The Cardinals haven't been playing very well lately, plain and simple. The offense has been wildly inconsistent, the defense has been ragged, the pitching is beginning to show definite signs of stress. And to top it all off, the few nights all three of those potential stumbling blocks are avoided, here comes someone like, oh, I don't know, Kyle McClellan
to give up a walkoff homer. It's enough to drive a person to the sauce.
And by sauce, of course, I mean Jason Motte. ('Cause of the applesauce by the same name, leading to the sauce as a nickname. Get it? Why aren't you laughing? Look, this is as good as it gets. You're just going to have to learn to make the best of it.)
You know what? Screw it. That was a good joke. Jason Motte deserves credit for his pitching, and I deserve credit for that segue.
Anyhow, in case you didn't notice, Jason Motte has been absolutely lights-out for the past month now. (And don't think I'm suggesting you haven't been paying attention if you didn't notice. It snuck up on me, too, and I actually get paid to watch for things like this.) Sure, it's just one month, but Motte has been incredible for a team which most nights seems to be foundering in the surf, just hoping something good happens.
So how good has Motte been? On the 11th of May, Motte gave up two runs on a pair of solo homers in a game against the Houston Astros. It was the third outing in a row he had allowed at least one run, and it was looking as if the frustrating 2009 Motte had found his way into 2010.
Motte has given up just one run since. Over that time, he's thrown 13.1 innings, allowed 4 hits, 3 walks, and struck out 19 batters. He has a 0.68 ERA to go with an opponents' batting line of .093/.149/.116. That's an OPS of .265. For reference, that OPS is lower than the on-base percentage of any Cardinal regular. Brendan Ryan, as awful as he has been at the plate this year, has an OBP higher (.282, to be exact), than the OPS Jason Motte has allowed the past month. Chris Carpenter is the only member of the Cards' rotation who actually hits worse than that, with an OPS of .245; in other words, since the middle of May Jason Motte has turned every hitter he's faced into Chris Carpenter.
So why has Motte been so effective of late? Well, for one thing, he's throwing strikes. Fully two-thirds of his pitches the past month have gone for strikes, either swinging or called. When a pitcher is throwing twice as many strikes as balls, it forces hitters to earn their own way on base, a tall order against someone with stuff as good as Motte's.
Speaking of stuff, Motte also appears to have finally gotten his offspeed pitches at least somewhat in order
. Last season he was all over the place, throwing pitches classified by Pitch F/X as fastballs, curveballs, sliders, split-finger fastballs, changeups, and cutters. The only pitch type he was missing was a knuckleball. This season, Motte seems to have refined his slider into more of a cut fastball, which has actually been a mild positive for him. He's also throwing a curve that's still a negative, but the mere fact he's throwing three distinct pitches (and only three), is a huge step forward for Motte from where he was just last season. Still, his success largely hinges on his fastball, which he throws almost 75% of the time and averages 95.7 mph.
So is the remarkable performance of Jason Motte enough to make up for the Cards' poor overall play? No. Not even close. But hey, you've gotta take our silver linings where you can find them in life, and the emergence of Jason Motte as a force at the back end of the bullpen is about as silver as you can get.