There are two ways one can devise the narrative for this game. The first is that the Cardinals opened a series against baseball’s worst team with an 8-1 victory to push their record to 32-37 in the NL Central. The second, which should garner much more attention, details three innings of painful inefficiency, stitched together for your viewing pleasure.
I’ll start from the beginning.
Top of the second inning with runners on first and third, one out after consecutive singles by Aledmys Diaz and Tommy Pham. Paul DeJong is at the plate. Fangraphs has this situation, on average, as producing 1.14 totals runs by the innings end. Since you already know the final score was 8-1, the Cardinals scored seven runs in the 11th, and Jedd Gyorko led off this inning with a home run, you can guess the result of this at bat. DeJong flied out to shallow right field, where Daniel Nava and his deteriorating arm strength forced Diaz to hold at third. Following that up, Mike Leake struck out swinging - can’t blame him. Missed opportunity number one.
Expected runs: 1.14
Total runs: 0
The top of the third inning started with one of Matt Carpenter’s three walks on the day and was quickly followed by a sharp double by Dexter Fowler. So we have second and third with nobody out, a situation that per Fangraphs, yields an expected 1.92 runs on average. Yes, this exact spot should have yielded nearly two whole runs. If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right on the money. Stephen Piscotty chopped a ball to third baseman Maikel Franco, which apparently was deep enough for Carpenter to boldly assume that Franco would throw across the diamond and concede the run. Franco didn’t, and Carpenter was tagged out on his way back to third in the process of contemplating the questionable break towards home. Even though Fowler was wise enough to advance to third in the pickle, that decision mattered very little as Gyorko then proceeded to ground into a double play, ending the inning.
Expected runs: 1.92
Total runs: 0
One more! This time top of the fourth inning after a DeJong lead-off double - a situation that Fangraphs has producing an expected 1.068 runs on average - Leake failed to drop a bunt down and was followed by a Fowler sinking liner to right that hung up just enough for Aaron Altherr to make a grab. The most painful part of this instance came when the broadcast panned to second base, where DeJong is nowhere to be found. He either forgot how many outs there were, or mistakenly thought the ball would drop, because the positive action of an aggressive tag-up was just too many positives for one night of Cardinals baseball.
Expected runs: 1.068
Total runs: 0
Three situations that, on average, lead to an aggregate total of 4.128 runs, netted the Cardinals nothing but dismay for their baserunning skills. The most disappointing aspect of these blunders may have been on the flip side, when you backtrack to the way the Phillies got their game-tying run in the bottom of the fourth.
Mike Leake, although in the middle of a few tough at bats, pitched a great game.
Final line for Mike Leake: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 87 pitches (56 strikes).— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) June 21, 2017
Leake's 2017 ERA: 3.03 pic.twitter.com/f9igTLMCdM
His two walks came back-to-back leading off that fourth inning, something we rarely see from the refined control of Leake, who sat sixth in baseball among qualified starters in terms of walk percentage before this start (4.6%, 93rd percentile).
A big double play ball off the bat of Tommy Joseph seemed to signal the end of a threat, but unlucky for Leake, Maikel Franco chopped a seeing eye single up the middle for one of the weaker RBI singles you’ll ever see. If any three of the situations I broke out above aligned with their expected run totals, Leake would’ve gotten a mulligan on which I’d argue you can’t even call a mistake.
This ends a streak of four mediocre starts for Leake, who currently holds - as the tweet above shows - an ERA just over 3. More important is the 3.73 FIP he carried into this start, which in a rudimentary sense signals some regression. However, a good control, sinker-ball pitcher like Leake has a track record of out-pitching his FIP, five of his last seven seasons to be precise. Establishing himself as the number two in this rotation behind Carlos Martinez, Leake looks to back this great start with another Sunday against the Pirates and projected starter Gerrit Cole.
They opened in the 11th inning as the Cardinals tallied seven total runs. I’d say this tweet does a fine job of breaking out the events...
Two home runs came off the bat of Yadier Molina and Pham, while the tiebreaker was Piscotty’s clutch two RBI double the other way on a 1-1 slider from Casey Fien (6.57 FIP in 11 innings). Carpenter added to the punishment with an RBI double just on the chalk to push the game to its final score. Again, we can look at the two sides of this coin as well. Seven runs won the game. But are seven runs - with contextual extra credit that all the run-scoring hits came off the reeling Fien - really seven hard-earned runs? I’ll leave that up to debate.
What I do know is that the Cardinals issues aren’t fixed and it’s essential to correct the mistakes of the middle innings if the club wants to get back to .500. On the surface this win may seem nice, but the Phillies are the worst team in baseball, and we know we’re better than this.
Misleading 8-1 victory indeed.
- In the month of June - as mentioned on the Cardinals broadcast - Matheny’s club is now 4-0 versus the Phillies and a splendid 3-12 versus everybody else. If you can ever coax a positive nugget of info from a stat like this, it’s that we play the Phillies tomorrow and Thursday!
- I’ve seen Jeremy Hellickson start a few times, and while it’s beyond easy to be unimpressed with his peripherals this season (10.2% strikeout rate, 6.9% walk rate, 6.09 xFIP), he still possesses one of the league’s better changeups, and one I oddly find enjoyable to watch when he’s “on,” like tonight. Regarded as one of the best pitches in 2016 (48.29% swinging strikes, better than Stephen Strasburg’s 2017 curveball, or Clayton Kershaw’s 2017 slider for some perspective). This season, Hellickson upped his usage by above 5%, only about 10% off less than his fastball usage. Maybe too much of a good thing? Regardless of Hellickson’s failures, it’s still a pitch that disappears below bats when you least expect it.
- I didn’t dive into the Cardinals bullpen as my word total started creeping up on me, but they looked good overall. Bret Cecil, Seung Hwan Oh, and Kevin Siegrist in particular, with an honorable mention to Trevor Rosenthal, who threw 21 pitches and gave up two hits.
- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs took an early look at baseball’s buyers and sellers as we approach the month of July (link). He had the Cardinals as one of 12 “bubble teams.” It’s a great read for some perspective on the happenings around the league, feel free to discuss below. I’m sure Viva El Birdos will have some great content regarding the matter in the coming weeks, so make sure to check back.
- Don’t be afraid to follow me on Twitter as well - @LanceBrozdow - I’m always watching and writing about baseball!