HRs derail Mikolas, Cards ebb into tie for 1st

August 18th, 2019

CINCINNATI -- Miles Mikolas, like many pitchers since the beginning of August, was the victim of another Aristides Aquino home run Saturday night.

The Reds’ rookie sensation clobbered a three-run bomb off of Mikolas in the bottom of the fifth inning and put the Reds firmly on top in the Cardinals’ 6-1 defeat at Great American Ball Park.

The Cardinals had the opportunity to stay alone in first place in the National League Central, but instead fell back into a tie with the Cubs, once again enforcing that every win -- and every loss -- is important for the playoff push. St. Louis left 10 men on base and was unable to plate any runs outside of Matt Carpenter’s first home run since June 17.

If the Cardinals do hope to push into the postseason, Mikolas will need to play a crucial part. Pitching better on the road and limiting the damage done against him will be key. Saturday night showed what happens when he doesn’t deliver.

Mikolas gave up a leadoff home run to Nick Senzel, but he settled down through the next three innings, holding the Reds to two runs after four. He got two quick outs in the bottom of the fifth, but then allowed back-to-back singles to Josh Van Meter and Freddy Galvis, setting up Aquino for his 11th home run in 16 games this season.

“I feel like I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Mikolas said. “Had a hard time getting the ball down. Got away with a few mistakes, and then one bad pitch to a hot hitter and that’s the ballgame.” 

In five games after the All-Star break, Mikolas had a 2.18 ERA before his start against the Pirates last Sunday. He was able to reset and refocus over the break and started out the second half looking like the pitcher he was in 2018.

But in his last two starts, he gave up 11 runs (10 earned) in 10 innings to the Pirates and the Reds. Eight of those runs have come from home runs -- which is exactly what Mikolas struggled with in his inconsistent first half, when he had a 4.53 ERA in 18 games.

On Saturday, Senzel hit a leadoff home run on Mikolas’ sinker. Aquino took a first-pitch slider over the center-field fence. Those two pitches are the ones that Mikolas has surrendered the majority of his 21 home runs on.

“Those are quality pitches for him,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “He gets ground balls, he gets softer contact and some chases. He has been able to do it, he’s demonstrated it. Tonight, he made some mistakes with some guys and it hurt him.”

Mikolas (7-13) has given up 21 home runs this year compared to 16 last season, when he finished 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA. The league seems to have adjusted to the Cardinals’ right-hander more than he has adjusted to the league.

“I’ve been a little more inconsistent this year,” Mikolas said. “I’m sure if you looked at videos or some metrics, probably leaving the ball up a little bit more this year, getting away from when I’m at my best. Going up on guys, maybe trying too hard to get strikeouts, trying too hard to be in the zone.”

The inconsistency has been worse on the road. Mikolas now has a 6.54 ERA away from Busch Stadium, compared to a 2.43 ERA at home.

He chalks his home and road splits up to coincidence, especially because he has the same routine before every start. In 2018, he went 10-0 on the road -- maybe this year is “karma” for last year, he said.

“You can’t go 10-0 and then all of a sudden do something dramatically different,” Shildt said. “But you can’t ignore the fact that he hasn’t pitched as well on the road. I really just feel like it’s execution. Whatever ballpark you pitch in, home or road ... it’s just about making your pitches and making your quality pitches. And doing that as consistently as possible.”

There was a silver lining for Mikolas on Saturday night. He walked two or fewer batters for his 40th straight start -- breaking the Cardinals’ record for the longest stretch in franchise history, which had previously been held by Curt Davis from July 3, 1938, to Sept. 3, 1939. Mikolas’ streak dates back to July 10, 2018, against the White Sox, and it’s the longest active streak in the Majors since Clayton Kershaw (47 games) and Andy Sonnanstine (45 games) in 2017.

“That’s nice,” Mikolas said. “I like that. It means I’m not giving up free passes. But at the same time, there’s a time and place for walks. I’m sure in that Pirates game [last Sunday], I could have used a walk or two, pitch around some of the guys who hurt me. 

“But that’s how I pitch. I like to attack the zone. That’s a nice little record to have. I’ll try to beat it next start.”