The Cardinals’ comeback tour continued in Kansas City on Tuesday night.
Here’s your Daily Redbird Redbird
FIRST PITCH: After slipping to a 3-8 record in the previous 11 games, the Cardinals have won four in a row over the Pirates and Royals. The final last night in Kansas City was 2-0 Cardinals, and the division has tightened again. With Cubs losing at Philadelphia last night, the Cards moved to within one game of first place in the NL Central.
CARDS LOVE PLAYING THE BAD TEAMS: In shutting out the Royals, the Cardinals improved their record to 32-20 this season in games against losing teams. The Cards’ consistent thrashing of the baseball impoverished rates high on the list of why they’re so close in the division race. Here’s why: in games against losing sides, the Cardinals are 12 games over .500 compared to plus 8 by the Cubs and minus 2 by the Brewers.
Of course, the Cardinals are 30-35 against winning teams, but let’s be nice, just as Mister Rogers would want.
BASEBALL HERO: Jack Flaherty went all alpha dog again, and the Royals couldn’t handle him. In the latest in a sequence of dominating starts, Flaherty controlled KC for seven scoreless innings, conceding only three hits and a walk while punching out seven hitters. Flaherty averaged a reasonably efficicient 15.7 pitches per inning.
In his last seven starts Jack-Is-Back has allowed only four earned runs in 45 and ⅓ innings for an 0.79 ERA.
BUNCH O’ BERNIE BYTES ON JACK FLAHERTY:
1. His 0.79 ERA is the best ERA by a big-league starting pitcher since July 7 (minimum 35 innings.) Flaherty had a 4.90 ERA in his first 17 starts this season.
2. Flaherty’s average Game Score over his last seven starts is 74; and anything over 70 goes into the “great” category in the model used by FanGraphs. In his first 17 starts of the season Jack had an average Game Score of 48, which is slightly below the league average (50.)
3. In the seven starts Flaherty has faced 168 batters and given up only two homers. He’s allowed an average of 0.4 home runs per 9 IP. In his first 17 starts Flaherty yielded 1.9 homers per nine.
4. Opponents have batted .142 with a .427 OPS over Jack’s last seven starts. In Flaherty’s first 17 starts, hitters batted .247 with a .770 OPS.
5. Flaherty’s strikeout rate was 26.4 percent in his first 17 starts, with a K-BB ratio of 3.26. In his last seven outings Flaherty has a 33.3 percent strikeout rate with a 5.09 K-BB ratio.
6. The performance in KC was Flaherty’s third consecutive start of seven shutout innings. This is a rarity for the franchise — at least since Bob Gibson’s prime seasons. And since MLB lowered the pitching mound in 1969 in an attempt to increase offense.
According to the Play Index research tool at Baseball Reference, the only two Cards starters to go three straight starts with seven-plus shutout innings were John Tudor (September, 1985) and Adam Wainwright in 2014. Waino had two such three-game streaks that season, the first in April and the second in July.
7. Flaherty hasn’t allowed a run in his last 23 innings.
TURNING POINT: Flaherty arrived to the ballpark safely, and warmed up for his start without harm.
HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Other than Flaherty?
1. Tommy Edman had another good game, playing a role in both STL runs. In the first inning he supplied a productive out, advancing Dexter Fowler from second to third on a ground ball to the right side. Fowler then scored on a sac fly by Paul Goldschmidt. And Edman drove in Lane Thomas with an RBI single in the third inning. Edman has a five-game hitting streak going. He’s batted .429 in those five games.
2. Relievers Andrew Miller and Carlos Martinez protected Flaherty’s lead by locking the Royals down over the final two innings.
3. Matt Carpenter doubled and went 1-for-3. In his last five games Carpenter is 4 for 11 with two walks.
LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: The top five spots in the Cards lineup combined to go 1-for-15. (Though Goldy had the sac fly, and Edman drove in a run.)
SECOND GUESSING SHILDTY: Pass. I know many of you are ticked over Randy Arozarena sitting on the bench last night, but I want to see what happens over the next couple of games.
GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: Pretty much all good, but as Shildt would be the first to tell us, the victory in KC was all about Jack Flaherty.
WELCOME BACK, YADI: In his first start since July 3, and returning from the IL where’s been since July 8, Molina went 0 for 4 with a strikeout.
I wanted to add something here — and it has nothing to do Molina’s hitless game Tuesday. I would have used this even if Molina had bopped two home runs last night.
But as Molina resumes starting at catcher, a St. Louis baseball tradition that dates back to late 2004, let’s pause to appreciate the fine work done by Matt Wieters and Andrew Knizner during Yadier’s absence.
ON DECK: With the Cardinals going for their fifth consecutive win before traveling to Cincinnati for four games, Dakota Hudson gets the start against Kansas City’s Brad Keller at 7:15 Wednesday night. Keller, 24, provides hope for the Royals. In 45 MLB starts going back to last year, Keller (a RH), has a 3.60 ERA.
TRACKING THE BREWERS: Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, and Brewers’ bullpen isn’t close to pitching up to last season’s standard — when the Milwaukee relievers were amazingly durable and dominating. In the latest development, lefty closer Josh Hader — so spectacular in 2018 — is increasingly vulnerable in ’19.
After the Brewers took a 5-4 lead over the Twins on a three-run Yasmani Grandal homer in the 7th inning Tuesday at Miller Park, manager Craig Counsell brought in Hader for a four-out save. The plan blew up. Entering the fray with two runners on and two outs, Hader served up a first-pitch fastball that got crushed for a three-run HR by Marwin Gonzalez. And the blow gave Minnesota a 7-5 victory.
Hader has been rocked by a homer in four of his last six appearances. He’s been ripped for a homer six times in 12.2 innings since the All-Star break. After allowing 13 homers in 129 innings over his first two MLB seasons, Hader has been smacked for 13 homers this year — but it only 52.2 innings.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 12 of the 13 homers struck against Hader in 2019 have come on fastballs. The data at Brooks Baseball tells us Hader is throwing fastballs 87% of the time this season, and using his slider on 12.6 percent of pitches thrown. Last season Hader had a mix of 79.4 percent fastballs and 20.2 percent sliders. (He mixed in a low percentage of chanegups in both seasons.)
Obviously, hitters are jumping on the fastball. Hader has become predictable. But he claims it’s all about poor location — and not pitch selection. “It’s a pitch I’ve always used,” Hader told reporters in Milwaukee. “It’s my strength. Honestly, it comes down to executing it … it comes down to executing, being consistent and making my pitches.”
TRACKING THE CUBS: The North Siders are 2-3 on their current seven-game road trip to Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Same as it ever was for a road-wary team that’s now 23-36 away from Wrigley Field this season. Unless the Cubs can win the final two games at Philadelphia (after losing 4-2 Tuesday), their streak of winless road series will stretch to 12. The Cubs haven’t taken a road series since May 17-19 in Washington. At this point the Cubs would have to win 18 of their final 22 road games to avoid finishing with a losing road record in ’19.
After posting a .537 road winning percentage from 2016 through 2018, the Cubs have a road winning percentage of .389 this year. There are two primary issues: (1) the Cubs rank third in the majors in home ERA (3.35) and are 20th in road ERA (4.78) … and (2) the Cubs have a .270 average and .885 OPS at Wrigley Field with runners in scoring position; on the road they’re batting .240 with a .756 OPS in RISP opportunities.
The Cubs are missing several relievers these days but expect to get Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek back from the Injured List next week … in his last 199 plate appearances going back to June 16, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has two homers and a .423 slugging percentage. But he’s still getting on base at an elite level … after leaving Philly the Cubs will play three games at Pittsburgh. During their final 43 games the Cubs will play the Pirates nine times…the Pirates, 6-24 since the All-Star break, have won the first two games of a three-game series against the Angels in Anaheim. The Bucs scored 10 runs in each victory; first baseman Josh Bell has emerged from a slump to bash four homers and drive in nine runs in his last three games.
Thanks for reading…