Five things about the Reds Series

The Cardinals scored their first road series win since June and their first against a divisional opponent since April by taking two out of three from the Reds over the weekend. The Cardinals end the series 55-56 and 3.5 games out of the NL Central lead in third place. They’ve been 3.5 games back before, but haven’t been closer since June 13th when they finished the day 2.5 games behind.

Heading into the series against the Royals, the Cardinals have lost in their last five attempts to reach .500. So they’ll have to shake that bogeyman.

Wainwright just wins

Adam Wainwright struggled on Sunday as he allowed 4 hits and 5 walks over 3 innings of work as he earned the quick hook. But that didn’t stop the Cardinals who piled on some offense including a 9 run 4th innings.

The short outing left Wainwright’s season long ERA at 5.00, but the team is 13-9 in games started by him this season. That’s a .591 winning percentage, or in other terms, a 96 win pace.

The crazy part is that this is that Wainwright has just one season with a worse record. Over his career with the Cardinals, the team is 177-99 in games he starts, that’s a .641 win percentage, or in other terms, a 104 win pace. The team went 16-16 in his first season back from Tommy John surgery in 2012, but every other season except his first in the rotation has seen the team post a greater than .600 winning percentage in games he starts.

He has the best team record among Cardinals’ starting pitchers, and with the Cards winning behind Lance Lynn on Saturday, he joined Wainwright as the only Cardinals pitchers with a winning team record in games they start.

The hottest hitter on this team is…

Jose Martinez. Since the All Star Break, Martinez is hitting .318/.500/.773 with 3 home runs in 12 games, six of them starts. His latest feat coming with a grand slam while batting cleanup against the Reds on Sunday afternoon. But if there’s a player swinging a hot bat and pushing for more playing time right now, it’s Martinez.

Another player pushing for time is…

Greg Garcia. Since the All Star Break, Garcia is hitting .320/.433/.480 in 17 games, six of them starts. His emergence has come at a welcome time as Cardinals’ third baseman Jedd Gyorko has struggled since the calendar turned to July. Since the break Gyorko is hitting just .176/.241/.243 for the Cardinals.

It’s amazing what happens when you don’t abuse relievers

Before Sunday’s game, Mike Matheny spoke to the media about Trevor Rosenthal and how not pushing him and watching how they use him has really helped. It’s amazing what happens when you don’t run your relievers ragged. I wrote a couple years ago about the difference in the Cardinals’ relievers when they pitch with no rest versus a day or more of rest. Most relievers become no better than the rest of your bullpen on back-to-back days.

And it’s not like Matheny hasn’t had a deep bullpen to give these guys proper rest either.

Brett Cecil: Long Reliever

The last two times that Matheny chose to quick hook his starter, he has turned to Brett Cecil to bridge the gap. Most recently on Sunday, he came in in the fourth inning and pitched three shutout innings for the Cardinals. After a rough start, Cecil has rebounded quite nicely, posting a 2.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP since May 19th, allowing the opponent to score in just four of his 32 appearances.

Five things about the Marlins Series

The Cardinals’ four game series against the Marlins started out well, with them winning the opener 14-2, but quickly fell off the rails as they were able to come away with only a split of the series. They find themselves 41-44 with three games remaining before the All Star break and 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

They will welcome the Mets to town in the hopes of completing a three game sweep to head into the break with a .500 record.

Voit mashes

Luke Voit continued the hot start to his big league career as he had two hits in each of the Cardinals’ wins in the series. Those two hits in each were a home run and a double. He had 7 RBI total in the series and is hitting well enough that it should create a difficult decision for the Cardinals when it comes to the return of Kolten Wong which is expected later this month. There would seem to be no room at the inn for one of Voit, Wong, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Jedd Gyorko.

Gyorko continues to have traction

I keep waiting for the clock to strike midnight on Jedd Gyorko’s season. By all accounts, I expected it months ago. In fact, when the organization elected to release Jhonny Peralta, I was convinced that it had already started. And then he rebounded. He started just two of the four games against the Marlins after having problems with leg cramps but went 4-for-6 with 2 walks.

In fact, in the 28 games since Peralta was released, Gyorko has played in 27 of them and hit .310/.404/.560 with 5 home runs.

Garcia coming out of his slump?

Greg Garcia got three starts in this series due to Gyorko’s cramping issues, and went 3-for-10 with a home run in Tuesday’s game. Over the past 10 games he is slashing .308/.419/.423. He had been hitting .167 in May and June and saw his batting average on the season dip below .200 as recently as June 28th.

Cecil turns it around

When Brett Cecil signed a 4 year, $30 million deal in free agency and then got off to a bad start this season, it was easy to panic. He looked lost on the mound, whether that was over use or struggling mechanics or both, the numbers weren’t pretty. But he allowed three hits over 1.2 scoreless innings in Thursday’s game and it was the first time he had allowed a hit in 7 appearances.

That means that since his appearance on May 19th, Cecil has a 1.77 ERA and 0.69 WHIP in 21 appearances.

2012 was a good year

This series saw four of the Cardinals’ draft picks from the 2012 draft make appearances. Michael Wacha was taken with the Cardinals’ first pick of that draft and allowed 2 runs over 5.2 innings and picked up his sixth win of the season in the series finale. Fellow first rounder Stephen Piscotty went 3-for-14. Fourth round pick Alex Mejia appeared as a sub in all four games, going 1-for-4.

And seventh round pick Kyle Barraclough pitched two scoreless appearances in relief for the Marlins, and has easily been one of their best relief pitchers. Barraclough was traded to Miami for Steve Cishek in 2015 and made his MLB debut later that season. In three years in the big leagues, he has a 2.84 ERA over 139 appearances.

Second round pick Carson Kelly could be on his way to the big league club at some point in the second half after John Mozeliak indicated that his time is coming. And we’ve all seen what third round pick Tim Cooney did before getting injured last year and claimed off waivers by the Indians last winter.

Not a bad haul at all.

Five things about the Pirates Series

The Cardinals dropped two out of three against the Pirates, winning on Sunday night to avoid a sweep. However, they still haven’t won a series against anyone except the Phillies in over a month. Thanks to the Brewers doing their part, the Cardinals remain just five games back in the NL Central at 34-40, but are now in fourth place behind the Pirates.

The Cardinals will play a make up game tonight in St. Louis against the Reds before heading out to Arizona for a three game set against the Diamondbacks.

Seeking an energy change

John Mozeliak told the Post Dispatch that he was seeking an energy change on Sunday and with the callups of Randal Grichuk and Luke Voit is hoping to have done that. Grichuk went 2-for-5 on Sunday night with a home run to open up the inning that the Cardinals tied up the game and Voit took seven pitches during a pinch hit appearance before being hit.

Time will tell if that’s what happened, but the Cardinals played one of their most complete games of the season offensively on Sunday. Every player who came to the plate last nigh reached base at least once.

Voit gets historic HBP

As I noted, Luke Voit was hit by a pitch in his first MLB plate appearance. With that he joins Xavier Scruggs, Dmitri Young, Jerry Buchek, and Austin McHenry as the fifth Cardinal to be hit by pitch in their MLB debuts.

But Voit is probably the first Cardinals player to ever be hit by pitch in his first MLB plate appearance.

Only McHenry remains a possibility, but there is not play-by-play data for 1918, so all we know is that he went 0-for-2 with a HBP in his debut.

Cecil back on the horse?

Brett Cecil struggled mightily to open up the season, but in the Pirates series he made two appearances and allowed zero baserunners over the 1.1 innings he pitched. He has now not allowed a run in 15 of his last 16 outings and has a 0.68 WHIP.

Over his last 8 appearances since he allowed four runs to the Reds, Cecil has thrown 8 innings and allowed just three hits and no walks.

His season ERA is down to 4.08 and with another scoreless inning, will drop below four for just the second time all season.

Waino is bueno… at home?

Adam Wainwright started the season opener on Friday night and pitched seven strong innings, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. In the midst of the worst season of his career there is a statistical oddity. In 8 home starts this season, Wainwright is 5-1 and has a 2.64 ERA. Compared to his performances on the road where he is 2-4 with a 9.48 ERA in 7 starts, that’s a radical difference.

Yadi’s streak continues

Yadier Molina‘s hitting streak was extended to 11 games as he’s battled some nagging injuries and only played in one game of the Pirates series. He extended it in authoritative fashion though, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and scoring all three times he reached base. He is now batting .333/.333/.556 with 3 home runs over his 11 game streak.

Five things about the Orioles Series

The Orioles were 10-20 entering this past series at Camden Yards and with a series against the Phillies coming up next, the Cardinals seemed poised to put some wins on the board. But that would not be the case in this series. After blowing out the O’s by 9 runs on Friday night, the Cardinals were outscored by 11 runs over the remaining two games of the series. The result was another lost series and a missed opportunity.

The Cardinals now find thesmelves 31-37 and 5.5 games back in the NL Central. They get a day off before heading to Philadelphia for a three game set this week. Since they won a series against the Cubs on May 14th, the Cardinals have won just one series, the one last weekend against the Phillies.

If not leadoff, then…

When the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler to a 5 year, $82.5 million deal this winter, it was to have him bat leadoff and move Matt Carpenter to the third spot. But after 56 games, the Cardinals pulled the plug on that experiment and moved Carpenter back to lead off. Since then though, Fowler’s bat has come alive as well.

In 11 games since being moved to the second spot in the lineup, Fowler his batting .395/.465/.842 with 5 home runs and 14 RBI. He has hit a home run now in four straight games to bring his season total to 13, which is what he hit all of last season for the Chicago Cubs. He is on pace for 31 home runs, which nearly doubles his previous career high of 17.

One has to wonder if Fowler, who has talked about how Barry Bonds has indicated that he could be a #3 hitter, might actually be the middle of the lineup threat the Cardinals have wanted. He has the tools and apparently has the power.

DeJong comes back strong

After slumping to the tune of a .154 batting average over his final seven games with the Cardinals before being sent back to Memphis, Paul DeJong turned the corner when he returned. Speaking of being a bit overwhelmed by his first trip to the Majors, the two days back in the minors before being recalled after Kolten Wong hit the disabled list again provided him an opportunity to take a breath.

In his second game back and first game of the series, DeJong went 3-for-4, with three runs scored, a home run, and 3 RBI. He backed it up going 1-for-3 with another two run homer on Saturday along with his first career MLB walk. Over the three game series he went 4-for-11 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI along with 4 runs scored.

Cecil changes his numbers

After spending eight seasons in the American League East with the Toronto Blue Jays, one could say that Brett Cecil is comfortable at Orioles Park at Camden Yards. He also might have been a little more comfortable after slipping into his new #27 jersey, making the change after the number recently became available following the release of Jhonny Peralta.

Cecil would post back-to-back perfect outings of 1 inning on Friday and Sunday, just the second time this season he’s posted back-to-back perfect outings of at least 1 inning pitched.

He was also one of two Cardinal pitchers to pitch in the series and not allow a run. The other was Trevor Rosenthal.

In the last month, Cecil has a 3.09 ERA and 0.77 WHIP over 12 appearances and 11.2 innings pitched. His ERA is backed by four earned runs, all of which came in a disastrous June 7th appearance against the Reds. After a horrendous April and an even more horrendous start to May, he seems to be turning the corner.

Wainwright’s problems continue

Adam Wainwright posted a 6.37 ERA through his first seven starts this season and then put together a four start stretch that saw him allow just a single earned run over 26 innings of work for a 0.34 ERA. He seemed to be on the verge of putting it together and the timing coincided with a strong run he put together last season through the summer, but those seem to just be pipe dreams.

Wainwright allowed 9 earned runs without making it out of the second inning on Saturday, the second time in three starts he has been tagged for nine earned runs. Over his last three starts, opponents are batting .408/.500/.796 against him. Yes, that’s right, they’re getting on base 50% of the time.

Martinez is having a good year

Carlos Martinez went 6 innings and allowed just 1 run while striking out 8 during the Cardinals win on Friday. That puts him at a 2.86 ERA through 94.1 innings of work this season. He also has a 149 ERA+ and 2.8 Wins Above Replacement.

His 149 ERA+ is the 14 in baseball right now among starting pitchers who have started at least 10 games, and his 2.8 WAR is good for 10th. He has the 5th most strikeouts and faced the 11th fewest batters per inning.

He is on pace for 33 starts, 222 innings, and 252 strikeouts.

Those 252 strikeouts would be the most for a Cardinals pitcher since Adam Wainwright struck out 219 back in 2013. You have to go back to Bob Gibson in 1970 for the last time a Cardinals pitcher had more than 252 strikeouts in a season.

Five things about the Cubs Series

The St. Louis Cardinals took two out of three against the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, but their division lead still stands at a game, now over the Milwaukee Brewers. Their record now stands at 21-15, on pace for 94 wins.

The Cardinals now wait for the Boston Red Sox to come to town for two games on Tuesday and Wednesday for a rematch of the 2004 and 2013 World Series teams. The Red Sox won both series.

Cecil is not getting right

Brett Cecil threw 0.1 innings of work in this series, allowing a home run that ultimately proved to be the difference maker between a loss and taking the game to extra innings. Cecil allowed that home run to left handed batter Tommy La Stella, who had hit just 4 home runs over 209 MLB games and never against a left handed pitcher.

At this point Cecil has appeared in 20 games for the Cardinals and has a 5.79 ERA and 1.92 WHIP. He has allowed a run in each of his last four appearances and hasn’t had a clean inning (no runs, no hits, no walks) since April 28th, seven appearances ago.

He’s on pace for 90 appearances this season, which brings some question of whether recent troubles have been as a result of overuse.

Bottom line is that Cecil should be relegated to cleanup duty until he demonstrates that he can capably get batters out on a regular basis. He does not need to be seeing a close game.

Earlier this season, Mike Matheny talked about how “we need to play (Cecil) to get him right.” And his appearance on Friday night got me thinking, is Matheny saying that they need to play a player to “get him right” a kiss of death? I recall him saying that specifically about Mark Ellis, Mitchell Boggs, and Trevor Rosenthal through all of his struggles. At least in Rosenthal’s case, it was actually rest that corrected him as he had been pitching through an injury. He may have said that about Allen Craig too.

All this to say, Matheny should really stop saying that they need to play a guy to “get him right” because it does not have a very good track record.

Other than Cecil tho

The Cardinals’ bullpen not named Brett Cecil threw 7 innings in the Cubs series and allowed just two baserunners. One was a walk by Jonathan Broxton on Friday night and the other a hit off Seung-hwan Oh on Saturday afternoon.

At this point in the season, Cecil, Broxton, and Miguel Socolovich are the only three relievers in the Cardinals’ bullpen who have turned in below league average performances this year.

Fowler’s patience

Dexter Fowler may have gone 0-for-4 in his two starts and a pinch hit appearance in the series, but he also reached based a team high five times in the series (tied with Randal Grichuk), taking two walks in the series opener and another three walks on Saturday.

By taking a walk to lead off the game on Saturday, Fowler reached base to lead off a game for the first time since April 27th. He is batting .154 with a .214 on base percentage to open a game.

Wainwright turns in best start of the year

Adam Wainwright seemed to have found some of his old mojo and shut down the Cubs over 7 innings on just 4 hits and 4 walks while striking out 3 on Sunday while the Cardinals powered to a 5-0 victory to win the series. Wainwright also got his ERA on the season below 6. It was his best start of the season so far, but that bar wasn’t that high.

On May 18th last season in his 9th start of the season, Wainwright went 6.2 scoreless innings in his best start of the season up that point and brought his ERA below 6. That was the beginning of Wainwright posting a 2.84 ERA over his next 14 starts while the Cardinals went 10-4.

One can hope that this is the beginning of another such run.

Carpenter finally finds success against Arrieta

It’s often talked about how Matt Carpenter and Jake Arrieta are college friends from their time at TCU. Entering Sunday’s game, Carpenter was 0-for-28 in the regular season against Arrieta, but Arrieta made a mistake and the result was a 2 run home run. Carpenter will carry a 12 game on base streak into the series against Boston.

Bonus: Cards the best in baseball?

The Cardinals are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 15-5 in their last 20 games, both are the best mark in baseball.

Five things about the Marlins Series

The Cardinals closed out a sweep of the Marlins last night to go to 6-0 on the road trip as they head home to take on the Chicago Cubs. They do so with a one game lead in the NL Central. They are 19-14 and on pace to win 93 games this season. Suddenly my 92 win prediction is not looking so unobtainable.

The Cubs meanwhile find themselves in fourth place in the NL Central, 2.5 games out of first place after getting swept by the Yankees and then losing two of three to the Rockies. They have not been getting the same kind of pitching performances that they got from their rotation and their defense has struggled a little bit as well.

For the Cardinals this is an opportunity to see if their success over the last couple weeks has been the result of poor opponents or whether they can continue their stand against a team that is supposed to be the class of the division.

Give me more Sierra

Magneuris Sierra is hitting .353 over the first four games of his career. He has been on base 8 times. And come around to score on 7 of them. It’s been a pretty amazing start for the guy who a week ago was playing in Single-A. He is a small glimpse at the future, and it’s pretty exciting. He can apparently hit, he can run, he can field, and he has good instincts. It will eventually come to an end when the league starts to figure him out, but I am willing to enjoy it while it lasts.

My favorite part about watching Sierra play has been that the moment has never seemed too big for him. He hasn’t looked outmatched or out of place. Something I imagine it would be easy to give in to in his situation.

His performance has also given the Cardinals the opportunity to take it slowly with Dexter Fowler, rather than push him back into service. That ability could pay dividends down the road for this team. He is 2-for-3 with 3 RBI in pinch hitting appearances since he was cleared to swing a bat. Drove in the game winning run on Tuesday night and a go-ahead run on Wednesday night. So he’s making an impact when he gets the opportunity.

Not a fireman

It was a role that Seth Maness and Matthew Bowman both excelled in over the past few seasons, coming in when another pitcher got in trouble and put out the fire. Over the offseason, the Cardinals signed Brett Cecil to a 4 year, $30 million contract and it feels a lot like Mike Matheny has been trying to justify that contract by pushing Cecil into high pressure situations. And Cecil has not come through for him.

Cecil has inherited 16 runners this season and allowed 9 of them to score, good for 56%. Only two other Cardinals relievers have inherited more than three baserunners this season. Bowman has allowed just 2-of-11 to score and Seung-hwan Oh has allowed just 1-of-5 to score. Early in this season, Cecil has been the worst reliever with runners on base and he just keeps getting opportunities.

Cecil is currently tied for the third most inherited runners in baseball this season and of relievers who have more than 10, Cecil has the 5th worst rate of keeping them from scoring. Bowman, for example, has the 7th best. Over the past few years, Cecil is fairly middle of the road when it comes to allowing inherited runners to score so he has nowhere to go but up, theoretically.

Now, I’m sure that Cecil will have the numbers at the end of the season to demonstrate that he was a quality reliever, which means that his overall effectiveness for the Cardinals will come down to one thing: role. And finding the proper role for a relief pitcher has not been one of the manager’s strong suits.

But Cecil should probably not see anything other a clean inning for awhile. For the sake of my sanity, please?

Leave no man on base!

During the Marlins series, Cardinals’ #3 hitter Matt Carpenter left nobody on base. That’s right. Every time he came to the plate with men on, he reached base himself. He may have only had two RBI in the series on a triple that scored Carlos Martinez and Kolten Wong, but the other three times he came to the plate with runners on, he took a walk to load the bases.

If you’ve been around Redbird Dugout for awhile, you know that I like looking at RBI rate. In that department, Carpenter currently leads the team, driving in 25% of runners on base when he comes to the plate. The next closest position player on the team is Stephen Piscotty at 17%. The next closest healthy position player on the team is Matt Adams at 16%.

Carpenter has long been one of the Cardinals’ best at driving in base runners, and it’s one of the reasons why moving him back in the lineup, was one of the best changes the organization could make to their offense this winter.

Take a walk

Something that I noticed while working on this was that in the 8th inning of Tuesday night’s game with runners on second and third and a 13 game hit streak on the line in what would finally be his final at bat of the night, Kolten Wong kept his approach, stayed patient at the plate and took four straight pitches for a walk.

He would get another at bat in the 9th, but came up empty, ending his streak at 13 games. Over those 13 games he hit .353/.441/.510 with 6 doubles and a triple. He scored 10 runs and drove in 5 as he hit well enough to take over the leadoff spot with Dexter Fowler out of the lineup.

He has hit just .179 while batting leadoff over the past six games, but it didn’t seem to be an issue as the Cardinals went 6-0.

It’s been awhile

The Cardinals have now spent four days alone atop the NL Central this season after having spent none there last season.

Bonus: Win a pair of tickets to Pitch Talks

Pitch Talks is happening in St. Louis at Delmar Hall on May 18, 2017. In attendance will be plenty of writers who cover the St. Louis sports and the Cardinals specifically. Tara Wellman, who you may know if you’ve clicked on any of her Bird Seeds video blogs (and if you haven’t, you should!), is having a contest to give away a pair of tickets to the event.

All you have to do to enter is go to her most recent post over on her blog at CardsConclave and leave a comment with your all-time favorite baseball tale. That’s it! Easy, right? So do it!