Redbirds Reverb: Adam Wainwright Has a Reunion With Uncle Charlie

Cardinals 2, Colorado Rockies 0 …. Game No. 40 … May 18 at Busch Stadium 

Adam Wainwright 2
Adam Wainwright shutout the Rockies through 6.2 innings Wednesday.

Overview: It was a special Golden Oldies night at Busch Stadium, with starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (age 34) shutting out the Rockies for 6.2 innings and left fielder Matt Holliday (age 36) cashing in the game’s only runs with a two-run double in the third inning. The Cardinals went only 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position but the lone hit was a biggie.

The record: The Cardinals are 21-19 overall, 10-11 at home.

The division standings: The Cubs (28-10) needed 13 innings to win Wednesday at Milwaukee. The Pirates (21-18) lost at home to the Braves, so the Cardinals picked up a game on the Bucs. The Pirates trail the first-place Cubs by 7.5 games; the third-place Cardinals are 8 back.

Wild card race: The Cardinals and Marlins are 1.5 games out of the second WC spot. The Pirates are 1 out.

Welcome back, Waino: The Cardinals’ longtime No. 1 starter dealt his best start of the season, with a 68 game score. The Rox could have gotten to him in the first inning when Charlie Blackmon led off the game with a triple.

But Blackmon immediately killed his team’s scoring threat with an outbreak of bad base running, getting thrown out at home on a ground ball to third.

Wainwright took it from there. He turned in 6.2 shutout innings, allowing six hits and a walk with five strikeouts. At the risk of being a downer, I think it’s fair to point out a couple of things about this start. Wainwright still isn’t getting many swings and misses; his 7 percent swing-miss rate vs. Colorado was right in line with his season profile. And while the contact rate against Wainwright went down some in this game, it was still high compared to his career rates.

Between 2009 and 2014 Wainwright allowed an overall contract rate of 80 percent — with an 89.4 contact rate on strikes. Against the Rockies those corresponding rates were 84 percent (overall contact) and 92.6 percent (strike-zone contact.) That said, the hard-contact rate against Wainwright in thus one was only 19 percent. And that’s a great sign; AW had the Rox off-balance. This was definitely a step forward. “I’m dangerous,” Wainwright told reporters after the win. “You can say I’m dangerous again.”

Waino made good pitches. According to the metrics at FanGraphs, this was Wainwright’s first start this season which he had the curve and the cutter working as “plus” pitches. He’s had one or the other working for him in his previous starts — but never both in the same game.

The Rockies went 0 for 9 against Wainwright with runners in scoring position.

Welcome back Uncle Charlie: Wainwright has tormented many a hitter through the years with a tantalizing curve ball that arguably was the best in major-league baseball. That curve became a big part of Wainwright’s identity; he even chose the moniker @UncleCharlie50 for his Twitter handle. Uncle Charlie had abandoned Wainwright this season until returning home Wednesday.

According to the data at Brooks Baseball Wainwright threw 27 curves, and 20 went for strikes. He got seven called strikes on the pitch; that’s when you know it’s working well. The Rockies took 13 cuts at the Wainwright curve and had four swings and misses. Uncle Charlie was responsible for four of Wainwright’s five strikeouts.  After the game, Wainwright explained how he got his curveball back in an interview with Derrick Goold. Three-word summary: lower arm angle.

How is Holliday doing? He has a .325 onbase percentage (on the low side for him) and an encouraging .485 slugging percentage, with 12 doubles, six homers and 21 RBIs. Holliday is basically hitting at the same level as he did in his last full season (2014) when he had an .811 OPS. His current OPS is .810.

Stephen Piscotty’s under-the-radar season continues: I’ve pointed this out before and will do it again. Piscotty is having a strong start to his 2016 but isn’t getting much attention. He had three hits against the Rockies on Wednesday and is now hitting .318 with a .378 OBP and .497 slugging percentage. His adjusted OPS of 134 (STATS LLC version) puts him 34 percent above the MLB average. Piscotty isn’t flashy.

He’s quiet. He’s a thinker, not a baller. He has “only” five home runs, so there isn’t a lot of bombast to his game. He just produces. And with Piscotty taking most of the at-bats at the right field position, the Cardinals rank 5th in the majors with an .857 OPS from their right fielders.

A warming trend for Kolten Wong: In his last six games the Cards’ second baseman is 8 for 20 (.400) with three walks and two triples. If Wong keeps hitting, things will be really interesting when shortstop Jhonny Peralta returns (soon) from the DL.

Aledmys Diaz simply refuses to slump: And he has no interest in padding your strikeout total … Two more hits for the rookie shortstop Wednesday. His numbers continue to be video-game stuff: .376 average, .403 OBP, .648 SLG, 1.051 OPS. Diaz ranks second (to Jose Altuve) in MLB in OPS. Diaz is third in slugging, trailing only Yoenis Cespedes and David Ortiz. Diaz doesn’t get himself out much; his low 9 percent strikeout rate is tied for fifth-best in the majors.

Next up: The Cardinals will start RH Michael Wacha against Rockies’ RH Jon Gray. Wacha (2-4, 3.23) will try to get back on track after consecutive losses to the Pirates and Dodgers in which he allowed 14 hits, five walks and six earned runs in 10 innings. Keep an eye on the swings and misses; Wacha’s swing/miss rate is 17 percent this season compared to 22 percent last year. Gray is nasty, with a his four-seam fastball and sinker each averaging about 96 mph. He’s rolled up an impressive 30 percent strikeout rate this season. Gray has a 4.71 ERA in five starts, but that’s misleading; his fielding independent ERA is 2.39.

Gray — after 19 career starts and 69 career innings — already has discovered the difficult challenge of pitching at Coors Field in Denver. Hitters have a .956 OPS against Gray at Coors — and a substantially lower OPS against him (.521) when he pitches on the road. And though he’s a RHP, Gray has been more effective against RH batters in his career. LH batters have a .735 OPS against him compared to .808 by RH hitters.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie