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Bird Bytes: The Cardinals Are Getting Sloppy Again

How about some Bird Bytes?

Here you go…

That was a mess of a game for the Cardinals on Tuesday night, with the home team returning from a scheduled day off to wobble through one of their worst performances of the season. The tedious, scatterbrained 7-4 defeat to Miami had mental mistakes, physical mistakes, managerial mistakes, base-running mistakes, defensive mistakes.

There were missed opportunities, and missing emotion, and too many mishits with runners on base.  Carlos Martinez had a short start, the bullpen came up short in providing relief, and just about every other player had a short attention span.

Tommy Pham is lost, and a No. 3 hitter and can’t be found. The unpopular batting coach John Mabry may be trying to disappear and conceal his identity by wearing a beard that’s grows bushier by the day. Hidden deep in The Beard of Mabes are some things that are best kept out of view:  the statistics that show the team’s futility when hitting with two strikes or with runners in scoring position.

Austin Gomber pitched three innings and threw 32 pitches on Saturday, came back on short rest two days later, and the Marlins immediately jumped on a rookie who had nothing to hit back with. Welcome to Mike Matheny’s bullpen, Gomber. What’s that lyric to the Kenny Chesney song? Oh, yeah. It’s the unofficial drinking song of the Cardinals bullpen.  “Mr. Pain grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. And said kid are you ready for the wild ride.”  Yes, son. It will be a wild ride.Make sure to click on this site, and bookmark it.

Let’s dig into some of this stuff, or maybe most of this stuff, until I run out of words.

1. Daze after the day off: The Cardinals were off Monday. They played Tuesday. Actually, they did not play Tuesday. They were there in body; they did perform baseball-type actions. But they really didn’t show up and play. For whatever reason, the boys weren’t ready to go. And this isn’t new. It’s becoming a trend. In their last five games that immediately followed a scheduled off day, the Cardinals are 1-4 and have been outscored 29-13. In the four losses, they’ve been outscored 27-10. Teams need days off.  Players deserve the days off.  It helps keep them fresh, and sane, and provides quality time with family. But here’s the deal: when you have the day off,  and come back to work, your baseball fundamentals cannot take a vacation. The fundamentals … the attention to details … the teachings of Jose Oquendo … all of that must come back to work with you.

2. Here’s another recent trend I do not care for: the Cardinals aren’t locked in, aren’t sharp, when they go against lesser teams. In their last 12 games against opponents with losing records, the Cardinals are 4-8. They lost three of four vs. the Twins, split four games against the Padres, dropped two of three at home to the Royals. The latest snoozer was Tuesday; the groggy Cardinals were rolled by aa tanking 21-39 Marlins team that came in with a 5.04 ERA (28th), the worst slugging percentage and OPS, and the fewest number of homers. Before exploiting the Cards’ lethargy last night, the Marlins had lost 19 of 26, getting outscored 154 to 83 in those games. Beginning with Wednesday’s engagement with the Marlins, the Cardinals’ have eight consecutive games against teams with losing records.  (Marlins two, Reds three, Padres two.) But other than going 7-0 against the Reds early in the season, the Cardinals are 9-11 in games vs. losing teams.

3. Bear Tracks: Three more hits for Marcell Ozuna, who took his first regular-season swings against his former team. In his last four games Ozuna is 8 for 14 with two homers and six RBIs. Since May 10 (87 plate appearances) he’s batting .342 with a .419 onbase%,  and .474 slugging% … but only four of his 26 hits during his warming trend have gone for extra bases.

4. The Ozuna Trade: Where are they now? The Cardinals sent four prospects to Miami to complete the deal for Ozuna. Here’s how the four former baby birds are doing:

  • Outfielder Magneuris Sierra is starting for Miami’s Triple A affiliate in New Orleans, batting .214 with a .252 OBP and .325 slug. Hhas eight steals, two triples, five doubles, two homers, 10 RBIs and a 23% strikeout rate … Sierra, however, is improving; in his last 14 games he’s batting .321 with a .368 OBP and .491 slug and hit both of his homers during this hot streak.
  • RH starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara is in the New Orleans rotation, and through 11 starts is 4-1 with a 3.53 ERA but has only 48 strikeouts (with 23 walks) in 66 innings …
  • RH starting pitcher Zac Gallen also resides in the New Orleans rotation; in 11 starts he’s 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA and only three homers allowed (with 54 Ks) in 60.2 innings.
  • Lefty Daniel Castano is starting for the Marlins’ Class A team in Jupiter; he’s 5-6 with a 5.65 ERA.

5. Tommy Pham is in a bad way right now and the Cardinals need him to get going. Pham had been so ridiculously good over many months of baseball going back to early May of 2017, that it’s shocking to see him spiral into a severe slump. Perhaps Pham touched bottom on Tuesday and will begin working his way back up after a tough game against the Marlins in which he (A) got picked off third base with one out; (B) hit into a buzz-killing double play; (C) hit into a bases-loaded fielder’s choice; and (D) failed to drive in a runner from second with two outs. In his last 124 plate appearances since April 27, Pham is batting .196 with a .266 OBP and .393 slug. Pham does have six homers and 15 RBI through this frustrating stretch, but too many parts are out of whack. During this slump phase his strikeout rate is 29% with a walk rate of 8% … and that’s glaring considering that Pham had parity with his walk-strikeout rate — both at 18% — in his first 23 games of the season. When he was getting great results early, Pham pulled the ball 39% of the time; during his slump his pull rate is just under 52 percent. Pham’s ground ball rate has hopped over the 50% mark to 52.6 percent; in the first 23 games the GB rate was 47.5% … contact rate: was 81.5%; during the slump it’s 75%.  Pham is 20 percent below league average offensively in park adjusted runs created since April 27.

6. The Black Hole where offense goes to die? Pham had a chance to bat third in Matheny’s lineup, and  evidently the No. 3 spot in Matheny’s lineup is cursed or something … Albert Pujols used to hit there, and then Matt Holliday moved into No. 3 in 2012 after Pujols signed with the Angels. Pham didn’t do so well batting third; NO  ONE has for the Cardinals this season. Most of the plate appearances at No. 3 have gone to Jose Martinez (132 PA), Matt Carpenter (74) or Pham (32). Dexter Paul DeJong was getting some swings as the third-place hitter before fracturing his left hand. (See? Black hole stuff… ) The collective hitting performance of those that have tried to fill the Pujols-Holliday space this season is absolutely dreadful… Through Tuesday, St. Louis No. 3 hitters ranked 30th *last* in the majors with a .629 OPS, last in slugging (.327), last in total bases, next to last *29th*  in batting average (.208), and 27th in OBP (.302.) The No. 3 hole has generated only 19 extra-base hits, including four homers, and 28 RBIs. Just in case you’re wondering, Pujols occupied the third spot in the lineup from 2003 through 2011; he averaged 41 homers and 117 RBIs per season there and batted .330 with a .425 OBP, .625 slug and OPS of 1.049.

7. Despite Oquendo’s noble efforts the Cardinals are getting careless on the bases again. Don’t look now, but the Cards are now tied with the Red Sox for second in the majors with 40 unforced base-running errors. Only the Rays (44) have more. The Cardinals have had more runners caught stealing (18) than any MLB team this season. And once again we must ask: WHY? This is a terrible, and I mean awful, base-stealing team. The Cardinals have snatched 26 bases in 44 attempts for a success rate (59%) that’s 28th in the majors and 14th among the 15 NL teams. In addition the Cardinals have been thrown out 17 times while trying to advance an extra base this season. They’ve been doubled off base on a fly ball six times; only five teams have a higher total. And the Cards have been picked off twice; in both instances it was Pham. The Cardinals, who were near the top of the metric ratings in BRR (Base Running Runs) for the opening month, have dropped to the 16th ranking among the 30 teams.

8. The Cardinals bullpen has a 4.52 ERA for the season. (Ugh). But over the last 33 games the team’s bullpen ERA is 5.34. (Double ugh.) The collapse includes a poor job when relievers enter the game and inherit runners; over this turbulent stretch the Cardinals have allowed 34.4% of those runners to score. And that’s a hideously inflated total.

9. Back to Austin Gomber. He made 89 starts in the Cardinals’ minor-league system, and never worked as a reliever. And he made all 89 starts on normal (four days) or extra rest. Gomber had never pitched on short rest until Matheny brought him in Tuesday night, only two days after the Lefty threw 32 pitches over three innings in a max-out effort against the Pirates. Gomber is transitioning to relief, and at some point he will have to pitch on consecutive days, or twice in three days, etc. But there’s a way to get him ready for a relief role, and there is a wrong way to do it … and we saw the wrong way when he appeared against the Marlins. Gomber had nothing working; in his one inning he was popped for two runs, walked two, and gave up two hits including a homer. Gomber’s fastball velocity was about the same (94.5 mph) but his best pitch, the curve, really flattened out against the Marlins. Against the Pirates, the Gomber curve averaged 81.7 mph … and that average mph fell to 78.7 against the Marlins. It isn’t easy to watch these type of things continue to happen, but I don’t own or run the ballclub, so I assume chairman Bill DeWitt and front-office men are fine with everything.

10. Memo to Mabes: Your hitters are taking way too many called strikes.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: With a Chance to Power Up, the Cardinals Took Two Big Swings in the Draft