Tag Archives: Yairo Munoz

Cards Waste Another Quality Start in San Fran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dakota Hudson

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

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

Miles Mikolas

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

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

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

Yairo Munoz

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

Matt Wieters

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

Harrison Bader

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winning Teams Still a Stumbling Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcell Ozuna

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

Yairo Munoz

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

Paul DeJong

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

Jose Martinez

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

Harrison Bader

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

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

Adam Wainwright

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

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

Tyler Webb

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

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

John Brebbia

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

John Gant

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

Giovanny Gallegos

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

Jack Flaherty

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

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

Michael Wacha

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

Jordan Hicks

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

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

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

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

Cards Miss Too Many RISP Opportunities in San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YairoMunoz

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

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

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

YadierMolina

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

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

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

PaulDeJong

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

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

HarrisonBader

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

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

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

PaulGoldschmidt

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

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

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

TommyEdman

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

MichaelWacha

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

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

MilesMikolas

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

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

GiovannyGallegos

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

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

NoteBook

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

Miklas and Waino and Three Days of Raino?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Wainwright

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

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

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

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

Miles Mikolas

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

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

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

Dakota Hudson

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

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

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

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

Michael Wacha

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

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

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

John Gant

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

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

Andrew Miller

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

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

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

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

John Brebbia

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

Offensive Roller-coaster

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

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

Paul Goldschmidt

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

Jedd Gyorko

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

Yairo Munoz

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

Jose Martinez

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

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

Strikes a Rarity

One never knows what one will get the day after a game like Friday’s.  Highlighted by Matt Carpenter’s career day, the Cardinals waltzed away with an 18-5 win (box score).  When the next day features a double-header, it’s even harder to predict.

As it turned out a long day of baseball turned even longer as both pitching staffs showed a strange aversion to throwing strikes. 

The umpires played a part.  Both Lance Barksdale and Will Little might have been more generous with the outside corners, but any part they might have played in the outcome was minor indeed.  There weren’t a whole lot of narrow misses.

The 18 innings saw a total of 589 pitches.  Of the 351 pitches that were taken by both teams, 252 (71.8%) were called balls.  Of the 161 batters that came to the plate, 68 (42.2%) ended their at bat ahead in the count.  The pitching staffs combined to issue 28 total walks (3 of them intentional).

The two games totaled 6 hours and 51 minutes.

For all that – as neither side took full advantage of their opportunities – the final scores were not all that extreme.  The Cubs took the opener, 7-2 (box score), with the Cards salvaging (barely) the night-cap, 6-3 (box score).  After racking up 18 runs on 18 hits in the Friday game, the Cards were just 2 for 20 (.100) in the double-header when they were ahead in the count.

Matt Carpenter

The story of the weekend was Cardinal first-baseman Matt Carpenter.  With home runs in each game of the double-header, Carpenter extended his historic home run streak to six games.  While the decision not to start Matt in the second game was a little questionable (how do you bench someone who has home runs in five straight games?) Carpenter did provide a seventh-inning home run that helped bring the Cards back late.

During the streak, Carpenter is 11 for 20 (.550) with all the hits being for extra-bases (3 doubles and 8 home runs) – resulting in a video-gamesque slugging percentage of 1.900.

Matt has 12 runs batted in during the six games, but he only has 1 game with multiple RBIs – the Friday game in which he drove in 7.  The home runs in the other five games were all solo shots – one of the residual complications of having your most consistent power hitter who can only hit in the lead-off spot.

At the double-header’s conclusion, Carpenter now has 72 plate appearances in the month of July.  They have resulted in 4 singles, 7 doubles, 10 home runs, 17 runs batted in, 13 walks (2 of them intentional) 10 strikeouts, 1 hit-by-pitch, and 0 double plays.  Matt’s July batting line is a satisfactory .362/.486/1.000.

Tommy Pham

While Carpenter has grabbed the headlines, Tommy Pham – whose first half was deeply marred by an epic slump – has bounced back recently with a vengeance.  In many ways, his recent production is almost as noteworthy as Carpenter’s.

Since Mike Shildt took over as manager, Pham has gone 10 of 17 (.588) including a double and a home run.  He has 8 runs batted in over those last 17 at bats – a span during which he is slugging an impressive .824.

After a fairly brutal start, Tommy is now hitting .316 with 15 runs batted in in 16 July games.  He has had 5 multi-RBI games already this month, including three, 3-RBI games.

When Tommy is seeing the ball well, he is almost always ahead in the count. In his 9 plate appearances over the double-header, Pham was ahead in the count 4 times.  In 65 July plate appearances, he has ended the at bat ahead 47.7% of the time.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz didn’t start the first game, but he came off the bench to get only the Cardinals’ second (and last) hit of that game – later scoring St Louis’ last run.  He did start game two, driving in the game-tying run in the eighth.

Playing time for Munoz has been less plentiful since Paul DeJong returned to the lineup.  Nonetheless, the rookie continues to produce when the opportunity presents itself.  Munoz is now 11 for his last 31 (.355), with 3 home runs and a double (a .677 slugging percentage) in spite of the fact that he has played in only 11 of the last 16 games – making just 7 starts.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna, on the other hand, just keeps starting.  Forty-four consecutive starts in left field for the former All-Star.  He was 1-for-7 in the double-header.  In 17 July games, Marcell has 73 plate appearances, resulting in 12 singles, 1 double, 7 runs batted in, 4 walks (1 intentional), 14 strikeouts, 1 sacrifice fly, and 1 double play.  It’s only a .191/.233/.206 batting line.

DexterFowler

The embattled Dexter Fowler is one of the players that Shildt has made a commitment to.  Dex has played in all five games played under the new regime – starting 4.  He was 0-for-5 in the double-header, and is now 3-for-19 (.158) for Shildt.  For the month of July, Fowler is 7 for 38 (.184).

Among the many puzzling aspects of Fowler’s season is his persistent inability to hit when ahead in the count.  He was ahead in 3 of his 5 appearances in the double-header, going 0-for-3 in those opportunities.  For the season – even though Fowler has found himself ahead in the count 40% of the time – he is still hitting just .186 (16 for 86) when he has the count in his favor.

John Gant

John Gant is not one of the major pitching prospects that people rave about in the Cardinal system, but since he was last recalled from Memphis, it has to be acknowledged that he has been the Cardinals’ best pitcher.  He made the start in the second game, throwing 5 innings of shutout baseball at the Cubs.  In his last 6 games (four of them starts), Gant is 2-1 with a 1.84 ERA and a .160 batting average against. 

Johnny doesn’t give in to hitters – even when behind.  Gant fell behind 7 of the 22 he faced yesterday.  He walked 3 but the others went 0-for-4 against him.  For the season, batters are hitting just .180 (9 for 50) when they are ahead of Gant in the count.

Greg Holland

After Gant’s five great innings, Greg Holland entered and promptly served up the lead.  Yes, an error on a double play ball could have gotten Greg out of the mess, but he still walked two in the inning (including one with the bases loaded).

A note to Mike Shildt.  One of the factors that cost your predecessor his job was that he kept allowing Holland to pitch in important situations.  I advise caution with his usage.

Jordan Hicks

While Holland set up the mess and was charged with the 3 Chicago runs in the sixth, they mostly scored with Jordan Hicks on the mound.  Jordan allowed 2 of the 3 inherited runners to score.  He has now allowed 6 of his last 8 to cross the plate.

There is much more to say about the bullpen, but I think that will be the focus of tomorrow’s post.

Trickles of Hope Against Lefties

As May faded into June, the Cardinal playoff hopes seemed to fade with the month.  Finishing May with four wins in six games, St Louis began June with a 30-24 record 

Twenty-seven games later (15 of them losses) they staggered out of the month with a 42-39 record.

Certainly the starting pitching buckled that month, but there were many aspects of the Cardinal’s game that slipped significantly during June.  One of the most disappointing was the relapse against left-handed pitching.

An eternal thorn in the Cardinals’ collective side, April and May showed signs of real progress against lefties.  They finished those first two months 8-5 against them, and, during that month of May, even hit an unheard of .254 against lefties as a team.

But in June, the troubles began again.  The Cards found themselves baffled last month by lightly-regarded lefties like Wei-Yin Chen (2-6, 6.14), Eric Lauer (4-5, 4.84), and Max Fried (1-3, 3.92).  For the month of June, they were 1-6 when lefties started, hitting .202 as a team against them.

In the 4-4 start to July – which includes yesterday’s head-shaking 13-8 loss to San Francisco (box score), there have been an equal supply of positives and negatives.  Among the positives is a noticeable upturn against left-handed pitchers.  After averaging just 3.43 runs per game when lefties started against them in June, the Cards have scored at least 6 runs in each of the three games lefties have faced them this month.  They beat Arizona 6-3 on July 2 in a game started by Robbie Ray; they battered Patrick Corbin 8-4; and then – in spite of the presence of the usually dominant Madison Bumgarner, they finished yesterday’s game with 8 runs.  True, they didn’t exactly drive him from the mound.  But Madison didn’t finished the sixth inning – surrendering 4 runs on 7 hits in his 5.1 innings.

A hint of progress, indeed.

Jedd Gyorko

While not doing as much damaged against the Giant lefties as he usually does, Jedd Gyorko nonetheless added two more hits (both singles) in four at bats against left-handed pitching.  Jedd is pretty much the one right-handed bat that consistently takes advantage of left-handed pitching.  With yesterday’s hits, Gyorko is hitting .358 (19 for 53) against lefties this season.  It’s hard to justify not starting him against lefties.

Frankly, the turning of the calendar has brought the return of Jedd Gyorko against all pitchers.  Almost invisible in June (hitting .159 with just 1 walk for the month), Gyorko has been dynamic so far in July.  Starting seven of the eight games, Jedd has hits in all of them (getting multiple hits in 4 of those games).  Jedd is 11 for 27 (.407) through the early part of the month.  His 11 hits include 2 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs – a .778 slugging percentage.

Jose Martinez

Also encouraging in the loss were the three hits off the bat of Jose Martinez.  Jose put together a terrific June (.314/.372/.640) with 8 home runs.  Largely struggling in the early days of July (and fighting for playing time because of his leaky defense), Martinez is certain to get some at bats at DH in the upcoming series against the White Sox.  This would be an excellent time for him to go on a bit of a tear.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz also continued his recent hot streak.  With 2 hits and 2 walks, Munoz has hit in 8 consecutive starts, during which he is hitting .345 (10 for 29) and slugging .621 (2 doubles and 2 home runs).  Yairo has 7 RBIs in his last 8 starts.

Francisco Pena

Francisco Pena struck out against Bumgarner in the second, and then grounded into a double play against him in the fourth.  Even granting that Madison is tougher than your typical lefthander, this still leaves Pena just 2 for 22 (.091) against left-handers this season.

Jack Flaherty

Back on June 22, Jack Flaherty flirted with a no-hitter, finishing up allowing one hit over seven innings.  Last night, he didn’t make it out of the third inning.  Through his three starts since that near no-hitter, Jack has lasted a total of 12.1 innings, going 0-2 with a 7.30 ERA.

While yesterday wasn’t his best game, Jack nonetheless continued his mastery of left-handed batters.  Giant left-handed hitters – who feasted on the Cardinal bullpen – had only Brandon Belt’s soft flyball single in the second to show for their 7 at bats against him.

For the season, lefties are hitting just .214 (28 for 11) against Jack.  In June, they hit only .189 (10 for 53) against him.

Mike Mayers

In what was an otherwise horrific effort from the bullpen, Mike Mayers almost brought sanity to the game.  He wriggled out of the bases-loaded situation in the third, and then added a scoreless fourth.  Along the way, Mike faced three left-handed batters (Pablo Sandoval – who flew out; Alen Hanson – who popped out; and Steven Duggar – who struck out).  He also faced three right-handed batters (Gorkys Hernandez – who fouled out; Buster Posey – who flew out; and Madison Bumgarner –who singled).

In that small sample size, was a little microcosm of Mike’s season.  The right-hander has been surprisingly good against lefties so far this year, holding them to a .200/.233/.309 batting line in 60 plate appearances.  He has had surprising struggles against right-handers.  They are hitting .286/.322/.500 in 60 plate appearances.

John Brebbia

Even since I bragged on him last week, John Brebbia has been relentlessly pummeled.  His fifth-inning struggle turned yesterday’s game around and sent San Fran off with the victory.  Since finishing a string of 13 appearances during which he was only scored off once, Brebbia had allowed runs in three consecutive outings, serving up 6 altogether in 3.1 innings.  During this stretch, opponents have hit .529 and slugged .882 against him.

Greg Holland

In his first 6 games since returning from the disabled list, Greg Holland fanned the hopes of Cardinal Nation.  In those 6 games, he tossed 5.2 scoreless innings, allowing just 2 hits and no walks while striking out 8.  He threw 77% of his pitches for strikes, and held opposing batters to a .105/.105/.105 batting line.

Over his last three appearances, Greg has lasted just 1.2 innings, with 8 runs of damage (6 earned) on 7 hits and 3 walks (1 intentional) against 1 strikeout.  Only 55% of his last 53 pitches have been strikes, and opponents have hit .583/.667/.667 against him.

Hmmm.

Among the Holland mysteries has been his inability to retire right-handed hitters.  They were 1 for 2 last night, and are now 17 for 43 (.395) against Greg for the season.

Brett Cecil

Starting to figure things out (perhaps) is lefty Brett Cecil.  After the game was largely decided, he finished the sixth and tossed a scoreless seventh.  Brett has allowed just 1 run (unearned) over his last 8 games (totaling 8.1 innings).  He had a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings in June.

NoteBook

In 14 road series, so far, the Cards have now won 5, lost 4, and split 5.  They are currently 23-21 overall away from home.

Ozuna Turning it On

The moment was pregnant with opportunity.

The Cardinals had just recovered from their second deficit of the game, and finally – on an RBI double by Matt Carpenter – had taken their first lead of the afternoon in the seventh inning of their May 19 game against Philadelphia.  It was now a 6-5 Cardinal lead.  A groundball had pushed Carpenter to third.  He was there with one out representing a critical insurance run.  And to the plate came Marcell Ozuna.  This would be his moment. 

Phillie reliever Tommy Hunter could have put him on, but with Jedd Gyorko on deck, he decided to come right at Ozuna.  Before the crowd could even get into the at bat, it was over.  Marcell topped Hunter’s second pitch to short, and Carpenter was dead at the plate.  More than 44,000 sat quietly as Gyorko ended the inning with a fly-ball.

True to form, Philadelphia scored two in the eighth off of struggling reliever Greg Holland.  Ozuna never came to the plate again, and St Louis lost 6-7 (box score).

The ground ball capped another 0-for-4 night for Ozuna – stretching his hitless streak to twenty-two at bats going back more than five games.  At this point Ozuna – a 37-home run man the season before when he slashed .312/.376/.548 – was skidding through his first season as a Cardinal.  His line fell to .234/.275/.316 with only 3 home runs through 171 at bats.

Where – Cardinal Nation wondered – was the real Ozuna?

After sitting out the finale of the Philly series, Marcel was back in there on Monday, May 21 against Kansas City and Ian Kennedy.  After drawing a walk his first time up, Marcell ended his hitless streak with a sharp grounder into right field.  The hit drove in a run – Carpenter, as it turned out – and sent the Cards on their way to a 6-0 victory (box score).  Marcell also singled his next time up.

He hasn’t stopped hitting since.

There were few Cardinal highlights in last night’s humbling 4-2 loss to San Diego (box score), but Ozuna was one of the few.  He finished the night with two more hits – including the two-run home run that accounted for all of St Louis’ scoring.  The hits pushed his current hitting streak to seven games – three of which have been multi-hit games.  The home run was his third during the streak, and he has now driven in 8 runs over his last 7 games.

He has now also hit safely in 11 of his 12 June games – starting the month as a potential player of the month candidate.  He is now 18 for 45 (.400) in June with 5 home runs and a triple – a .778 slugging percentage.  He has 14 runs batted in in his 12 June games.

Stretching back to that game against Kansas City, Marcel has hits in 17 of his last 19 starts. He is 29 of his last 70 – a .414 batting average

Since this is the first time we’ve ever seen Ozuna really hot, I thought we might compare some of the “under the radar” numbers from his early season struggles against those same numbers now that things are going better for him.  The attempt here is to try to get a kind of statistical signature for Marcell.

In his first 182 Cardinal plate appearances, Marcell appeared over-ready for that first pitch.  While the entire team swings at the first pitch of an at bat just 28.1% of the time, Ozuna was cresting at an aggressive 38.5%.  Beginning with the Kansas City series, Marcell has chased that first pitch a more normal 30.8% of the time.  This little bit of discipline has given Ozuna a significant advantage in his recent at bats.  Before, he was getting first-pitch strikes 65.4% of the time.  Of late, though, only 51.3% of the first pitches thrown to him are strikes, putting him in early hitter’s counts more frequently.

The numbers also suggest that Ozuna is commanding the strike zone exponentially better as the season wears on.  Since the Kansas City series, only 22.6% of the pitches that Ozuna has taken have been called strikes, while 44.1% of all pitches thrown him have been balls.  The team-wide benchmark for those numbers are 32.8% of pitches taken called strikes and 37.3 % of all pitches thrown being balls.  What this means, simply, is that Ozuna is not letting strikes go by, while not swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

Most remarkable, though, has been Marcell’s recent ability to put the ball in play.  Through his first 182 plate appearances, he missed entirely on 25.3% of his swings, fouling off another 36.8% of his swings, and putting the ball in play just 37.9% of the time.  The team averages are 23.8% missed, 37.8% fouled, and 38.3% put in play.  Over his last 78 plate appearances, Ozuna has swung at 117 pitches.  He has missed with only 19 swings (16.2%), while producing just 32 fouls (27.4%).  This means that on 66 of those swings, Marcell has put the ball in play – an impressive 56.4%.  By comparison, Jose Martinez leads the team, putting the ball in play 45.3% of the time that he swings.

This portrays Ozuna as an aggressive-in-the-strike-zone hitter, who infrequently chases balls and has excellent enough bat control that he puts the ball in play most of the time.  And he can do this with power.

The down-the-line results of this approach include shorter at bats.  Even though he more frequently takes the first pitch, his pitches per at bat have dropped from 3.82 early in the season to just 3.49 over his more recent at bats.

The other side-effect of this efficiency is fewer strikeouts in general, and fewer times caught looking.  Marcell struck out 40 times in his first 182 plate appearances – with 13 of those coming on called third strikes.  Over his last 78 trips to the plate, Marcell has just 5 strike outs – being called out just once.

It’s been an impressive run.  Now, the question is how long we can keep him in this zone.

Little Help for Ozuna

While Ozuna kept up his heroics, he had few supporters.  The team managed just 6 other hits (all singles) and no other runs.  Over the first 12 games in June, the offense still shows no signs of sustaining anything.  They are now scoring 3.67 runs per game this month, and hitting .244.

Yadier Molina

The team has, of course, missed the leadership of its captain Yadier Molina – who missed a chunk of time recovering from surgery.    He hasn’t returned to the lineup as sharp as he left it.  Hitless in three at bats last night, Molina has had 32 plate appearances this month.  He’s managed 5 singles, 1 double, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, one hit by pitch, and one sacrifice fly.  This works out to a disappointing .207/.250/.241 batting line.  Yadi’s is one of the bats that the Cards are hoping will get well soon.

Yairo Munoz

Provider of a big lift to the offense when he first took over for the injured Paul DeJong, Yairo Munoz has hit the skids as the calendar has turned to June.  He has been to the plate 41 times in 11 games so far this month, supplying 5 singles, 1 home run, 2 walks (1 intentional), 10 strikeouts, and 1 sacrifice fly – a .158/.195/.237 June batting line.

Yairo’s free-swinging ways served him fairly well earlier. Lately, though, not so much.  He swung at 6 of the 11 pitches thrown him last night, missing on two of the swings.  For the season, Munoz hacks at 56.9% of the pitches thrown to him (the highest ratio of anyone on the team with at least 90 plate appearances).  He misses on 30.7% of those swings – second on the team only to DeJong among players with at least 70 plate appearances.

Kolten Wong

Hitless in three at bats, Kolten Wong’s season just cannot gain any kind of traction.  Down to .182 for the season, Kolten is now at .192 (5 for 26) for the month and struggling to get chances in the lineup. 

The numbers suggest that Wong is really pressing now.  Last year, when he had it working, Kolten took pitches, worked counts, and didn’t swing and miss very often.  Through the first two months of this season, Wong saw 3.78 pitches per plate appearances, and only missed on 17.4% of his swings.  This month, he is missing 28.9% of the time when he swings, and is only seeing 3.47 pitches per appearance.

Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver suffered through his third shaky outing in his last four.  He took the loss, lasting just 5.1 innings while giving all 4 runs on 9 hits.  He hasn’t made it through six innings in any of those last four games, and has a 5.12 ERA and a .304 batting average against over the last 19.1 innings that he has pitched. 

Clean innings have been few and far between for Mr. Weaver.  Last night, of the six innings he started, only one was a three-up, three-down inning.  Through his three starts this month, he is averaging 4.57 batters faced per nine innings, the most by any member of the staff that has pitched at least ten innings in June.  This month he has been throwing 18.26 pitches per inning.  This has raised his season average to 17.33 pitches per inning – the most by any pitcher on the staff with at least 19 innings pitched.

John Brebbia

With the Cardinal offense already shut down for the day, all that was left for John Brebbia to do was to hold the game close.  He did so with two perfect innings, striking out three.  In a bullpen that has been struggling, Brebbia has to start getting noticed.  Over his last 4.2 innings he has struck out 8.  In his 6 June appearances, he has allowed no runs on just 2 hits over 6.2 innings, and he has now thrown 8 consecutive scoreless outings – totaling 8.1 innings.  Twenty-one of the last 62 swings taken against him have missed – an impressive 33.9%.

John threw strikes with 16 of his 19 pitches last night (84.2%).  He has now thrown strikes with 68.2% of his pitches this month.  Of all pitchers with at least 5 innings pitched this month, only Miles Mikolas (71.9%) and Jordan Hicks (70.2%) are throwing more strikes.

NoteBook

The San Diego series was only the eighth of St Louis’ first 22 series that went to a rubber game.  The Cards start the season just 3-5 in rubber games.  They are also just 2-5-1 in series against teams that had won their previous series.

The Cardinals drew no walks over the last two games of the series.

More Chances Elude Cards

Suddenly trailing 3-2 in the eighth inning, and now facing the electric stuff of Milwaukee left-hander Josh Hader, Jose Martinez fanned the Cardinal hopes with a leadoff walk.  He thus became the fifth Cardinal to reach base in yesterday’s 3-2 loss (box score) with no one out.

Last year, Cardinal runners who reached base with no one out scored 51.5% of the time.  So far this year, that number has been similar – 50.8%.  But during the general offensive brown-out that has characterized this month, even though St Louis hitters are reaching base at a .369 clip with no one out, only 45.8% are scoring.  And true to form, while Martinez made it to second in that inning, he watched from there as Yairo Munoz struck out to end the inning.  Seven of the Cardinals’ nine offensive innings ended with a strikeout.

With one game left in May, the Cards are managing a halting 3.88 runs per game this month with a disappointing .244 team batting average.  They have been one of baseball’s best teams with no one out.  They are hitting .287/.369/.489 this month before the first out.  But after the first out, the succeeding hitters are hitting just .219/.280/.338.  Over the last eight games, as the offense has ground to 3.13 rpg halt while managing just a .298 team on base percentage, this team has still hit .317/.361/.525 with no one out, but only .211/.261/.283 once that first out has been recorded.

While Wednesday’s game was notable for the return of top prospect Alex Reyes (who did well in his four innings), by the end of the day, this game looked like so many others the Cards have lost this season – late inning bullpen collapses and unrealized offensive opportunities.  St Louis went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and left 10 runners on base – 6 of them in scoring position.  Of the last 90 Cardinals to bat with two outs, 31 have struck out.

The team with the shaky bullpen can’t afford to miss too many scoring chances.

Jose Martinez

The game ended with Martinez striking out with runners at first and third.  It was Jose’s only opportunity to hit with runners in scoring position all day.  His has been one of the most important missing bats (along with Tommy Pham’s) as the offensive troubles have lately returned.  Martinez is 0 for 9 over the last three games, and is hitting just .222 (6 for 27) over the last 8 games.  He has one extra-base hit (a double) over his last 30 plate appearances.

Tyler O’Neill

The Cardinal’s other top prospect in the lineup – Tyler O’Neill – was their other 0 for 4. Batting right behind Martinez, it gave the Cards an 0-for-8 day from their three and four hitters.  Tyler provided an offensive jolt upon returning from Memphis – hitting home runs in three consecutive games at one point.  Over his last four games, Tyler is 0-for-11 with 8 strikeouts.  He has 2 singles in his last 19 at bats (.105) with 13 strikeouts.

Yairo Munoz

If there is no shortage of bad Cardinal offensive news, there have also been a few bright spots.  One of these is Yairo Munoz.  The star of spring training, Munoz began the season on the roster but was returned to Memphis as he struggled out of the gate.  Returning about the same time O’Neill did, Yairo has returned to his spring form.  With 2 hits yesterday, Munoz now has a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .412 (7-for-17).  He has also hit safely in all of his last 7 starts, hitting an impressive .480 (12-for-25) in those games.

This production has entrenched him at shortstop for the moment.  When Paul DeJong returns, this could set up another difficult lineup decision.  The athletic Munoz can also play second, so if Kolten Wong’s production doesn’t pick up, Yairo could see some time there.

Alex Reyes

For all of this, the headline yesterday was the removal of starting pitcher Alex Reyes after four innings and 73 pitches.  There was a momentary loss of velocity, which sent a ripple of concern through the Cardinal dugout.  Alex certainly didn’t breeze through the Brewers the way he did through the minor leagues, but some of this was to be expected.  After the long absence and the unusual hype connected to his return, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex didn’t quite feel like himself on the mound.

I’m pretty sure he will be OK.

The larger story is that his solid four innings (no runs on 3 hits) continues the excellent month of May this team has received from its starters.  With one game left in the month, St Louis’ rotation holds a 2.72 ERA and has surrendered only 10 home runs in 149 innings (0.6 per 9 innings) while holding opposing batters to just a .220 batting average and a .308 slugging percentage.  Of the now eight pitchers who have started games for the Cards this month, five of them have ERAs below 2.25.  These pitchers (who seem to be the front-runners in the rotation discussion once everyone is back and healthy) are Reyes (0.00), Jack Flaherty (1.40), Miles Mikolas (1.89), Michael Wacha (2.02) and Carlos Martinez (2.19).

All of this gives one a sense of why the Cardinals are so excited about the prospects of their rotation – now and for a long time to come.

The Bullpen

The worst part of Alex’ early exit was it left five full innings to be covered by the Cardinal bullpen.  This is not usually a formula for success.  After Reyes left, the bullpen combined to allow 3 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks in what only proved to be four total innings (since Milwaukee wasn’t required to bat in the ninth).  Cardinal relievers have now pitched 90 innings this month with a 5.10 ERA.  They have now served up 12 home runs in those innings – a 1.20 per nine-inning pace that is exactly double the rate of the starters this month.

Fifty-three games into the season, and the bullpen mess is no closer to being solved.

Tyler Lyons

Last year, Tyler Lyons gained increasingly more important roles in the Cardinal bullpen as he finally seemed to have moved past his early career tendency of serving up home runs.  After getting dinged for 12 in just 60 innings in 2015, and 9 more in 48 innings the next year, Tyler worked through 54 innings last year, serving up just 3 home runs.

When Christian Yelich unloaded on the only pitch that Lyons threw yesterday – the long home run to center that tied the game at 2 – it marked the third home run that Tyler has allowed already this year (in just 12 innings).

In the tribute to Murphy’s Law that has been the Cardinal bullpen this year, Tyler Lyons has been as snake-bit as any of them.  Management clings to the fact that all of these pitchers have much better track records than they’ve shown so far.  They believe that there is a top-notch bullpen in there somewhere.

But as the division starts to tilt away from them, the urgency to find answers increases.