baseball . . . . go figure. despite playing without albert pujols for most of the month, the cardinals led the national league in runs scored during june, at 136 --- 5 runs a game, their best month this year by a longshot. they finished 2nd in the league in slugging, a category in which they’d ranked 9th in the league during the first two months; their 36 homers were good for 3d in the nl during june (they had been 10th in the league heading into the month). even their luck turned around: the cards recorded the league’s second-highest reached-on-errors total during june (13), a category in which they had ranked dead last during the first two months. maybe opposing defenses stopped paying attention w/ pujols out of the lineup. . . . . so the cards reach the (more or less) halfway point in the season ranked 4th in the nl in runs, 5th in slugging, and 2nd in obp.
the starting rotation also thrived without its leader in june --- actually, without its two best pitchers, as wellemeyer and wainwright combined to make only 5 starts during the month, throwing just over 28 innings. st louis starters ranked 3d in the league in era for the month anyway. good starting pitching, good run support --- with a competent month from the bullpen, the cards might have flagged down the cubs. here’s a stat that’ll break your heart: the cards led 16 games during june after 7 innings, and were tied in another 4; they only trailed 7 times. if they’d held all the leads and split the ties, they would’ve gone 18-9 during june and passed the cubs --- with pujols and wainwright both out for most of the month. whatever; can’t blame izzy this time. . . . . the cards enter july ranked 6th in the league in era. they have allowed the 2d fewest walks in the league and the 4th fewest homers; the defense takes care of the rest.
one other statistical oddity i noticed while fishing around this morning: despite batting the pitcher 8th, the cardinals rank 11th in the league in OPS out of that batting-order slot. one of the teams below them, milwaukee, also bats the pitcher 8th --- but 4 of the clubs below the cardinals are using position players in the 8 hole, and still getting less offense. it gets better: the cardinals rank 4th in the league (!) in isolated power out of the #8 slot. . . . on the other hand, out of the #9 hole they only rank 5th in the league in ISO --- milwaukee is batting jason kendall there, so no surprise that they are ahead of the cards, but chicago, arizona, and washington all get more sock from their (mostly) pitchers than the cards do from iz2 / kennedy / ryan.
turning to last night’s game: kyle lohse dusted off his curveball, throwing it 21 times against the mets --- 20 percent of his pitches. early in the year duncan talked about wanting lohse to make better use of his curve, a pretty good pitch that kyle had stopped throwing over the years. in 2005-06 it virtually disappeared from his repertoire. he started using it again last year as an auxiliary pitch, and in the first month of 2008 he heeded duncan’s advice and began to throw it regularly --- it accounted for almost 10 percent of his pitches in april. for whatever reason he junked it in may --- just 4 percent of his pitches --- and before last night he had thrown the curve just 3.7 percent of the time during june. (thank you fangraphs for all that data.) but last night lohse used the bender to great effect: threw it for strikes 2/3 of the time and got 4 outs on it without allowing a base hit.
i was glad to see the homer by duncan, but i think he got a little too excited about it. his next time up, apparently trying to hit another one, he took 2 gigantic swings at pitches out of the zone and got himself out; in the at-bat after that (against heilmann) he whiffed at another bad pitch before regaining his discipline. a big component of duncan’s mini-rally --- .856 ops in the last 10 days, dating back to the start of the interleague trip --- has been improved discipline at the plate: he has walked 7 times (one intentional) in his last 34 plate appearances. to draw his previous 7 walks, it had taken duncan 99 plate appearances, nearly 3 times as many; he was flailing at everything. the homer wasn’t all that impressive, and duncan is still anything but "fixed" --- he did strike out twice last night --- but any contribution from that quarter is welcome.
ditto mulder. he threw strikes (10 out of 14 pitches), and he threw with more velocity than we’ve ever seen from him in st louis --- nearly every pitch was a fastball (12 of 14), and all but one reached or exceeded 90 mph according to pitch fX, with a max of 92 (attained 5 times). he even threw a fastball past somebody, ramon castro, to get a strikeout on a 3-2 pitch. i’d be the last guy to get excited about his performance --- indeed, just to be a jerk i’ll point out that mulder’s first inning back from surgery last year also was scoreless (1 hit, no walks), and he started getting hammered immediately thereafter --- but i have to admit he threw harder and displayed better command than i expected. only one of the 4 balls in play against him was hit on the ground, but with his new arm slot i we shouldn’t expect him to pound the bottom 1/10th of the strike zone the way that he used to; he doesn’t get on top of the ball anymore, and that’s by design. lord only knows how this experiment will turn out; the cards have tried crazier things and had success with them, so maybe this will work out too. here's hoping so.
the season half over, and still so very much to learn about these cardinals . . . . . .