Tag Archives: Wong

Pulling a ‘Waino’

If the frustrating thing about being “tethered to the .500 mark” (as the Cardinals have been all year) is that they have consistently failed to sustain any kind of momentum and take charge of their season; then the comforting aspect of being tethered to the .500 mark is that the season has never spun out of control on them.

If it’s true that they have never won more than four in a row, then it’s also true that they have never lost more than four in a row.  While the inconsistent offense has cost this team many opportunities to turn the corner (if you will), the frequently brilliant pitching staff keeps creating more opportunities.

For so many years an anchor on the pitching side, Adam Wainwright may have never been more valuable to his team than he has this year.  Whether it’s leading his team out of quarantine, or coming up with complete games when the bullpen really needed the break, or allowing early runs in the game, but then shutting the door while the offense makes a comeback – Wainwright has been the guts of this team in all of those situations.

This has especially been true – this year and throughout his career – when pitching the game after a Cardinal loss.  Six of his 9 starts this season have followed a loss the game before.  He is 4-1 in those games, with a 2.68 ERA.

Last night, the Cardinals could have used a Wainwright start.  Coming off the 4-1 loss that broke their longest winning streak of the year, with the final games of the season slipping past them, with their final flurry of six games in five days looming just ahead, and with Dakota Hudson (and all the innings that he might have given them) now sidelined for the rest of the season, the time was ripe for a hero to step up.

The previous loss had allowed Cincinnati to tie them for the final assured playoff spot in the division, and St Louis was, perhaps, a loss away from squandering a 13-game road trip against losing teams (they were 6-5 on the trip at the time).  October was in the air, and with it came a whiff of “must-win” to the remaining games of the Kansas City series.

Yes, they certainly could have used a Wainwright game.  The problem was that Adam had just pitched the night before.  Someone from the bullpen would have to step into Hudson’s shoes and pull a “Waino.”

In spite of the fact that he hadn’t lasted more than 3 innings or thrown more than 63 pitches in any game this season, that pitcher was Austin Gomber.

Looking at times a little like a left-handed Wainwright, Gomber aggressively attacked the corners of the zone with a running 92-mph fastball, and then buckled a few knees with a looping 75-mph curve.  When his evening finally came to a close, Austin had given the Cards 6 innings of 4-hit, walk-less, shutout ball (on 76 economic pitches).  He delivered a 5-0 lead to the suddenly resurgent bullpen, and watched them carry home the much needed victory (boxscore).

The Cards are now 14-11 this year after a loss (.560), including 7-5 this month (.583).  An achievement that – in its own way – bears effective testimony to the resilience of a team that will not allow themselves to be tipped over by the currents of adversity.

It should be further pointed out that they have achieved this will minimal support from the offense.  In the 25 games after a loss, St Louis is scoring just 3.56 runs per game (hitting just .213).  In the 12 such September games, they are averaging just 3.50 runs per game, while hitting .193.  But the pitching staff – anticipated as a strength all season – has fought back admirably after most of their loses this year, to the tune of a 3.45 ERA and a .211 batting average allowed.

They have been especially effective in the games pitched this month after a loss.  Gomber’s quality start was the seventh among the 12 games in support of a 3.04 ERA.

The playoff chase boils down to one more game against Kansas City and then five against Milwaukee.  But, if this team has to bounce back after many more losses this season, how well they bounce back will hardly matter.

Sizzling Bullpen

The games have all been against Pittsburgh and Kansas City, but St Louis has, nonetheless, won 5 of their last 6, led by a nearly bulletproof bullpen.  In his first game off the injury list the night before last, Giovanny Gallegos was touched for a run – the only run allowed by the bullpen over its last 6 games and 17.1 innings (0.52 ERA).  They have given just 6 hits in those innings, only 1 of them (the double allowed by Gallegos) for extra-bases.

They couldn’t have picked a better time to catch their second wind.

Cabrera

Out to handle the eighth, Genesis Cabrera turned in yet another strong outing.  In 11 September games (11.1 innings) Genesis holds a 1.59 ERA.

Cabrera has also been among the very effective pitchers after a loss.  He has now thrown 6 innings in those 25 games, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits.

Woodford

His streak of six consecutive games allowing a home run now broken, Jake Woodford has made significant contributions this month – especially in games after a loss.  He pitched the ninth last night, but is usually asked for multiple innings.  He has pitched in 3 of the 12 September games after a loss, allowing just 2 runs in 6.1 total innings.

Carlson

With the first 3-hit game of his career, Dylan Carlson flipped his narrative, a bit, from struggling prospect to a kid starting to put some things together.  He now has multiple hits in 2 of his last 5 games, going 6 for 17 (.353) in those games.  Four of the six hits have been for extra-bases (2 doubles, a triple and a home run).

Wong

With two hits last night, Kolten Wong pushed his average up to .300 for the month of September (24 for 80).  He’s hitting .297 (11 for 37) this month in games after a loss.

Edman

With last night’s 0-for-3, Tommy Edman’s nine-game hitting streak came to an end.  It was a fairly quiet streak, as he managed multiple hits only once.  Still, he hit .313 (10 for 32) during the 9 games.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did end his 22-at-bat hitless streak with a single in the last game against Pittsburgh – and followed that up with a home run in the next game.  But Matt still hasn’t really turned the corner.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Matt is just 2 for his last 29 (.069), and is back down to .186 (11 for 59) for the month.

Carpenter is just 11 for 62 (.177) in games after a loss this year.

NoteBook

Dating back to the first game of the September 10 doubleheader against Detroit (a 12-2 victory), the Cardinals had trailed at some point in 15 consecutive games until last night.

After making 30 consecutive starts at shortstop, Paul DeJong sat out last night’s game.  His streak had been (by far) the longest of any Cardinal at the same position.  The new longest streak is just 4 games, shared by Yadier Molina at catcher and Paul Goldschmidt at first.  To be clear about this, Goldy has, indeed, started every game this season, but has been the DH for a couple of them.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Where Has All the “Slug” Gone?

Of course, the 1-0 fastball is not assured.  1-0 is still early enough in the count that most pitchers aren’t afraid to come back with a breaking pitch.  That being said, if you’re a pitcher who has a mid-nineties fast ball and you’re behind in the count 1-0, you’re probably a little more likely to come back with that fastball.  If you opt for the curve or the change, then it’s possible that you might try to be a little too perfect with it, trying not to go behind 2-0.

Whatever the approach, the 1-0 pitch is one of those that major league hitters generally look forward to.  Across all of baseball (numbers found in baseball reference), batters are hitting .352/.357/.641/.998 on that 1-0 pitch.

Would it surprise you to learn that of all major league teams, your St Louis Cardinals have baseball’s worst OPS on this particular pitch?  If you’ve been watching this team, I suspect that this wouldn’t surprise you at all.  At .731, they are more than 200 points below the league average on this count, and 30 points behind the next-worst team (Arizona at .761).  They are also last in slugging percentage (.434) on that pitch.  Anytime a hitter is ahead in the count, the major league average slugging percentage sits at .508.  Cardinals ahead in the count slug .426 (fourth worst in the majors).

What does this mean?  Let me answer that with two pitches from last night’s game.

Leading off in the first inning, Kolten Wong took the first pitch of the game for a ball.  Kansas City starter Carlos Hernandez came back with the 1-0 fastball, up a little and over the outside part of the strike zone.  Wong took it the other way, but didn’t really drive it, hitting a looping little fly to left.

Now, it’s the eighth inning.  Paul DeJong is up with two outs.  This time the count is 2-1, but the concept is the same.  A fastball count, and looking – one might assume – for something to drive.  Jesse Hahn – now on the mound for the Royals – gives Paul the fastball at about 94 mph on the upper, outside corner of the zone.  DeJong also goes the other way, but with no authority, his lazy fly ball to right closing out the inning.

It’s a trend you almost can’t help but notice.  As a team, these guys can turn reasonably well on the inside fastball.  But that outside fastball – especially in a fastball count – has been repeatedly frustrating.

Addressing the media after last night’s 4-1 loss (boxscore), manager Mike Shildt talked about the offense and it’s missing “slug.”  As of this morning, St Louis’ season-long slugging percentage sits at .374, the fourth worst in baseball.  Only Pittsburgh’s 46 home runs are fewer than St Louis’ 48.

As far as approach goes, there’s nothing wrong with the opposite field strategy.  Baseball’s elite sluggers can effectively pull the outside fastball, but even they will – more often than not – take it the other way – and to good effect.

Across all of baseball, batters hitting the ball to the opposite field are slashing .318/.314/.501/.815.  When the Cardinals hit the ball the other way, they slash .253/.243/.398/.640.  They have 4 opposite field home runs all year.

I hope you are understanding that I don’t present this as “the answer.”  The season-long hitting issues that have plagued this team are a complex question involving a lot of moving parts.

But if you’re wondering where the “slug” has gone, this is one place that it is definitely missing.

Fading Offense

After finishing with just 6 hits last night, the Cardinal team batting average sinks to .229 for the month of September.

Molina

Yadier Molina was the only Cardinal with multiple hits last night – he had 2.  Things may be starting to turn a bit for Yadi, who has two hits in two of his last 4 games – a span in which he is 5 for 13 (.385) with a home run.

Yadi got his hits in spite of being behind in the count both times.  As the most aggressive swinger on the team, Yadi as almost always behind in the count (as he was in 3 of his 4 at bats last night).  For the season, Molina ends an at bat behind In the count 40.3% of the time – the highest of any Cardinal regular.

Wong

Kolten Wong has recently been playing through a muscle issue in his side.  How much that injury is affecting his game is difficult to divine with any accuracy, but his production at the plate has fallen off.  He is 1 for 12 (.083) over his last 4 games.

DeJong

Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul DeJong is now riding an 0-for-11 streak, part of a larger .077 streak (2 for 26) over his last 8 games.  Both hits were singles.  Back in the second inning of the September 11 game against Cincinnati, DeJong lined a double against Luis Castillo.  That was his last extra-base hit – 44 at bats ago.

Paul is now at .215 for the month (17 for 79).  He has 2 extra-base hits this month, that double and a home run (off the Cubs Colin Rea), that was 64 at bats ago.

Paul made his thirtieth consecutive start at shortstop last night – thirty games that have accrued over the last 26 days.  When you see a guy whose bat is starting to look slow, and you notice that he plays every day, it’s hard not to wonder if fatigue is part of the issue.

O’Neill

The struggles continued for left-fielder Tyler O’Neill.  Hitless in 2 at bats before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, Tyler is hitting .135 (5 for 37) over his last 15 games.  He is down to .197 (13 for 66) for the month.

Carlson

Recently returned to the big-league scene, top prospect Dylan Carlson has had some encouraging moments.  But mostly, the struggles have continued.  Dylan was 0-for-3 last night, and is 1-for-10 over the last 3 games (with 5 strikeouts).  He is 3 for 14 (.214) since his recall, and 3 for 20 (.150) this month.

Webb

Last night’s contest did feature another excellent performance from Tyler Webb, who came in with the bases loaded and extinguished that threat in the sixth.  He then added a perfect seventh.

Over his last 12 games (13 innings) Tyler has surrendered 1 run on only 11 hits (10 singles and 1 double), while walking 3 and striking out 12.  He has an 0.69 ERA over those games, with a .229/.269/.250 batting line against.  His ERA for September is down to 0.84 (10.2 innings).  He has stranded all of the last 9 runners he has inherited.

During his outing, Webb struck out Bubba Starling on an 0-2 pitch, and then retired Nicky Lopez on an 0-1 pitch.  Tyler may not seem imposing on the mound, but he is nasty to deal with if you fall behind in the count.  Twenty-four batters have now hit against him from behind.  They have two singles to show for their efforts.

Gallegos

Erstwhile closer Giovanny Gallegos came off the injured list and got roughed up for a run in his two-thirds of an inning.  It’s been a tough September for Gallegos, who has allowed, now, 6 runs in 4 innings.  The 23 batters he’s faced in September are celebrating to a .316/.435/.526 batting line.

Even though he’s been away for awhile, true to form, Giovanny did not pitch from behind.  Only one of the five batters he faced worked his way ahead in the count (Maikel Franco managed a 7-pitch walk).  For the season, Gallegos has faced 47 batters.  Only 9 have hit ahead in the count against him.

Elledge

Seth Elledge came in to retire the last batter.  Seth is up to 6.2 innings this month, with a 1.35 ERA.  Batters only have 4 hits against Seth, and are hitting .182 against him this month.

NoteBook

With another opening game loss, the Cards have lost the first game of four straight series, six of the last seven, and eight of the last ten.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Same Old Story

Through the first two swings of his at bat, you could see that Matt Wieters was just trying to take Kyle Hendricks up the middle or to the opposite field.  On the fourth pitch of the at bat, Matt accomplished his goal, floating a soft single into short center.  It was Matt’s first hit of the season and it drove in the only Cardinal run against the untouchable Mr. Hendricks in a 5-1 loss (boxscore) to the Cubs yesterday that left the two teams tied at 5 wins each at the conclusion of their season series.

As usual, there was the post-game hat tipping to a pitcher that the Cardinals – genetically incapable of hitting a changeup – have rarely had anything approaching success against.  The comment that made me chuckle most came from manager Mike Shildt, who noted that Hendricks never gives into the hitter.  No, Mike, of course he won’t.  Not until the hitter makes him. But Kyle never has that issue against St Louis.  A particular batter may take that changeup out of the strike zone once.  Or maybe even twice.  But eventually he will have to hack at it.  They just can’t help themselves.

It is up in the zone.  It is slow (comparatively).  It’s about six inches outside.  And it must be destroyed.  Adding to Kyles’s ease of conquest, when the Cards do chase that change, they put their best fastball swing on it.  They refuse to do what Wieters did.  They will not go with the pitch.  The result is an endless string of easy groundballs to the infield.

After Wieter’s hit made it a 5-1 game, the Cards did have an opportunity for more.  They had runners at first and second with only one out.  But the next batter (Matt Carpenter) came out of his shoes to attack that changeup over the outside part of the plate and stroked in nicely to the second baseman for the easy inning-ending double play – one of three Hendricks got from Cardinal hitters.

It’s the same story everytime we face him.  This was, I believe, his twentieth start against this franchise and we haven’t figured anything out yet.

What really kills me about Kyle, though, is his demeanor on the mound.  He is absolutely expressionless as he mows the team down.  Don’t get me wrong.  I 100% prefer this to the showboat style.  Give me Hendricks and his stoicism any day over Carlos Zambrano and his ego-stroking.  But Kyle displays all the enthusiasm of a day clerk putting away files.  Watching him and trying to guess what’s going through his mind, I came up with two possibilities – either of which would be appropriate.

1 – Boredom.  The Cardinals are just so easy and willing to play into his hands that it’s all that Kyle can do to stay awake while he’s on the mound.  Perhaps it’s of mild interest to him to find out just how far off the plate – inside and outside – he can throw his magical changeup and still get the batters to hammer at it.  But mild interest at best.

2 – Embarrassment.  Also possible is that Kyle maybe feels a little bad about how easy this team is for him to dominate.  Possibly he’s a little embarrassed by the ease with which we submit.  In fact, in that seventh inning when St Louis did score its lone run – and this is probably my imagination – but I almost thought I saw a hint of a smile, as if to say, “Oh, that’s nice, at least they’ll have something positive to remember.”  Again, I’m sure that’s my imagination.  But I can see how Kyle might feel a bit awkward in a situation where any effort on his part – no matter how minimal – is met with overwhelming success.

Are there college lineups that would give Kyle more trouble than we do?  Probably.

Still, I maintain hope that one day we will piece this together.  Maybe Matt Wieters should do a clinic?

The Bullpen Rises

While the Sunday finale was disappointing, the Cards did, nonetheless, take three of the five games and head home just 2.5 games out.  Rising to the occasion during this series and for the early games of the month is the hard-ridden Cardinal bullpen.

During the 21 August games, it was the rotation that held things together on the pitching side.  They pulled together a 2.62 ERA, with principle contributions from Kwang Hyun Kim (0.57), Jack Flaherty (1.54), Dakota Hudson (1.66) and Adam Wainwright (2.89).

For the bullpen, August was an immense struggle.  Coming out of quarantine with the same lack of repetitions that the rotation had, the bullpen was tasked, additionally, with picking up all of the innings left by a rotation not yet able to extend deep into games.  Coming into the season, the bullpen was regarded as one of the team’s strengths.  But under the considerable abuse of the first 21 games as they averaged nearly 4 innings a game, they staggered home with a bloated 4.78 ERA.

With those days behind them, now, it’s the bullpen that has come to the fore while the rotation has taken a step backwards.  Three of the 5 starts during the series against the Cubs lasted less than 5 innings.  In their last trip into Chicago, Cardinal starters managed just 21.1 innings over the 5 games, and were pushed around a bit to the tune of a 4.64 ERA.  The Cubs hit them at a surprising .273 clip, drew 11 walks in those 21.1 innings, and hit 4 home runs against them.

To the rescue came the pen.  Over the 17.2 innings they worked this long weekend in Wrigley, they stymied the Cubs to a 1.02 ERA, a .161 batting average, and a .226 slugging percentage.  Until the first game of today’s double-header, it had been 10 games since St Louis had allowed a run in the seventh inning (when they gave up the last couple of runs in the 14-2 beating they absorbed from Cleveland on August 28).  The last earned run they surrendered in the eighth inning came two games before that on August 27 in the double header against Pittsburgh when the eighth inning was an extra-inning.  They’ve played fewer eighth innings than sevenths due to all the doubleheaders.  Still, this makes 9 straight clean eighth innings.

Assuming that the workload against the Cubs and through today’s doubleheader against Minnesota doesn’t compromise them again, the bullpen looks like it’s primed to be the weapon the team envisioned.  Now, if we can just get the rotation back on its feet.

Cabrera

As with most of the relievers, Genesis Cabrera had some difficulty with his command the first few times out, but he is among the relievers who have really started to find his groove.  He threw two scoreless innings against the Cubs – striking out 5.  Over his last 8 games, Genesis has struck out 14 batters, has an 0.90 ERA and a .091 batting average against.

Getting Them On is One Thing

During the early part of the season – including the mid-August reboot – the Cardinal offense was repeatedly hamstrung by their inability to get their leadoff batter in an inning on.  Going into September, Cardinal leadoff hitters were limping along at a .200/.293/.337 clip.  To make matters worse, St Louis was only able to chase 49% of the ones who did get on home.

Then came the 16-run game against Cincy.  In that game, Cardinal leadoff hitters were 5 for 8 with a walk and 4 runs scored.  Since then, we have done notably better getting that leadoff runner on.  In the 40 offensive innings they had against the Cubs, 15 of their leadoff hitters reached (a .375 percentage).  But only 7 scored (47%).  A case in point is Harrison Bader – who had a nice bounce-back series against the Cubs.  He led off 4 innings during the series, reaching base 3 times, a single a double and a hit-by-pitch.  He didn’t score on any of those opportunities.

Wong

One of the bright spots in an inconsistent offense (that supplied the pitching with just 18 runs during the series) was leadoff hitter Kolten Wong – a .333 hitter during the series (6 for 18).  Wong has caught fire a little bit, lately.  He has hits in 6 of his last 8 games, getting multiple hits in 5 of them.  Since the calendar turned Kolten is hitting .423 (11 for 26).

DeJong

Several days ago, I mentioned something about Paul DeJong trying to work his way into a leadoff spot.  It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the numbers suggest that this wouldn’t be a terrible plan – at least as far as getting on base is concerned.  Paul reached in 3 of the 6 innings he led off in Chicago, and for the season, Paul has a .391 on base percentage when he leads off an inning.

A significant indictment of the lower middle part of the order is that after DeJong reaches to lead off an inning, he only scores 22% of the time.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s struggles continue.  He did hit a home run in the first game (a fly ball that just found its way into the over-hanging basket), but that was his only hit of the series.  He struck out in 5 of his 8 at bats, and grounded into a double play.  And, he made a damaging throwing error in the last game.  Over his last 16 games, Carp is hitting all of .109 (5 for 46).

B Miller

Brad Miller came in hot off the end of the Cincinnati series – he was 6 for his last 9 – but was immediately cooled down by the Cubs.  He was 1-for-13 during the 5 games.

NoteBook

At 75 degrees, the Friday game broke a 14-game streak of game temperatures above 80 for the Cards.  One of the, perhaps, under-mentioned aspects of the onslaught of games the Cardinals have played since coming out of quarantine (and Thursday’s day off ended a streak of 23 games played in 19 days) is that they played them right through the blazing heat of the summer. Now that September has arrived, perhaps at least the weather will be a little kinder to them.

Saturday’s second game was even cooler.  In fact, at 72 degrees, it was the coolest game-time temperature the Cards have played in this season.  The previous coolest game temperature for the Cards occurred the last time they faced Yu Darvish.  He beat them 6-3 in 73 degree temperatures (also in Chicago) back on August 18. 

With the Sunday game also checking in at 72 degrees, the entire series averaged 75.8 degrees, nearly 2 degrees lower than their first visit into Chicago (77.6) which had been the previous coolest series by average temperature.

Yadier Molina had started at catcher for the first 17 games after he returned from COVID isolation. It was the longest current streak of starts by a Cardinal at one position until Matt Wieters started the second game of Saturday’s double-header. The new current leaders for consecutive starts at the same position are Paul Goldschmidt at first and Paul DeJong at short, both with twelve consecutive starts.

To be clear, Goldschmidt has started every game, but not all at first base.  He has served as the DH three times.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Early Damage

OK, so what adjectives describe the Cardinal offense?

Recently, I’ve used words like “scuffling” and “struggling.” And with good reason.  They recently endured a 1-for-26 stretch with runners in scoring position.  “Inconsistent” comes up frequently.  This team that has scored 30 runs over their last 3 games had scored a total of 6 over the 4 games that just preceded the outburst.

After careful thought, “patient” might be the most consistently applicable descriptor.  Especially recently.  They have managed at least 5 walks in 13 of their last 17 games.  In the 21 August games they played after coming out of quarantine, they drew 91 walks (4.33 per game) and had 17 other batters hit by pitches (0.81 per game).  Even though they only hit .245 through those 21 games, they did so with a .351 on base percentage.

A “patient” team isn’t often regarded as “aggressive.”  Those would seem to be mutually exclusive adjectives.  As this team invaded the Great American Smallpark for their three-game mid-week series with the Reds, perhaps Cincinnati was anticipating the “patient” Cardinals.  What they have gotten is aggression.  Whatever their press clipping might indicate, the team in the gray road uniforms has come out of the dugout swinging.

As they ambushed Sonny Gray last night, they didn’t wait for him to work himself into trouble.  Four of the first 8 he faced hit either the first or second pitch thrown.  These included the first two hits to bring home runs.  Brad Miller’s two-run double came on the first pitch thrown him.  Four batters later, Dexter Fowler jumped on the second pitch thrown to him for a two-run single that made it 4-0.

The rout was on from there.  The swinging Cardinals ended with six in the first, added two more in the second, and kept adding.  The final tallies showed 16 runs on 23 hits in a 16-2 conquest (boxscore).

Over the course of the season, Cardinal hitters hit the first pitch thrown them just 9.2% of the time, and jump one of the first two pitches only 23.9% of the time.  Last night they hit that first pitch 9 times (more than in any game this season) and 12 others hit the second pitch thrown – a combined 37.5% of plate appearances.

They picked good pitches to hit, too, going 13 for 21 (a .619 average).  Nine of the 16 runs scored were driven in on one of the first two pitches of the at bat.

It was certainly a good night – and a lot of batting averages look a lot better in the paper this morning.  But I caution against trying to read any deep meaning into this.  The main story line is that one of baseball’s best pitchers couldn’t command his breaking pitches – especially a usually devastating curve ball that kept bouncing in the dirt.

Credit the Cardinals, of course, for not doing much chasing – and for jumping on Gray’s mistakes instead of just fouling them off.  But this was just one game.

Until further notice, this remains a “patient” offense.  At least, that’s what we want the Reds and the other teams set to face the Cards to keep believing.

Wong

Leadoff hitter Kolten Wong has certainly flipped the switch.  After beginning the road trip with a groundout – extending his hitless streak to 15 at bats – he is 6 for his last 8 with 5 runs scored.

B Miller

If you make an early mistake with Brad Miller at the plate, you will likely pay for it.  He was 3 for 4, including his double and one of his two home runs on the first two pitches of the at bat.  So far, when Brad hits one of the first two pitches thrown to him he is 10 for 17 (.588), including 4 doubles and 2 home runs (a 1.176 slugging percentage).

The Cards have only hit 3 first-pitch home runs this season.  Miller has 2, with Harrison Bader connecting for the other.

Edman

With three more hits last night, Tommy Edman now has multiple hits in three straight games (he is 7 for 16 in those games).  He has hits in 5 of his last 6 games – including 4 multi-hit games.  Tommy is hitting .385 (10 for 26) during this streak.

Edman is right with Miller in punishing early mistakes.  He was 2-for-2 when hitting the first or second pitch last night, and is 13 for 25 (.520) on those pitches during the season.

Molina

Yadier Molina contributed 3 hits last night.  He is 5 for 14 (.357) during the three-game winning streak.  He finished August with a .306 average (15 for 49).  Still no hint that age or work-load is slowing Yadi down.  He has caught all 14 games since he has rejoined the roster.

Yadi had a characteristically aggressive night.  Up six times he hit one of the first two pitches in 4 of those at bats.  This year, Molina is hitting the first pitch thrown to him 18.2% of the time – nearly doubling the major league average, and 39% of his plate appearances last two pitches or less.

Knizner

Into the game late, Andrew Knizner finished with two hits.  He had two hits in his very first game of the year, and then went 0-for-11 until the sixth inning last night.

DeJong

Paul DeJong added two more hits last night – his third straight multi-hit game.  He has hit in 7 of his last 9 games – 5 of them multi-hit games.  Paul is 15 for his last 38 (.395).

Paul was 1 for 2 on the early pitches – and is now 11 for 21(.524) when hitting one of the first two pitches in his at bat.

Kim

While the hitters were feasting, Kwang Hyun Kim was adding yet another strong starting effort.  KK has now allowed no earned runs over his last 3 starts – 17 innings after shutting out the Reds on 3 hits over 5 innings.  The last 62 batters to face Kim have managed just 7 singles, 2 doubles and 3 walks – a .153/.194/.186 batting line.

The starters finished August with a 2.62 ERA for the month and a .166 batting average against.  Kwang Hyun has started them off on the same foot in September.

Elledge

Seth Elledge finished up the game, giving a ninth inning run, but no more damage.  None of the 5 batters he faced hit his first pitch.  And in fact, none of the 23 batters he has faced so far in his major league career have hit his first pitch.

NoteBook

Four days after the Cards surrendered their most runs of the season in their most lopsided loss of the season (the 14-2 shellacking administered by the Indians on August 28), the Cards landed on the Reds for their biggest offensive uprising (and most lopsided victory) of the season.

With is 7 runs batted in, Brad Miller is now up to 18 for the season.  He drove in just 25 last year and 29 the year before, even though his plate appearances were higher than he’s likely to get this year – 170 in 2019 and 254 in 2018.

Kolten Wong passed the 1000 total base threshold last night.  His 5 bring him to 1002 for his career.

The offensive explosion aided the team batting average notably as well.  They started the evening hitting an unimpressive .239 for the season.  The team batting average now sits at .252 – up 13 points on yesterday’s hitting alone.  More than 10% of their hits for the season (23 of 213) came in that game.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Masters of the Two-Strike Count

Joey Votto took Dakota Hudson’s first three pitches of the game.  Dak got strikes on the first two before missing with the slider.  With the count now 1-2, Hudson came back with a fastball.  This pitch would serve him well on this evening, but this particular fastball was up and out over the plate.  Joey chopped it over the mound and over the second base bag.  Shortstop Paul DeJong got to it, but had no play – infield hit for Votto.

By game’s end, this would be a mere footnote in the Cards 7-5 victory (boxscore), but in a sense, they almost should have stopped the game and given Joey the ball.  That hit snapped an 0-for-27 streak that batters had against Hudson when in two-strike counts.  The streak stretched back to the first inning of the August 16 game against the White Sox when Tim Anderson bounced a 3-2 pitch through into right for a single.

Votto’s single would also be the last two-strike hit the Reds would get last night.  Thirteen more would go down against Hudson, and six more against the bullpen.

During his two-strike no-hitter (of sorts), Dak struck out 12 of the 27.  Ten others grounded out.  Of the five that managed to get the ball in the air against Dakota, two were infield pop-outs.  The last 13 Cincy batters to face Hudson with two strikes on them either struck out (7) or grounded out (6).

Clearly two-strikes is a bad place to be with Hudson on the mound.  Especially since the season re-started for the Cardinals, Dakota has employed that slider/heavy sinker combination to deadly effect.  Over his last 4 starts, batters are 2 for 42 (.048) against him in two-strike counts.

The Cardinal pitchers, who (at .133) have baseball’s third lowest batting average once they get to two strikes (according to baseball reference), have four other prominent pitchers holding batters under .100 in these counts.  Hudson’s is the lowest – the others being Alex Reyes (.063), Giovanny Gallegos (.067), Kwang Hyun Kim (.080), and Jack Flaherty (.091). 

For their part, the offense was only 3 for 19 (.158) with two strikes on them.  Yet two of those were two of the most important hits of the game – both coming with two outs as well.

With the game tied at one in the second inning, Kolten Wong fell behind Cincinnati starter Anthony DeSclafani 0-2 with runners on first and third (and two outs).  Kolten poked a fastball the other way through the left side for the single that gave the team the lead it never relinquished.

Two innings later, St. Louis loaded the bases (with two outs) for DeJong.  Paul capped a six-pitch at bat by jumping on a 3-2 slider that hung down the middle of the plate, launching it over the centerfield wall for his first career grand slam.

Few things in baseball are more deflating than surrendering important hits with two strikes and two outs.

Starters Still Flexing

For the evening, Hudson finished 7 innings allowing just 1 earned run on only 4 hits.  Hudson has tossed consecutive quality starts, and over his last 4 starts, Dak holds a 1.66 ERA.  He has surrendered just 10 hits over those innings, only 2 for extra-bases.  Opposing batters are hitting just .137 against Hudson with a .192 slugging percentage since the re-start.

Over their last 21 games, Cardinal starters hold a 2.62 ERA with a .166 batting average against.

Gallegos

Picking up where he left off last year, Giovanny Gallegos picked up last night’s save.  He has allowed no runs so far through 8 innings, and barely any hits.  Both batters Giovanny faced last night were quickly forced into two-strike counts and both struck out.  So far Gallegos has faced 24 batters this season – with 16 facing a two-strike count.  His ratio of 66.7% is the highest of any Cardinal pitcher who has faced at least 20 batters.  Of those, nearly two-third (10) strike out.  That percentage (62.5) is the highest on the staff of any pitcher who has faced at least 10 batters.

He may prove difficult to remove from the closer’s role – even after Jordan Hicks comes back next year.

Goldy

While the big hit and the due accolades will go to the other Paul in the lineup, Paul Goldschmidt was 3-3 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch last night, picking up where he left off at the end of the homestand.  Goldy is now 6 for his last 12, and is hitting .359 (23 for 64) since the team came out of quarantine.

Goldy drove in a first inning run with a double on an 0-1 pitch.  The count on him was 2-1 leading off the third when he was hit by a pitch.  He walked on a 3-1 pitch ahead of DeJong’s grand-slam in the fourth. The count was 2-1 in the sixth when he singled.  He finished in the eighth with an infield hit on a 1-1 pitch.

This seems to have become Goldschmidt’s comfort zone during a plate appearance.  He rarely offers at the first strike, but doesn’t want the pitcher to get the advantage that comes with that second strike.  So he is – especially after the re-start – sitting on that second strike.  He is 13 for his last 25 (.520) with a .760 slugging percentage in one-strike counts over the last 21 games.

Wong

Kolten’s RBI single snapped an 0-for-15 skid.  His average had dwindled to .202 before he finished with 2 hits in his last 4 at bats.

Edman

Tommy Edman continued his resurgence from a sluggish start to the season.  Edman had his second consecutive two-hit game last night, and has now hit safely in 7 of his last 8.  He is hitting .344 (11 for 32) in those games.

Much like Goldschmidt, Edman has been thriving on that one-strike pitch since the end of the quarantine.  Both of last night’s hit came on one-strike pitches, and Edman is 9-for-20 (.450) over the last 21 games on those pitches.

DeJong

About the same time that Edman started to figure things out, Paul DeJong, playing in his second game since the quarantine, also started to click in.  One game after he contributed three hits in the finale against the Indians, Paul slapped out two more hits (including the big home run) against the Reds.  DeJong has hits in 6 of his last 8 games – with four of those being multi-hit games.  He was 0-for-4 in his first game back on the field.  Since then, he is a .406 hitter (13-for-32).

B Miller

After settling into the everyday designated hitter role, Brad Miller has hit his first little dry spell of the season.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night (with 3 strikeouts), Brad is now 0 for his last 10.

Carpenter Draws a Walk

Matt Carpenter did, indeed, draw a walk (two, actually) and came around to score a run after one of them.  Matt has drawn at least one in 9 of his last 11 games, for a total of 11.  And while that certainly has value, actual hits off of Carpenter’s bat have been notably rare.  Over his last 7 games he is 1 for 18 (.056) and over the last 11, Carp is a .100 hitter (3 for 30) with only one extra-base hit.  Carpenter is down to .181 for the season.

But he is walking a lot.

Carlson

After a brief surge, Dylan Carlson’s average has plunged back below the .180 mark (he’s at .176).  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Carlson is now 1 for his last 12 (.083).

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s first-inning RBI double drove in the first run of the game.  The Cards had gone eight games (since their August 24 game against Kansas City) without scoring the first run of a game.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

O’Hearn Drives Royals to Victory

As Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright stood on the mound to begin the sixth inning, he found Kansas City’s first baseman Ryan O’Hearn standing there waiting to face him for a third time.  The first two times had gone Ryan’s way.

The game was still scoreless when Ryan led off the second inning.  Adam’s first pitch to the Royal lefty was the cutter – a pitch that misbehaved all evening.  This one took off, running well inside, but Ryan flinched on it and fell behind in the count, 0-1.  Waino tried to find the outside corner with his next two offerings – a sinker, followed by a curve – but both missed, putting O’Hearn up in the count 2-1.

During this struggling evening, 12 of the 28 batters who would face Wainwright would get into a two-ball count.  Only 4 of those would see ball three, as even on a day when he battled his command, Adam was still able to stay – mostly – out of three-ball counts.

Over the course of the season, Wainwright has been the most disciplined of the Cardinal starters in keeping out of deep counts.  Counting last night, Waino has gone to three balls only 15 times against the 40 batters who have gotten themselves into two-ball counts against him.  For the season only 15.2% of all batters make it to three balls against Adam – the lowest percentage of any of the Cardinal starters.

Ryan, batting here in the second, wouldn’t see ball three either.  Even though his command of the curve was spotty at best, Wainwright never hesitates to throw it – even in two ball counts.  That’s what O’Hearn got – a hanging curve that sat over the middle of the plate until Ryan cuffed it into right for a single.  From there, he would eventually score the first run of the game on a ground-out.

There are times when it seems that – perhaps – Adam’s pitches in two-ball counts are too inviting.  O’Hearn’s second inning single was one of 4 hits (in 8 at bats) against Adam when he was in two-ball counts.

Their paths next crossed in the third.  The score was still 1-0, KC, but the Royals had threat brewing after back-to-back, two out walks.

From the little known facts department comes this gem.  The Cardinals are baseball’s best pitching staff on the first pitch of an at bat.  For the most part, major league hitters live to hit that first pitch.  Across the league (numbers found in baseball reference), batters slash .335/.350/.589 on that first pitch.  But when it’s a Cardinal on the mound, your slash line will be much humbler at .219/.231/.406 – a .637 OPS that is nearly 100 points lower than baseball’s next lowest (the .734 posted by the Texas staff).

The bulk of that success belongs to the man that O’Hearn was facing.  Adam routinely employs his cutter or his sinker to challenge the hitter with that first pitch, knowing that his curveball is that much more challenging if he is ahead in the count.  For their part, batters are fairly willing to jump on that fastball, knowing that the curveballs will come next.  Normally, only 10.4% of batters actually hit the first pitch in a plate appearance.  Ninety-nine batters into his 2020 season, Waino already has had 16 batters hit his first pitch – a rate roughly 50% higher than normal.

Usually, though, Adam successfully spots this pitch on the fringe of the strike zone, so the contact is met with minimal success.  As O’Hearn stood in the box in this third inning, three other Royals had already hit Waino’s first pitch and had a collective 0-for-3 to show for it.  In fact, as O’Hearn stood in, the first 15 batters to hit Adam’s first pitch in 2020 were just 1-for-15.

The first pitch to Ryan was that cutter, but up and not quite far in enough.  Whether O’Hearn was intentionally trying to beat the shift, or whether he was a little tied up by the pitch is unclear.  What is clear that his somewhat inside-out swing produced a ground ball that skipped cleanly through the left side of the infield (not terribly far from where a shortstop would normally be placed) for the single that pushed the KC lead to 2-0.

In between that hit and his sixth-inning plate appearance, much had changed.  The Cardinals had an uprising of their own, knocking KC starter Matt Harvey out of the game and pushing across four runs in the bottom of the third.  The Royals had scrapped to get one of those runs back in the fifth, but the Royals still trailed 4-3 as Ryan looked to go 3-for-3 against Wainwright.

Again, Adam fell behind 2-0 as his sinker dropped too low and a changeup floated wide of the plate.  This time, however, Wainwright was unable to stay out of a three-ball count as his 2-0 curveball stayed high.  Down in the count 3-0, Waino spotted a fastball perfectly on the lower outside corner.  Now at 3-1, Adam went back to the cutter, throwing one not too much different from the one he had thrown Ryan in the third inning – this one, perhaps a bit lower and a tad more over the plate.  It came in at 84.3 miles-per-hour.  It went out quite a bit faster.  And higher.  And deeper, as Ryan soared it deep into the right-field stands to tie the game.

O’Hearn would get one more at bat in the game, but he wouldn’t be facing Wainwright.  He struck out against John Gant in the eighth.

As for Adam, even in an outing in which he struggled from the beginning he was able to guile his way through seven innings.  While the results weren’t as comely as his first three starts of the season, they weren’t terrible.  After 98 pitches, Wainwright retired for the evening having allowed 7 hits (including the home run) and 2 walks.  He left a 4-4 tie in a game that his team would have several more opportunities to scratch out a victory.  Most of the time, this team finds a way to win this kind of game.  Most of the time.

The Incredible Walking Offense

Over the last week or so, I have made repeated references to the number of batters walked and hit by the Cardinal pitching staff.  The opposite has also been true.  Last night, St Louis was on the receiving end of 6 more walks and another hit batter. Their on base percentage last night was .385.  Since the season re-boot, Cardinal pitchers have walked 56 batters and hit 7 others.  Cardinal batters have answered with 59 walks of their own, while 12 other Cardinals have been hit.

Over the last 14 games, St Louis is hitting an uninspiring .249, but with a .356 on base percentage.

Getting the runners on, though, is only part of the battle.  Getting them home has proved to be much tougher.  Last night, only 2 of the 7 free runners crossed the plate.  Royal reliever Jake Newberry began the fourth by walking the first two batters, but a double-play took the steam out of the inning.  The Cards also got back-to-back walks with two out in the seventh, but nothing came of that, either.

In the ninth, with a runner already at third, ex-Cardinal reliever Trevor Rosenthal hit Kolten Wong to put the winning run on base with one out.  Neither runner moved as Trevor ended the game with a strikeout and a ground ball.

St Louis finished 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position.  They left 8 runners and lost another at the plate.

DeJong

One of the important pieces absent from the Cardinal lineup due to the virus was starting shortstop Paul DeJong.  In one of yesterday’s most encouraging developments, Paul slapped 3 hits.  In 3 games since his return to activity, DeJong is 4 for 11 (.364).

Wong

Kolten walked in addition to getting hit in the ninth inning, but got no hits, bringing to a close a seven-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Kolten hit .360 (9-for-25) and fashioned a .467 on base percentage with 4 walks and another hit by pitch.

Another Loss for the Pen

As the season was planned out, the Cardinal bullpen was supposed to be one of the team’s great strengths.  The COVID interruption has turned that bullpen into a kind of Chinese Fire Drill.  The last week and a half has been a constant tightrope act as Mike Shildt and Mike Maddox have labored to find enough arms to cover all the innings left them by a compromised rotation.

As the starters have begun to stretch out some, and some predictability has returned to the bullpen roles, the entire organization is hopeful that something resembling normalcy will return to the pitching staff – at least until the next wave of double-headers brings the next dose of chaos.

Last night, Wainwright turned in his second consecutive seven inning start and left a tie game to a reasonably rested bullpen – that promptly lost the game.

Gant – the first man out – had been nearly flawless so far this year.  So naturally, the Royals were able to wrap a couple of groundball singles around one of those ubiquitous walks to produce the run that decided the contest, 5-4 (boxscore).  The Cards have now lost 6 games since their season re-started – 4 of the losses coming from the pen.  In 14 games, St Louis has surrendered 48 runs – 28 of them by the pen.  Much of that because the pen has pitched nearly half the innings since the quarantine ended (51 of the 112).  Over those games, the starters hold a 2.51 ERA.  The pen is now at 4.06.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

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.

Flaherty Overcomes Limping Offense to Down Royals

With 23-year-old Jack Flaherty in command, the Cards kicked off their road trip and kept their winning streak clicking up to four games.

Kansas City finished with no runs on 4 hits in the 2-0 Cardinal victory (box score).

The great pitching performance and the win makes things more palatable.  Truth be told, though, the Cards were as nearly dominated on 5 hits.  Only one of their runs was earned.

The storyline continues the same.  For the seventh time in 10 August games, the Cardinals were held to fewer than four runs.  They have scored just 37 runs this month, and are scoring just 3.07 runs per game over their last 14 games.

There are lots of pieces of the St Louis offense that aren’t exactly perking right now.  One fundamental thing that would make a significant difference – if they can do it – would be to put the leadoff man on base.

Last night, Dexter Fowler began the game by reaching on an error.  He eventually scored.  Paul DeJong began the second inning with a walk.  He was later erased trying to steal second.  Kolten Wong then led off the third with a double.  Even though he managed to run himself into as out as well, his hit set in motion the Cards second run.

Thereafter, the Cards put none of their last six leadoff batters on base.  Consequently, they never scored again, and only pushed two runners into scoring position – both with two outs.

This was not an isolated occurrence.  The Cards’ .301 on base percentage from their leadoff hitters (according to baseball reference) ranks twenty-second out of thirty teams.  Over the last 14 games, that on base percentage has faded to .289.  In the season’s second half, St Louis has put its leadoff batter on base just 72 times in 251 innings (.287).  Those hitters are batting just .222.

The April team that jumped out to a 20-10 record, profited from a .291/.361/.498 batting line from its leadoff hitters.  And once that batter reached base, he scored 55% of the time.

Since April, Cardinal leadoff hitters have limped along with a .211/.282/.347 batting line – with only 45% of those batters who reached eventually scoring.

It’s a number that supports one of the feelings that I’ve had about the team and lineup in general.  Lots of guys in the lineup are thumpers.  But too few of them seem to embrace the set-up roll.  If this one aspect of the offense could improve even marginally, the impact would be noteworthy.

KoltenWong

One of the players who has embraced the table-setting aspect of offense is Kolton Wong.  Kolten is pretty torrid right now.  He had 2 of the 5 Cardinal hits last night – including their only hit out of the leadoff spot.

Wong now has hit safely in 18 of his last 23 games, hitting .377 (26 for 69) as he has pushed his season average back up to .271.  The team’s leading hitter in July, Kolten holds that position early in August as well.  Ten games into the month, Kolten is 10 for 28 (.357).  He is also hitting .361 (30 for 83) in the second half.  That average also leads the team.

DexterFowler

Finishing 0-for-3, Dexter Fowler saw his six-game hitting streak come to an end.  Fowler hit .381 (8 for 21) and slugged .667 (3 doubles and 1 home run) in those games.

PaulDeJong

Every so often this season, Paul DeJong joins in the offense with a flurry of hits.  The last time was the beginning of this month when he popped 5 hits over the first two games.  He only has four hits in the 8 games since.  Over those last 8 games, Paul is 4 for 28 (.143) and hasn’t had an extra base hit over his last five games.  Over his last 15 games, DeJong has 3 runs batted in (just 1 in his last 7).  Over the last 14 games, DeJong has struggled to a .196 average (10 for 51).

My question, I guess, is that if Paul is going to start every game even if he doesn’t hit, perhaps he shouldn’t hit fifth?  Maybe he should bat lower in the order?

JackFlaherty

But who wants to dwell on shaky offense when you can talk about Jack Flaherty.

Of the myriad of high-ceiling arms in the Cardinal’s system, Flaherty becomes the first to really settle in and start growing into an elite pitcher.  Yes, one day Jack will allow another run, but it hasn’t happened to him yet this month.

His first 21 innings in August could hardly be better.  The 75 batters that have faced him have created no runs on just 8 hits (5 singles and 3 doubles).  He has struck out 26 of them while walking just 4.  It’s an opposing batting line of .114/.173/.157.  But this is just the very prominent tip of the iceberg.

Going back to the last game before the break, Flaherty has made seven starts with an 0.79 ERA over 45.1 innings.  Six of the seven starts have been quality.  In five of those starts, Jack has pitched 7 innings allowing 4 or fewer hits and never more than 1 run.  The batting line against him – from the last 168 batters he has faced – is a compelling .142/.208/.219.

The emergence of Jack Flaherty is one of the most important developments of the 2019 season.  He has become “must-watch” TV every time he takes the mound.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s first-inning sacrifice fly stood up as the game-winning hit.  Goldy is the first Cardinal this season with 10 GWRBIs.

DeJong’s second inning walk was his forty-third of the season – a career high for the third year player.  More than that, it was the 100th walk of his career.  It took him 338 games and 1420 plate appearances, so Paul isn’t exactly a walk machine.  But he has been getting better.  Every year his walk total increases – as does the margin between his on base percentage and his batting average.

The shutout victory breaks a string of 8 consecutive games during which the Cards had trailed at some point.

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.