pennant race.

It’s the eleventh inning of a 3-3 game.  Kolten Wong is on first, but there are two out and Matt Wieters is to the plate to hit against lefty Brad Wieck.  According to the percentages, both teams should have started preparing for the twelfth inning.  As he stood at the plate, Matt was 0-for-19 on the season against left-handers.

But all the percentages that inform the long baseball season were about to undergo a seismic shift – not just for the St Louis Cardinals, but also for Mr. Wieters himself.

Beginning with that two-run home run that gave St Louis an 11-inning walk-off 5-3 win, the Cards have surged into the lead in their division courtesy of an 18-9 run.

As for Matt Wieters, he has spent the last month exacting revenge for the indignities of the first three.

On July 4, he tied the game against Seattle at one by scorching a third inning homer off of Mariner lefty Tommy Milone.  In the first game after the All-Star break, he did the same to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray (that game tying shot coming in the fifth inning).

Apparently, the Cubs haven’t been paying attention.

It’s the sixth inning of last night’s contest against Chicago.  The Cards hold a 3-0 lead, but have the opportunity to open things up.  They have two runners on, with no one out.  With Wieters coming up, manager Joe Madden went to the bullpen and pulled out a left-hander – Derek Holland.

Five pitches later, Matt flicked a tailing fastball from Holland over the wall in right to punch a hole in a game otherwise dominated by Cardinal starter Jack Flaherty.

The most telling hit in St Louis’ 8-0 victory (box score), pushed Matt to 7 of his last 17 against lefties – with 5 of the 7 hits going for extra-bases.

It also helped push St Louis back into sole possession of first place in their division – at least for another night.

Kolten Wong

It was a night of heroes, but among the most productive was Cardinal secondbaseman Kolten Wong.

You will remember that Wong got off to a searing-hot start in April.  Eighteen games into the season, Wong was slashing .316/.437/.614.

Then came the cold spell.  From April 19 through May 30, Kolten went 20 for 119 (.168) with only 5 extra-base hits.  His season average fell as low as .216.

For the last two months, Wong has more closely resembled the Kolten of early April.  Beginning with a single and a double (against Chicago, by the way) on May 31, Kolten has been a .327 hitter (53 for 162) ever since.  He has been especially torrid of late.  On his way to leading the team in batting average for the month of July (he hit .357 last month), Kolten has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts, going 19 for 45 in those games – an impressive .422.

But last night’s story gets even better.  His 3 hits last night all came off the lefty Jon Lester.  For a left-handed batter, Kolten was always OK against lefties.  He entered the season hitting .245 against them, including two years (2014 and 2017) when he hit over .270 against them.

With last night’s hits, Wong is 25 for 81 against left-handers this year, his .309 batting average against them ranking second on the team to Jose Martinez’ .367.

Perhaps one reason is that this year Kolten is getting to play against lefties consistently.

Dexter Fowler

The only starter not to collect a hit last night was Dexter Fowler – now 1 for his last 12 after his 0-for-4 last night.  Left-handed pitching has been problematical for Dex this year.  He was 0-for-10 against lefties last month, and is 13 for 62 (.210) against them for the year.

In his three-year Cardinal career, Fowler is just 50 for 231 (.216) against lefties.

Jack Flaherty

The storyline of the game, though, was Jack Flaherty, who took a no-hitter into the sixth, and finished seven innings allowing no runs on just the one hit.  Jack walked just two while striking out 9.

Over his last 5 starts, Flaherty has been growing every bit into the dominant kind of starter he showed flashes of last year.  His last 5 times out, he has tossed 4 quality starts, allowing just 4 runs over 31.1 innings.  Jack has given just 15 hits in those innings, just 2 of them home runs, his 9 walks offset by 39 strikeouts.

It all adds up to a 1.15 ERA and a .140 batting average against.

NoteBook

Jose Martinez began the rout with an RBI single in the first.  That run stood up for Jose’s fifth game-winning RBI of the season.  Martinez now ranks fourth on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9), Paul Goldschmidt (8) and Paul DeJong (6).

Although his prospects for regular play seemed slight at the start of the season, Martinez has persevered.  Last night he played in his 103rd game of the season.  He played 152 last year to set his career high.

With his big home run last night, Wieters has reached double figures in home runs for the seventh time in his eleven-year career.  He only hit 8 last year in 235 at bats.  The shot raises his slugging percentage to .500.  The highest slugging percentage Matt has ever sustained over the course of a 200 or more at bat season was .450 in 2011.

The eight-run victory was the Cards’ largest since May 14 when they beat the Braves 14-3.  St Louis had trailed at some point in each of its five previous games.

The Cards finished the series allowing just 3 runs to the Cubs.  It is the fewest runs the Cards have yielded in any series this year.  The previous low (in a three-or-more game series) was 6 runs, given up the last time the Cubs visited Busch.  During that series at the beginning of June, the Cards won 2-1, 7-4 and 2-1.

The Cards have now won 5 of their last 6 series, and are now 5-3 in rubber games at home.

The Cubs were the thirteenth team St Louis has faced this year that had lost its previous series.  The Cards are 29-11 (.725) in those games, winning 10 of the series and splitting 2 others.  The only team to flip its momentum at the Cardinals expense was the San Diego Padres who won 2 of 3 in St Louis’ opening homestand of the season.  They had lost 2 of 3 to Arizona the series before.

Dakota Hudson’s New Weapon

Yes, the slider sometimes misbehaves.

It did so in the first inning of last night’s game in Pittsburgh.  After Adam Frazier led off with a single, Dakota Hudson’s 3-2 slider to Bryan Reynolds sailed high, and Pittsburgh had their first two runners on base.  The slider to the next Pirate hitter, Starling Marte, did worse than sail high.  It tailed back right over the heart of the plate and waited for Marte to smash it – which he did.

Fifteen pitches into his evening, and Dakota Hudson was down 3-0, and the slider was – in no small part – responsible.

(Parenthetically, most of the TV viewers saw Marte after the home run smile to the camera and demonstrate with his fingers 3 to zero.  In baseball this is almost always a bad idea.  Under any circumstance a three-run first inning lead is far from iron clad.  All the more so when your team has been in a pronounced slump – as Marte’s has.  And even more so when the team you are playing is starting to heat up – and the Cardinals seem – finally – to be that team.  Through most of this season, an early three run deficit did feel like a thirty run deficit.  But for the moment, anyway, the team has turned the page on those issues and is becoming a confident enough offense that three early runs don’t phase them much.  Anyway, as so often happens, Marte’s chest-thumping meant little in the long run.  He and the Pirates would not score again.)

So, back to that slider.

Fast forward to the fifth inning.  St Louis now leads 4-3.  But there is more trouble on the way for Hudson.   After another lead-off single from Frazier, Dakota fell behind both Reynolds and Marte to the point that they declined to chase Hudson’s sinker, and both drew walks.  Walks have been a growing concern over Dakota’s last several starts.

Now we had trouble.  Bases loaded.  Nobody out.  And to the plate was Pittsburgh’s blossoming superstar, switch-hitter Josh Bell.

Hudson threw two excellent fastballs under Bell’s hands that he fouled off.  On 0-2, Dakota went back to that slider.  It darted in along much the same track as the fastballs.  But, before Bell’s bat could turn on it, it dropped like a stone for the strikeout.

That was the turning point.  After that, Colin Moran bounced into a double play, and the inning was over.  Hudson and some more splashy work by the Cardinal bullpen would allow the birds to hold on to this one by that 4-3 score (box score).

Along the way, Hudson would cobble together his eleventh quality start in his last 15 games, and stretch to 17 consecutive starts his streak of not allowing more than 3 earned runs – quite a trick after he was down 3-0 before he recorded his first out.

In his early starts this season, Dakota Hudson frequently faced lineups stacked with left-handed bats.  And all too often those bats took advantage of the young Cardinal starter.

One of the adjustments that Dakota has made as the season has progressed is developing a weapon that can neutralize those left-handed bats.  More and more, now, that weapon is becoming his wipe-out slider.

In his 6.1 innings last night, Hudson finished with 5 strikeouts – all swinging.  The two right-handers that he got (Chris Archer and Jacob Stallings) both went down on fastballs.  But the three lefties that he chalked up (Bell and Moran twice) all got that nasty, nasty slider.

So, yes, Dakota has a weapon that has equalized things a bit against lefties.  Even more interesting to me is this.  All 5 of Hudson’s strikeouts came on 0-2 pitches.  None of them even prolonged the at bat to four pitches with a foul ball.  Moreover, they were the only 5 at bats of the night against Hudson that ended 0-2.  In his 22.1 innings this month, Hudson has struck out 10 of the 12 batters whose at bat ended with an 0-2 count.

This slider is now becoming a put-away pitch that batters who are backed up in the count are kind of at the mercy of.  As a companion pitch to his ground ball arsenal, this bodes very well for the future.

But it would help if he could get it to behave a little better early in games.

More Hudson

After an earlier streak where he went 7 consecutive starts without allowing a home run (and serving up just 1 home run over a ten-start stretch that reached 60.1 innings), Dakota has now given up at least one home run in six consecutive starts.

Even though his four July starts haven’t been his smoothest, Hudson has still won them all.  He is now 8-1 over his last 12 starts, carrying a 3.01 ERA in those games and getting 56% ground balls.

How Good is Giovanny Gallegos

After Hudson’s 6.1 innings, and with the Cards clinging to a one-run lead, manager Mike Shildt went to Giovanny Gallegos for 5 critical outs as he finished the seventh and worked the eighth.  In typical style, Gallegos finished them off, five-up and five-down with 3 strikeouts.

How good is he?  By the numbers, you would have to say that Giovanny is as dominant as any relief pitcher in baseball.  Here’s a taste:

Last night’s game was Gallegos’ sixth consecutive scoreless outing.  In those games, Giovanny has pitched a total of 9.2 innings allowing 2 hits and walking 1 while striking out 13.  Over his last 22 games, Gallegos has completed 27.2 innings in which he has been brushed for 2 runs on 13 hits.  His 2 walks have been offset by 37 strikeouts.  In this stretch, Giovanny has thrown 71% of his pitches for strikes.

The numbers on these last 27.2 innings add up to a 0.65 ERA and a batting line of .141/.167/.228.

This is dominance.

Not that it matters, but with all the strikes that Gallegos throws, he almost never finds himself behind in the count.  Last night he was behind only one of the 5 batters that he faced, getting Reynolds to strike out on a 3-2 pitch.

Over the last month, only 5 of the 35 batters to face Gallegos have put themselves ahead in the count.  They are 0-for-4 with a walk.  This season, Giovanny has faced 178 major league batters.  He has worked behind on only 37 of them. And as I say, it matters little.  Even the ones who do get ahead in the count against Gallegos are only hitting .172 with 1 home run.

Kolten Wong

There was a time not too long ago when Kolten Wong was daily listed among the struggling hitters.  Those days, for the moment, are past.  Wong singled, doubled and drove in St Louis’ first run of the game.  Kolten has now hit safely in five consecutive games in which he has had a plate appearance, going 7 for 17 (.412) in those games.

For the month of July, Kolten is a .348 hitter (16 for 46).

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill’s recent slump continued last night.  Hitless in 4 at bats, Tyler is now 0 for his last 12, and 2 for 22 (.091) over his last 5 games – games in which he has no extra base hits, no walks, and 1 run batted in.  It has been 13 games since Tyler’s last walk.

Matt Wieters

On May 29, the Cardinals were planted by Philadelphia, 11-4.  That loss culminated a 6-18 spiral that knocked the team from first place in this division to two games under .500 at 26-28.

That was 46 games ago.  Since that time, St Louis has been steadily re-gaining ground in the division, winning 27 of these last 46 games.  One of the notable things about these games is that Matt Wieters has been the catcher in almost half of them.  Matt has started 22, Yadier Molina just 18 of them before his injury sidelined him, and Andrew Knizner has started the other 6.

Wieters has made some offensive contributions to the surge, including 6 home runs – most of which have been telling, even if they haven’t been terribly frequent.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Wieters is hitting .188 (15 for 80) over the last 46 games.

Yairo Munoz

In and out of the lineup, and starting the last two games in center field, Yairo Munoz has seen his batting average slip a bit recently.  Munoz was hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is just 10 for 43 (.233) for the month of July.

In last night’s ninth inning, Munoz fell behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Stratton 0-2, and struck out swinging on the next pitch (that slider out of the zone).

Perhaps hitting behind in the count is one area where a player’s lack of regular at bats may take its greatest toll.

Over his last 76 plate appearances, Munoz has found himself behind in the count 34 times.  Yairo is just 3 for 34 (.088) in those at bats with no extra-base hits (in fact, one of the three singles was an infield hit), no walks, 12 strikeouts, and 1 double play grounded into.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s RBI double brings him to within one run batted in of last year’s total.  He drove in 38 last year and has 37 now this year.

There’s Your Run, Big Boy

Evidently, Corey Dickerson lost the line drive in the lights.

It was the first inning of a scoreless game against the Pirates.  A two-out walk brought Tyler O’Neill to the plate.  O’Neill would put his stamp on the game later, but this time he should have ended the inning.  Tyler jumped on a 2-0 fastball from Pittsburgh starter Joe Musgrove and drilled a sinking liner to left – basically right at Dickerson.

But Corey couldn’t find the ball.  It eventually fell in between his legs and rolled to the wall.  The run scored, O’Neill ended up at second, and the Cardinals held a 1-0 lead.

Back in the day – as now-broadcaster Mike Shannon tells it – when Bob Gibson would pitch and the offense would push across a run (and frequently it was Gibson himself providing the run), they would say to him, “there’s your run, big boy.”  The expectation was that if Gibson was on the mound, one run was all that he would need.  It’s amazing how often that proved to be true.

(Gibson, of course, has been in all of our thoughts and prayers recently.  One of the greatest competitors of all time is battling pancreatic cancer.)

The current Cardinal rotation hasn’t achieved quite that stature, but recently they have been getting close. Neither of St Louis’ last two starters (Adam Wainwright on Sunday nor Miles Mikolas last night) gave up runs – with Mikolas’ outing being the most impressive.  Miles shut the Pirates out on 100 pitches even.

Luckily for Mikolas it doesn’t matter how he gets the run, so long as he gets it.  It’s hard to tell how the game might have progressed if the Birds hadn’t benefited from Pittsburgh’s defensive generosity.  Another misplay by Dickerson in the third allowed two more soft runs.  When Mikolas took the mound for the fifth inning ahead 3-0, it could be argued that he and Musgrove had pitched similar games, with the primary difference being that while Dexter Fowler raced into deep right-center fielder and – at full extension – stole a certain double and RBI from Starling Marte (in fact, turning a should-have-been double into a double play), Dickerson was dropping to fly balls hit right at him.

Regardless, the Cardinals are grateful, as they have struggled all year to push across that go ahead run.  Officially, they were 0 for 3 last night while the score was tied.  This month they are slashing .222/.260/.394 in 106 plate appearances in tied games.  For the season, 949 Cardinals have come to the plate with the game tied.  They are hitting .225/.304/.398.  Ninety-two games into the season, and the Cardinal pitching staff has pitched with a lead only 35.8% of the time.

Hard to string a lot of wins together under those circumstances.

Compounding the frustration was the pitching staff’s inability to hold onto that lead that the offense worked so hard to get.  Through the end of June, the pitching staff held a 4.23 ERA when they pitched with a lead.  If that lead was one or two runs, that ERA was 4.25.

But, if July is a new page (and St Louis is 6-4 so far this month), the change is the pitching staff.  Their 3.21 ERA ranks them sixth in the entire major leagues this month (according to baseball reference), and one of the most significant improvements has been pitching with a lead.

The month is still early, but to this point, Cardinal pitchers hold a 2.58 ERA and a .234/.308/.319 batting line against when they hold any kind of lead, and a 2.50 ERA with a .224/.303/.299 batting line against if that lead is one or two runs.

From the very beginning of the season, we knew that if this team was going to be special, they would be special first in the pitching staff.  For the past five games – especially the last five starts – they have been very special.  How long they can sustain that will determine how long they can hang in the race.

Mikolas

Miles had lost 7 of his previous 8 decisions.  He spent the break watching film.  He found a very tiny inconsistency.  He was falling to the first base side too much (this according to the story filed at mlb.com).  It sounds simple, but it caused his breaking balls to misbehave.  MLB.com earlier filed a story on the recall of Chasen Shreve.  The flaw he found was that his hands in the set position were slightly different.

Pitching – and hitting, too, for that matter – are such finely honed techniques that even slight variations can have catastrophic results.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill broke the game open late, his two two-run home runs turning the 3-0 lead into the 7-0 final (box score).  Tyler had three hits for the game, and has hit safely in each of his last 6 starts – and it hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak.  He is hitting .417 (10 for 24) in those games, with 2 doubles and 3 home runs.  None of the home runs have been pulled.  The two he hit last night went to straight center field.  The home run on Saturday soared over the right field wall – and all of this happened in spacious Busch Stadium, were there are no cheapies.

Since Tyler has been recalled from AAA, he is hitting .325 (13 for 40) and slugging .625.  He is 12 for 32 so far in the month of July (.375) with half of the hits going for extra-bases.  He has driven in 9 runs in 9 July games, while slugging .750.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong was hit by a pitch, but went 0 for 3 otherwise.  The game snapped Wong’s five-game hitting streak.  Kolten hit .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters has certainly had some big moments as he has substituted for Yadier Molina.  After his 0 for 4 last night, though, Matt has only 3 hits in his last 17 at bats (.176).  In 8 games since Molina’s injury, Matt has hit 3 home runs and driven in 5 runs, but is hitting just .241 (7 for 29).

Harrison Bader

Manager Mike Shildt has moved Harrison Bader back into the lineup, but nothing yet has turned his bat around.  Harrison was hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is 1 for 14 (.071) over his last 7 games.  Bader has had 24 plate appearances this month.  They have resulted in 3 singles, 1 double, 1 walk, 1 double play and 8 strikeouts.  Harrison has no runs batted in this month, with a .174/.208/.217 batting line.

NoteBook

The seven run victory was the largest margin of victory – and, in fact, the first time the Cards had led by as many as seven runs  – since they beat Kansas City 10-3 back on May 22.

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.

Cards Waste Another Quality Start in San Fran

Oh, come on, now.  You didn’t really think Jack Flaherty would make it through a whole start without getting touched for a home run, did you?

The impressive and encouraging thing about the Cardinals’ last game before the All-Star break was how long it took for that ubiquitous home run to show up.  Seventy-five pitches and 6.1 innings into the contest, Flaherty had not only not allowed a home run.  He had given no hits whatsoever.  His seventy-sixth pitch, of course, was the misbehaving slider that Evan Longoria crushed deep over the left field wall for the only run of the game (box score).

Jack has now allowed at least one home run in seven straight starts.  The total is now 11 in his last 37.2 innings.

Even in defeat, though, it was a welcomed performance from Jack, who had managed only one quality start in his previous six outings.

As far as the Cardinals’ wasting excellent pitching, this was hardly an isolated moment.  Eighty-eight games into the championship season, the Cards have only gotten 38 quality starts from its rotation.  Eight of those 38 starters have been saddled with the loss in these games.  Flaherty has now absorbed the loss in both of his last two quality starts.  Of the 38 quality starts, this is now the third time that the Cardinal pitcher received no support runs at all.  This has now happened to Jack (who has now gone five consecutive starts since the last time he saw at least four runs of support) twice in his last 4 starts.

In all, St Louis has failed to score more than 3 runs for their starter in 24 of their 38 quality starts.  In all honesty, our rotation hasn’t been as dominant as often as expected.  But, on those rare occasions when they are, it is almost to be expected that they will get minimal run support.

To this point of the season, St Louis is 25-13 (.658) when they get a quality start from their pitcher.  That seems pretty strong, but if that figure holds, it would tie the Cardinals’ lowest winning percentage in quality start games in any year in this century.  The 2008 team (50-26) finished at .658 when they got quality starts.

Last year’s team was 50-18 (.735).  Through all the games this century up to this year, the Cards are 1187-425 (.736) when their starter puts them into position to win.  They have won over 70% of these games in 15 of the first 19 full seasons of this century.

The 2017 team was the one I labeled “the team that blinks.”  They lost 21 quality start games (out of 76 – a .724 winning percentage).  But Sunday’s loss was so reminiscent of one of those games, it’s impossible not to take a look back.

May 20 that year was a Saturday.  The evening in St Louis was a balmy 79 degrees with a few clouds.

The Cardinal pitcher was Carlos Martinez.  That evening, Carlos may have thrown the best game by a Cardinal pitcher since Chris Carpenter in Game 5 against Philadelphia.  In just 93 dominant pitches, Martinez tore through the Giants, walking off the mound after nine complete innings, having allowed no runs on just two hits and 1 walk.

Making the best start of his career, Carlos didn’t walk off the mound with a complete game.  He wasn’t awarded a shutout.  Carlos didn’t even get the win.  That, of course, would be because while Martinez was turning away the Giant batters, San Francisco’s pitcher – yes, it was Jeff Samardzija that evening as well – was similarly frustrating the Cardinal batsmen.

After 12 scoreless innings, San Francisco finally broke through with 3 runs against Kevin Siegrist, and held on from there for a 3-1 victory (box score).

It was a signature loss that year.  Like Sunday’s loss, it was the kind of game that playoff teams rarely lose – especially against losing teams which the Giants are so far this year and were in 2017 when they lost 98 games.  But not that night.

So, just like that the Cards hit the All-Star break with a .500 record.  As the rest of the division has hung around waiting for them, they find themselves just two games out of the division lead.

Dakota Hudson

On the other end of the spectrum – at least this time out – is Dakota Hudson.  Hudson was provided with 6 support runs while he was pitcher of record, as the Cards were on their way to a 9-4 win on Friday (box score) – their only win of the series.

After throwing 8 consecutive quality starts, Hudson missed qualifying for the second consecutive start.  He still navigated through 5 innings, allowing 3 runs, and took the win.  Over his last 10 games, Dakota is 5-1 with two potential wins lost by the bullpen, and a 2.83 ERA.

Miles Mikolas

Saturday’s losing pitcher (box score) was starter Miles Mikolas.  Done in by a grand slam, Miles lasted just 4, giving 5 runs on 6 hits.  In his last 10 starts, Miles is now 1-7 with a 4.99 ERA.

They were only two singles, but San Fran was 2 for 3 with a sacrifice fly against Mikolas when they hit the first pitch.  No pitcher on the staff has had the difficulties with his first pitch that Mikolas has.

Batters are now 25 for 52 (.481) when they hit Miles’ first pitch.  The hits are generally not soft, either.  Opposing hitters have 3 doubles, 2 triples and 6 home runs when jumping Miles’ first pitch – a .962 slugging percentage.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz got another start Sunday afternoon – and responded with two hits.  He was the only Card with multiple hits that afternoon.

Munoz – who hit .345 in sparse duty in June – is starting to work his way more and more frequently into the lineup.  Much of this has been facilitated by injuries to Matt Carpenter and now Kolten Wong.  But production is also in the equation.  Yairo has played 6 of the last 8 games, starting 5.  He is hitting .316 in those opportunities (6 for 19).

Dexter Fowler

After getting 5 hits through the first two games, Dexter Fowler was held hitless on Sunday.  That 0-for-4 broke a nine-game hitting streak (counting only games in which Fowler had an at bat).  He was 12 for 29 during the streak (.414) with a double, a triple and two home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the streak, with a .724 slugging percentage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Don’t look now, but Paul Goldschmidt has put together a pretty noisy seven-game hitting streak.  After going 5 for 13 against San Fran, Paul is 9 for 26 (.346) during the streak.  He has 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a .654 slugging percentage over his last 7 games.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters finished the Friday blow-out win with 2 hits.  He went 0-for-7 through the last two games.  Matt is now 4 for 19 (.211) in his cameo subbing for Yadier Molina.  It should be pointed out, though, that 2 of those 4 hits have been home runs.

Harrison Bader

So far, July hasn’t been any kinder to Harrison Bader than June.  Hitless in 6 at bats in San Francisco, Bader is now 5 for 52 (.096) over his last 19 games.  He has no extra-base hits, or runs batted in in those games.  He has drawn just 3 walks in that span – none in his last 9 games.

For July, Bader is off to a .200 (3 for 15) start.

NoteBook

With 4 hits in the series, Kolten Wong is now up to 68 for the season.  He finished 2018 with just 88 hits.  He is also up to 105 total bases after amassing just 137 all last year.  Kolten is also about to pass last season’s totals in runs (34 after scoring just 41 times all last year) and runs batted in (35 after driving in 38 all of last year).

Miles Mikolas – whose ERA is up almost two full runs over his 2018 season – continues to gain quickly on all his totals from last year (which were, by the way, his career highs).  The home run he allowed Saturday was his sixteenth – tying his career high.  The 5 runs allowed brought him to 52 for the season, and the 4 earned runs leave him with 50 in 2019.  Last year’s totals were 70 and 63 respectively in 200.2 innings.

Then, on Sunday, Jack Flaherty – whose 2019 ERA is also up precipitously – allowed his twentieth home run of the season – matching his career high from 2018.  As with Mikolas, Jack is quickly reaching several other career highs set last year in hits allowed (108 – he has 87 already), runs (59 last year, 51 already this year) and earned runs (56 last year and 50 already in 2019).

St Louis is now 3-5 in rubber games this season.  All 5 losses in rubber games have come against teams that had won its previous series (we are 1-5 in rubber games against those teams).

Overall, St Louis has played 14 series against teams that won their previous series.  They have won 3 of those series, lost 10, and split the other.  They are 17-25 when pitted against teams coming off a winning series.

The Friday game was the first time in 9 games that St Louis didn’t trail at some point, and their 5 run lead after seven was their biggest lead heading into the eighth since they held a seven-run lead on Kansas City in an eventual 10-3 win on May 22.

Meanwhile, the 1-0 loss on Sunday ended a streak of 8 straight games in which they had held a lead at some point.

At 2:19 the Sunday game was the quickest of the season.  The previous quickest game was the 4-3 loss in Philadelphia on May 28.  That game lasted 2:28.

The First Inning Blahs

Going into this afternoon’s contest against the Cubs, you would have found the St Louis Cardinals ranking twenty-second in all of baseball (30 teams) in first inning batting average (according to baseball reference).  They were hitting .224 in that inning.  That number has actually now dropped to .221 as they began the game in Chicago going down in order in the first.

You don’t have to look very far to figure out why.  Yesterday’s game against Cincinnati began with Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong striking out against the Reds Anthony DeSclafani.

In Mike Shildt’s almost unchanging lineups, Carpenter and DeJong have been first inning automatics.  Matt Carpenter has hit leadoff in 48 of the first 60 games.  DeJong has hit third in 51 games, and second in 6 others.  DeJong has 58 first-inning plate appearances, and Carpenter has been to the plate in the first inning 51 times.  Their combined 109 first-inning plate appearances is just under half of the teams’ 259 total plate appearances.

Almost as automatic as having Carpenter and DeJong up in the first inning, is having them out in the first.  Matt is 7 for 42 (.167) in the first.  Paul is hitting .188 (9 for 48).

The curiosity here is that both warm up notably as the game goes on.  Carpenter is a .157 hitter (13 for 83) through the game’s first three innings, and then a .269 hitter with a .477 slugging percentage from the fourth inning on (35 for 130 with 6 doubles and 7 home runs).  DeJong is even more extreme.  Through the first three innings, Paul is 15 for 82 (.183).  From the fourth inning on, Paul slashes .329/.403/.579.  He is 46 for 140 with 8 of his 9 home runs. (Note: in the just ended Chicago game, Paul hit his tenth home run – in the ninth inning).

It was Paul’s 2-run home run in the seventh that decided yesterday’s game, 3-1 (box score).

Even though they won yesterday’s game, they failed to score at least four runs for the third straight game, and for the eleventh game in the last 18.  The longer the struggle to score runs, the more you find yourself wondering if maybe someone else shouldn’t take the first two at bats of your games.

(Further Note: DeJong’s home run was the only run St Louis scored in a 3-1 loss.  That makes 4 straight and 12 of the last 19 in which the Cards have failed to score at least four runs.)

Marcell Ozuna

With two more hits yesterday, Marcell Ozuna is looking more confident at the plate.  Marcell has hits in 7 of his last 8 games, with four of them being multi-hit games.  Ozuna is hitting .414 (12 for 29) in those games, with a double, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a .655 slugging percentage.

Matt Wieters

It’s been a tough last four games for Matt Wieters, occupying Yadier Molina’s position while the indispensable Cardinal is recovering.  Hitless again yesterday, Wieters in 1 for his last 16 (.063) with 7 strikeouts.

Dakota Hudson

Twenty-four year old Dakota Hudson is rapidly becoming the story of the pitching staff this year.  A dark horse to earn a rotation spot in spring, and looking un-prepared for the opportunity through his first five starts, Mr. Hudson has been St Louis’ most consistent starter ever since.  Although he couldn’t make it through the seventh, he still nailed his fifth consecutive quality start, and his sixth in his last seven starts.

Over his last 41.2 innings, Dakota has surrendered 1 home run, while 65% of the batters who put the ball in play against him have hit it on the ground.  Dakota holds a 2.59 ERA over his last 7 starts.

John Gant

The beneficiary of the DeJong home run was John Gant, who retired all four batters he faced and was granted the win (he is now 5-0).  John is on another streak of scoreless appearances.  Over his last 7 games and 8.1 innings, John has given no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks.

NoteBook

Although Cincinnati scored the tying run in the next half inning, St Louis did score first again in this one.  That’s three games in a row, and 7 of the last 9.

Although they did give up the tying run, St Louis never trailed in this one, and haven’t trailed in four of their last six.

John Gant’s appearance yesterday afternoon was already his twenty-eighth this season.  That is already a career high.  His previous high was the 26 games he pitched for St Louis last year.

With yesterday’s steal, Kolten Wong is in double figures for steals for just the third time in his career, and the first time since he stole 15 in 2015.  His career high is the 20 he stole in 2014.

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.

Dakota Hudson and His Heavy, Heavy Sinker

From a mostly disastrous May, the St Louis Cardinals will have very few positives to carry with them into June.  One of those positives will be the re-discovery of Dakota Hudson.

Hudson wasn’t a favorite to win a spot in the rotation during spring.  Most thought he would end up in the bullpen.  In April, it looked like he should have started the season in Memphis.  None of his first 5 starts met the criteria for a quality start, he served up 8 home runs in 24 innings, and held a 5.63 ERA and a .327 batting average against.

The Dakota Hudson of May has been significantly different.  After dispatching Philadelphia, allowing 1 run on 4 hits through 6 innings of a 5-3 victory (box score), Dakota wrapped up his second month in the rotation with 5 quality starts in 6 games, a 2.80 ERA, and just 1 home run surrendered in 35.1 innings.

Differences?  There were a couple on display last night.  The recurring theme would be trust.

The April Hudson tried – I think – to be too fine.  Trying to locate his power sinker in the lower part of the strike zone, he had difficulty adjusting if the other team forced him to bring his pitches up.  He also didn’t show a lot of trust in his other breaking pitches.

The results were 11 unintentional walks – an average of 4.88 per nine innings.  More telling, Dakota missed with his first pitch to 48 batters in April.  They finished with 8 singles, 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 10 walks and 1 sacrifice hit.  Those 48 batters drove in 9 runs with a .432/.553/.973 batting line.

Last night, against a Philadelphia lineup that has bedeviled the Cards throughout the series, Dakota didn’t worry at all about elevating his sinker, and even if behind in the count, he didn’t hesitate to throw his entire arsenal – including a slider that has become particularly nasty.

Aside from the two intentional walks dished out to Rhys Hoskins, Dakota threw ball one to 10 of the 21 batters he faced.  Six of those misplaced first pitches were sinkers – three of them low and the other three inside.  Philadelphia did a credible job all evening of laying off the low sinker.  What they learned was that the sinker wasn’t necessarily easier to hit when it was up in the zone.

One of those batters (Jean Segura) did end up drawing a walk.  None of the other 9 reached base.  Dakota came back to strike out two of them (Bryce Harper in the first and Hoskins in the second) on that nasty slider.  Six of the other seven grounded out, four of them on sinkers up in the zone.

The seventh was Cesar Hernandez who smoked a high sinker right at shortstop Paul DeJong for the double-play that ended the sixth-inning mess.

For the month of May, Dakota allowed 11 unintentional walks (2.80 per innings), while batters hit .229 against him after he missed with the first pitch.  It is a much different Dakota Hudson.

There is a great benefit in having that heavy, heavy sinker – especially when you have this kind of trust in it.

What to Do About the Pen

Even deploying his presumed best arms, the bullpen almost let the game get away again.  With 2 more runs allowed last night, the St Louis relief corps enters the last day of the month with an aggregate 5.08 ERA.  The struggles of the starters and the offense have occupied significant attention, but a nettlesome bullpen has certainly contributed to the month’s woes.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continues hot.  With 2 more hits last night, Paul has hit in 5 of his last 6, with multiple hits in four of the five games.  He is hitting .476 (10 for 21) over that span.

Matt Wieters

An injury to Yadier Molina is never good news.  His backup, Matt Wieters has taken some advantage of the opportunity.  He has started 3 of the last 8 games and has had 2 hits in each of them – giving him 6 in his last 11 at bats (.545).  Moreover, half the hits have been for extra bases (a double and 2 home runs).

Wieters now has 3 home runs this month in just 20 at bats, while hitting .400 in May.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong hit a home run in the seventh inning of the last game against Kansas City.  He hasn’t had a hit since – his current hitless streak sitting at 21 at bats.  He has struck out in 7 of those at bats.

Over his last 10 games, Wong is 2 for 33 (.061).  He is down to .155 for the month, and .216 for the season.

Paul DeJong

In an even greater slump – if such a thing were possible – is Kolten’s double-play partner Paul DeJong.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul is 1 for his last 26 (.038).

DeJong is down to .207 in the month of May.

Harrison Bader

Add Harrison Bader to the list of the slumping.  He was also hitless in 4 at bats and over his last 5 games has 1 single in 14 at bats (.071).

NoteBook

Marcell Ozuna’s second inning home run was the game-winning RBI – the eighth this season for Ozuna.  No other Cardinal has more than 3.