Tag Archives: Wong

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.

Runners, Runners Everywhere – But Not a Hit to be Had

Cardinal nemesis Kyle Hendricks took the mound last night against his favorite patsies.  Kyle struck out the side in order in the first.  Still in there in the seventh, Kyle retired all three batters to face him on little pop ups.  It took him ten pitches.

In the five innings between Hendricks’ first and last innings, the Cardinals advanced a runner into scoring position in each inning.  They would finish the game with 9 hits – including 5 doubles – on their way to 15 plate appearances with a runner in scoring position (RISP).

They ended the game with no runs in a 2-0 loss (box score) that dropped them back into a first place tie with the visitors from up North.

In many offensive areas, this team has improved considerably since the break.  Taking nothing way from Mr. Hendricks, who made it look easy last night, hitting with runners in scoring position is not a skill that the Cardinals are getting better at.

For the season, they are hitting .250 in RISP opportunities (second worst in the league to Milwaukee, according to baseball reference).  Their .744 OPS in these situations leads only Miami’s .704.  They have driven in 286 runs with ducks on the pond.  The Marlins, again, are the league worst, just 13 behind the Cards at 273.

In the month of July, these numbers got even worse.  In spite of the fact that St Louis finished the month with a 16-9 record, they were only 39 for 173 (.225) in RBI opportunities. Nine of the 39 hits were of the infield variety – with 5 of those failing to deliver a run.

Both of their RISP hits last night fall into that category.  Infield dribblers by Miles Mikolas and Tyler O’Neill.  Before the evening was over, St Louis would advance two runners to third – in both cases with less than two outs.  In all, five Cardinals had opportunities with a runner at third.

But the zero on the scoreboard never did go away.

I can’t speak to games before 2012, but for the eight seasons that I have been tracking RISP at bats, this was the most in any game in which the Cards were shut out.  Previously, they have had three games in which they had 11 at bats with runners in scoring position and were shutout anyway.  Two of those three occurred in 2015 (May 22 – a 5-0 loss to Kansas City and August 22 in an 8-0 loss to San Diego).  That 2015 team was also shut out by Atlanta 4-0 on October 2 in a game when they had 10 RISP at bats.

Many of you may remember that series right at the end of the season.  The Cards had their division title wrapped, and ended the season with three meaningless games against the Braves.  They were shutout in all three games, a harbinger to their losing the division series to the Cubs that year.

So this game was – I suppose – somewhat historic.

After rolling through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh on the road, the Cards have returned home to face contenders in Houston and Chicago – and abruptly have lost the ability to get that hit with the runner right there.  In losing three of the last four, St Louis is 3 for 39 with ducks on the pond – with none of those hits accounting for runs.  Two of those happened last night.  The third came on Sunday afternoon against the Astros.  It was the third inning, and the Cards already trailed 2-0, but had runners on first and second with one out against Wade Miley.  O’Neill delivered the single to left, but Tommy Edman running from second couldn’t advance past third.

As it turned out, he never would get home.  Paul DeJong struck out and Matt Wieters grounded out.

For those of us who still have concerns about this team’s character, this is an unsettling trend.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt has been on quite a tear lately.  He has been hitting lots of singles and home runs, but almost no doubles.  Curiously, a hitter who is annually over 30 doubles had only hit 10 coming into last night’s game.  He slashed 2 against Hendricks – getting left on base both times.

The hits extend Paul’s hitting streak to 9 games – games in which he is hitting .378 (14 for 37) with 9 extra base hits (7 of them home runs).

With that, Goldschmidt wraps up a month that might very well get him some votes for player of the month.  Goldschmidt hit 11 home runs and drove in 27 runs for the month (25 games), while batting .308/.360/.725.

Ironically, the red-hot Goldy was the only Cardinal starter not to get a RISP opportunity last night.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong also ended July on a strong note.  While his hitting streak hasn’t been as noisy as Goldschmidt’s it has been encouraging.  With his 2 singles last night, Kolten has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 starts – hitting .390 in those games (16 for 41).

Wong ended the month as the Cardinals’ leading hitter.  Kolten hit .357 in July (25 for 70).

Miles Mikolas

As with Adam Wainwright the night before, Miles Mikolas came within one out of a quality start.  Also, like Waino, Mikolas allowed just one run.  That’s where the similarities mostly ended.  Mikolas’ run was unearned, and the run Waino allowed wasn’t enough to get him beat.

Miles took another tough loss, but wrapped up an excellent month of July.  In 5 starts he tossed 3 quality starts (and almost a fourth).  In his 30.2 innings, he maintained a 2.93 ERA.  Miles walked just 4 batters all month, while allowing just 2 home runs.

Over his last 8 starts, Miles has pitched to a 2.64 ERA.

On the reverse end of the RISP discussion, much of Mikolas’ improvement has come in this situation.  Miles is a guy who gives up a lot of hits, so there are almost always RISP opportunities against him.  Through the end of June, opposing hitters where battering Miles to the tune of .296 (21 for 71) when they had those shots against him.

Last night, the Cubs were just 1 for 6 against Miles in RISP situations.  For the month just ended, batters were only 4 for 23 (.174) against him with ducks on the pond.

Giovanny Gallegos

As with the night before, Giovanny Gallegos relieved in the sixth with runners on base (only two last night) and ended the inning getting a flyball from Kyle Schwarber.

Gallegos ends July with an 0.69 ERA in 13 innings for the month.  He closes the month on a 9-game scoreless streak in which he’s allowed 2 hits over 12 innings – leading to an .053 batting average against.

Giovanny has stranded all of the last 10 runners he has inherited, and has been absolutely brilliant when pitching with runners in scoring position.  In July, batters were 0-for-12 in RISP at bats, and for the year they are just 3 for 39 (.077) in this vital situation.

John Gant

Although the run was unearned, John Gant surrendered a run in his third straight outing.  He was also touched for 2 doubles in 1.2 innings.  Gant finished July with a 4.50 ERA over 10 innings.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia gave the Cards at least the chance of a comeback with a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth that featured 2 strikeouts.  Since returning from paternity leave, John has pitched 15 innings over 11 games with a 2.40 ERA and a .170/.214/.226 batting line.

NoteBook

Miles Mikolas may not get enough credit for his durability.  Miles made his twenty-second start of the season last night – after making 32 last year.

While Miles has been much better since the break, his rugged first half has him on the brink of re-setting most of the career highs he set last year.  The 6 hits allowed last night bring him to 133 for the season.  He allowed 186 last year.  The run scored off him was the fifty-ninth of the season – he allowed 70 last year.  The walk he allowed was just the twenty-first he’s given up this year, but he walked only 29 last year.

Kolten Wong, having his healthiest and perhaps best season, played in his 105th game last night.  The 127 he played in last year were the second most of his career.  In the only other “complete” season Kolten has had in the big leagues, he played 150 games in 2015.

Mostly because he is playing everyday, but also because he is having a better season, Kolten is already about to eclipse (and in some cases has already eclipsed) last year’s numbers with still two months left in 2019.  He already has 334 at bats after getting 353 last year.  With his two hits last night, Wong has equaled last year’s 88 hits.  After rolling up 137 total bases last year, Wong has 131 already this year.

With his stolen base last night, Kolten has not only more than doubled the 6 he stole last year, but has matched the 15 he stole in 2015.  His career high is the 20 he stole in 2014.

St Louis has now surrendered the first run in each of the last five games, and in seven of the last eight.

Still Comes Back to Pitching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaherty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponce de Leon

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

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

Hudson

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

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

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

John Brebbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Gant

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

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

Tyler O’Neill

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

Goldschmidt

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

Kolten Wong

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

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

Paul DeJong

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

Harrison Bader

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

Yairo Munoz

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

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

Final Notes from the Pirate Series

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

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

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

NoteBook – Houston Series

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

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

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

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

But no starts, yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Worm-Slayer Rules

I don’t know if there are, in fact, any living things making their microscopic homes in the turf at the cleverly named Marlins Park.  But if there are, they must have thought the apocalypse had come.

Gaining in confidence, not to mention momentum, with every start, Cardinal rookie right-hander Dakota Hudson and his very heavy sinker is growing into his worm-slayer role.  Last night, in seven mostly dominant innings, Dakota faced 28 Miami batters.  He struck out 6 and walked 2.  He also hit one.  Of the other 19, 13 drilled the ball into the ground (68.4%).

Dakota allowed 1 run on 4 hits in earning the 7-1 win (box score).

In his two June starts, Dakota is getting groundballs from 65% of the batters who have faced him.  For the season, he leads the rotation – and probably most of baseball – by getting groundballs on 62.3% of the balls put into play against him.  Tonight’s pitcher, Miles Mikolas, is a distant second on the team, getting ground balls 50.4% of the time.

St Louis also has two elite groundball machines working in its bullpen.  Jordan Hicks is getting grounders 60.8% of the time, and Carlos Martinez – albeit after facing just 37 batters – has a groundball rate of 62.5%.

As his groundball rate climbs, Hudson’s ERA declines.  Dakota has now fired off 6 consecutive quality starts, and 7 in his last 8 games.  He is 3-2 in those games, with two more leads lost by the bullpen.  He holds a 2.40 ERA over his last 48.2 innings, while getting groundballs at a 65.8% rate.

He carries a 1.35 ERA after his two June starts.

Getting hitters to ground out isn’t pitching-sexy the way that striking out a bunch of hitters is.  But what it lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in efficiency.  Dakota needed only 93 pitches to cover 7 innings last night.  In his 13.1 innings this month, he is averaging only 13.95 pitches thrown per inning.  He throws just 3.32 pitches per plate appearances this month, and 3.53 for the season.  Both numbers lead the staff for any pitcher facing more than 40 batters.

Dakota has also profited from significant run support for the most part this year.  They scored six for him last night, and have supported him with a team-high 47 runs (5.82 per innings).  Michael Wacha is the rotation’s leader, getting 6.91 support runs per game.

For the turfdwellers at Marlins Park, though, last night’s performance was more like a sequel.  The night before re-claimed Cardinal starter Wacha threw a very similar game.  In shutting out the Marlins during his six innings, Michael induced 14 ground balls and only two fly balls.

With the unlikely duo of Hudson and Wacha leading the way, the Cardinal pitching staff has undergone something of a rebirth as the calendar page flipped to June.  This month so far, Cardinal pitchers are getting grounders at a rate of 54.3% – contributing to a 3.12 team ERA that is closer to team expectations.  They have allowed just 6 home runs in 9 games this month.

Certainly these last two games against a last place club have helped.  And the club psyche is still stinging from the sweep in Chicago.  But the numbers are finally starting to trend in a positive direction.

GiovannyGallegos

With surprisingly little fanfare, Giovanny Gallegos is on something of a tear.  He pitched last night’s eighth inning, giving a hit but no runs while picking up a strikeout.  Gallegos now has a scoreless streak of 6 games, covering 8 innings, during which he has given just 3 hits while striking out 9.

Of the last 61 swings against him, 25 have missed the ball (41%).  He has now gone 8 appearances and 10 innings since his last walk, and has thrown 75% of his last 146 pitches for strikes.  His season ERA is down to 3.14.

For the season, 314 of his 448 pitches have been strikes – a 70.1% ratio that leads the team.

Offense Has a Day

By the end of the game, St Louis finished with 7 runs on 13 hits.  Everyone got at least one hit, even those who had been struggling recently (Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, etc).  About the only thing not achieved was getting Tommy Edman his first major league hit.

Most of the damage came late, though, at the expense of the embattled Adam Conley.  Before he came in, the game had gone to the sixth, tied 1-1.  St Louis scored the go ahead runs on an error and a bases loaded walk.  It’s, perhaps, premature to call the hitting woes a thing of the past, but it was nice to see some people get hits who haven’t gotten many recently.

MarcellOzuna

Marcell Ozuna is enjoying his return to South Florida.  He has had 2 hits in each game, and has 7 over his last 3 games, including a home run last night.  Ozuna is still hitting .412 for the month of June (14 for 34) with a .618 slugging percentage.

YadierMolina

Missing for 9 games with a thumb injury, Yadier Molina stepped back into the game like he was never away, collecting 2 hits.

Yadi also hit the line drive that brought in the go ahead run.  Although he didn’t get a hit or an RBI, nobody on the team is better at finding a way to get that runner in from third.  This was the seventeenth time this season that Molina had a runner at third with less than two outs.  This was the thirteenth time he had delivered that runner.

Molina’s night also included a strikeout – his eighteenth this season.  All of his strikeouts have been swinging.  There is no other Cardinal who has been to the plate at least a dozen times that has not been called out on strikes at least once.

Of course, that’s understandable when you almost never take a pitch.  In his first game back, Molina saw 14 pitches and swung at 9 of them.  For the season, he has hacked at 56.8% of all pitches thrown his way – the highest percentage of any of the regulars.

He also put the ball in play with 4 of those 9 swings.  It’s something else he leads all the regular players in, as he puts the ball in play with 45.8% of his swings.

This all means that Molina’s plate appearances are over quickly.  He lasted just 2.8 pitches per last night, and for the season is averaging just 3.34 per plate appearance – also the lowest on the team.

KoltenWong

After a damaging month of May, Kolten Wong already looks much better in June.  With two more hits last night, Wong is off to a .333 start (10 for 30) in the new month.

One of Kolten’s hits last night was a bunt single.  Wong has 7 of the Cardinals’ 11 bunt hits on the season.

When Kolten came to the plate in the fourth, he had Yadier Molina on first and just one out.  If Miami had designs on turning the double play, though, they had the wrong guy up there.  Kolten is the Cardinals’ toughest player to double up, having grounded into just 1 double play this year in 38 such opportunities.  This time, he lined a single to bring up a first-and-third situation.

Miami then got the double play grounder from Dexter Fowler.

Wong is also the hardest Cardinal to throw a first-pitch strike to.  For the season, only 52.2% of the first pitches thrown to him are strikes.  Last night, he only saw one first-pitch strike.

Kolten swung the bat six times last night.  He fouled off three and put three pitches into play.  He didn’t miss on any of his swings.  He rarely does.  For the season, Kolten’s swing-and-miss rate is just 19.7%.

Of the 14 pitches that Wong took, only 1 was called a strike.  He doesn’t let many strikes go by.  So far this month, of the pitches that he’s taken, only 27.9% are called strikes.

DexterFowler

While Fowler did ground into the double play, Dexter also got two hits.  The double-play, by the way, was just the first he has grounded into this year.

In the early games in June, Dexter has shown some increased ability to put the bat on the ball.  Through April and May, Fowler missed on 26.5% of his swings.  So far – for the first 47 times he’s swung the bat in June – Dexter is missing only 21.3% of the time.  He missed only 2 of his 13 swings last night.

Dexter may also have the best eye on the team.  Last night he took 12 pitches – all called balls.  For the season, 42.1% of the pitches thrown to him are balls – the highest percentage on the team.

NoteBook

In the first two games of the Miami series, St. Louis has scored 11 runs.  In their two previous series (2 games against Cincinnati and 3 against the Cubs) they totaled 10 runs.

The Marcell Ozuna home run was his eighteenth of the season already.  During his first year in St Louis he hit just 23.  Ozuna also scored twice in the game.  After scoring just 69 runs all of last season, Marcell already has 48 this year.

Starters Rise to Occasion in Sweep of Cubs

So, it was another minimal offensive series for your St Louis Cardinals.  Granted, they faced three quality arms, but as the Sunday game ended, the Cards had scored just 11 runs during the three games, hitting .233 on just 21 hits.

Oh, did I mention that St Louis won all three games?  By scores of 2-1 in 10 innings (box score), 7-4 (box score) and 2-1 again (box score).

If this team is going to be special this year, it will be because of their pitching.  For the first fifty or so games, the rotation showed inconsistent flashes of potential.  For three games as May faded into June, and against their divisional rival from up North, the Cardinal starters were very special.

The Cards got 20 innings from their starters in this series – and might well have had a couple more, had Jack Flaherty’s Saturday start not been interrupted after five innings by rain.  For those 20 innings the Cubs dented St Louis’ starters for just 3 runs on 12 hits – a 1.35 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Yes, there was a bit of luck involved.  Especially on Sunday, when Chicago hit Adam Wainwright harder than the results showed.  Still, the club couldn’t have asked for more from the starters.

The bullpen was nearly as good, although hiccups from Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia threatened two of the games.

In fact, that might be the most satisfying element of the series.  Each game was tightly contested, and Chicago could very easily have swept the home team.  These were, in fact, the type of games that the Cards have repeatedly lost to Chicago over the last few years – the character games.  For one weekend at least, it was St Louis coming through with the clutch hit and the big defensive play.

To keep things in perspective, there is still a lot of baseball to be played – and many more contests against Chicago.  This was just one chapter in a very long novel.  But it was not insignificant.  Much like their season series against their other primary division competitor.  After losing 5 of the first 7 against Milwaukee, they came back to sweep the Brewers the last time they played them to even that series.  This sweep, though, does more than just answer the Cubs earlier sweep of the Cards.  Getting off the deck and answering these two teams provided a significant confidence boost.

And confidence, by the way, is not in short supply.  I don’t think I ever remember a more confident two-games-over team.

The rest of the summer will tell whether that confidence is warranted or just bravado.  One thing to remember, though.  Both of St Louis’ answering sweeps were at home.  If they have true designs on the division title, this team will have to find some way of coping with Miller Park and Wrigley Field – Wrigley as soon as this Friday.

Fifty-eight games into the 2019 season, this team is still a mystery.

Miles Mikolas

Three starts ago, Miles Mikolas endured a nightmare start in Texas – he gave 7 runs (and 2 home runs) in less than 2 innings.  That disaster stands in sharp contrast to Miles three starts before and his two starts since.  In those other 5 games, Miles has pitched at least 6 innings in all of them, (and 7 in the other 4) without giving up more than three runs in any of them.  In fact, he gave up as many as 3 runs in only one of those games.

Over the 34 innings that surround that Texas game, Miles has allowed as many runs (7) and home runs (2) as he did in that Texas game.  He holds a 1.85 ERA in those other games, holding those teams to a .213 batting average, while walking just 4.

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty followed Mikolas’ 7 strong innings (1 run on 6 hits) with a strong effort of his own.  After allowing solo home runs in the first two innings, Jack settled down and kept Chicago off the scoreboard till the rains came in the fifth.

The rain interrupted a streak of three consecutive quality starts from the young right-hander.  Over his last 4 starts, Jack has a 2.74 ERA over 23 innings with 26 strikeouts.  His last 4 opponents are hitting .182 against him.

Through the month of May, the 30 batters that swung at Flaherty’s first pitch ended up hitting .320.  On Saturday the 6 Cubs who chased after Jack’s first pitch finished 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts.

In fact, in that Saturday game Chicago’s hitters combined to go 0 for 11 when they swung at the first pitch.  For the series, the Cubs were just 3 for 32 (.094) in at bats where they swung at the first pitch (the major league average when swinging at the first pitch is .268).

John Gant

One of the bullpen heroes of the series, John Gant pitched in two of the games, winning the Saturday game and saving Sunday’s contest.  He allowed a walk, but retired the other five batters he faced.

John is on another streak of scoreless outings, as he has allowed no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks over his last 7 innings over 6 games.

Johnny has been much better than anyone could have expected.

Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks was the winner in the Friday game, pitching two innings.  He was brought back to save the Sunday game, but faltered.  Manager Mike Shildt says he isn’t concerned, but maybe he should be at least a little.

Hicks has now given runs in 3 of his last 6 games.  Over his last 5.2 innings, Jordan has given 6 runs on 7 hits and 5 walks.  The 29 batters he has faced over those appearances are hitting .292 against him – far too high for a kid who throws 104+.  With the walks, the recent on base percentage against him is .414.

Offensive Struggles

I began by referencing the recent offensive brown-out.  Even though the pitching (and defense, by the way) made what little offense they got stand up, the Cards have been a less than stellar offensive machine for quite a while now.

Over their last 16 games, this team is averaging 3.94 runs per game with a distressing .217 team batting average.

Kolten Wong

When Kolten Wong rolled to second in the second inning of the Friday game, he extended his current hitless streak to 22 at bats.

From that moment on, Wong owned the series as much as any non-pitcher could.  He got 6 hits in his last 9 at bats (two hits in each game), stole two bases, scored twice, drove in two – including the important first run in the Sunday game – and made the defensive play of the series to end the eighth inning of the Sunday game (you have probably seen the highlight of Wong racing almost into mid right-field and going full extension to gather in Anthony Rizzo’s soft liner.

Wong had himself a series.  Historically, Kolten is either icy-ice cold or broiling hot.  No one in this clubhouse would complain if Wong went on a substantial tear.

For the series, Wong was 2 for 4 in at bats where he swung at the first pitch.  For the season, that is when he is at his best.  He is still hitting .316 (18 for 57) when swinging at the first pitch.

Marcell Ozuna

Left fielder Marcell Ozuna didn’t get a hit in 3 at bats in the Sunday game, breaking a short but very loud five-game hitting streak.  During those previous 5 games, Marcell went 9 for 19 (.474).  He hit 2 home runs, drove in 6, and slugged .842.

Matt Carpenter

For much of the early season – for whatever reason – Matt Carpenter has been noticeably more aggressive on the first pitch.  In April, he chased the first pitch thrown him 22.4% of the time.  In May, it was 24.1%.  In all of this, the results weren’t much.

Lately, he has returned to the Matt Carpenter we remember, and his numbers have been steadily rising.  He had 10 plate appearances in the Cub series and took the first pitch 9 times.  He finished the series 3 for 9 with a walk.  Over his last 16 games, Matt has taken the first pitch thrown 81.7% of the time – and is slashing .310/.408/.548 when he does.

You would think this would make him all the more dangerous when he does swing at the first pitch, but that hasn’t materialized yet.  Over those same 16 games, Matt is slashing .200/.273/.500 in the plate appearances in which he chases that first pitch.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader hit a home run late in the Saturday game.  It was his only hit in the last two series (1 for 19 – .053).

Paul DeJong

And Paul DeJong’s tailspin continues.  He did get a late single in the Sunday game, but that represents only his second hit in his last 11 games (and 36 at bats).  Over the 16 games that the Cards have scuffled for runs, Paul is hitting .145 (8 for 55) with just 1 home run.

Paul swung at the first pitch only twice in his 11 plate appearances in the series.  In his red hot April, DeJong swung at the first pitch 24.3% of the time, and with devastating effect – a line of .438/.455/.719.

In May, he took the first pitch 86% of the time.  Over the last 16 games he has watched the first pitch 89.4% of the time – more frequently than Carpenter.

The numbers suggest a more timid approach at the plate, but that’s not what I see from him.  After his blazing April, pitchers seem much less anxious to challenge Paul early in the count.  He sees a great many first pitches just off the plate or just low – occasionally, these pitches cross the corners of the strike zone.

After they establish the outside, many pitchers are then able to jam DeJong later in the at bat.  They have had some success doing that.

Mostly, though, Paul appears to still be taking disciplined at bats.  I don’t see him chasing many pitches at all.  But he is missing his pitch when he gets it – or fouling it off.  Timing just a little off.  Or, when he does get into one, someone makes a great play on it – like Albert Almora did in the Saturday game.

DeJong, I think is close.  One thing he won’t have to worry about is opportunity.  As with Wong and Carpenter and all the other starters who went through extended slumps, he can depend that Shildt will continue to write his name on the lineup card even if he goes 2 for his next 50.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards did score first yesterday.  They have scored the first run in 5 of their last 7.

The Cardinals have won only 7 series all year, but 4 of them have now been by sweep.  Of the 5 series that St Louis was in position to sweep, only Washington – who faced a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cards – was able to avoid the redbird brooms.

The Cub series was also just the eighth series this year in which the Cards won the first game.  They are 5-3 in series when they win that first game.

With his 8 innings on Sunday, Adam Wainwright now has 66.1 on the season.  He pitched only 40.1 innings all last year.  He also now has 1,998.1 for his career – leaving him just 5 outs shy of 2000.