With wins in the first two games of the road trip – and the team back to two games over .500, let’s look at the position wars for the first time this season. This is something we’ll do every month or so.
Position wars looks at the players starting at each of the defensive positions and develops the team trends associated with that player in that position.
Position: First Base
First base has been the most contested position on the team through the first 34 games. As the season started, it was thought that erstwhile left fielder Matt Holliday might edge out the other contenders to take the majority of the starts here. Tommy Pham’s opening day injury re-wrote that plan, sent Holliday back to left field, and opened up a straight-up competition between Matt Adams and Brandon Moss for playing time there.
As of right now, both have made 14 starts at first. St Louis is 8-6 when Adams starts and 6-8 with Moss. Defensively, the team has been better with Adams – posting a 2.90 ERA in his games there vs the 4.52 ERA when Moss starts. However, the offense has been as noticeably better with Moss (5.93 runs per game) as opposed to Adams (4.29 runs per game).
Holliday has started four games at first, with a 2-2 record. Matt Carpenter and Yadi Molina have each started once at first, with the Cards winning both of those games.
First base was a messy position for the team last year, too. Mark Reynolds ended up leading the team is starts there with just 72 – leading the team to a 47-25 record in those starts. Adams – the presumptive starter there last year – saw his starts limited to 42 games by an injury, but also saw the team win 27 of those starts (.643 percentage). Moss, coming off his own injury, only made 24 starts at first last year – St Louis winning only 11 of those.
At the moment, Adams seems to have the upper hand. He’s started 5 of the last 9 games, with Moss starting 3 of the other 4. The Cards have won 4 of Adams’ 5, but just 1 of Moss’ 3. This is a back and forth that looks like it will last the whole season (unless some circumstance pushes Holliday back into the picture).
Position Second Base
Second base is the only other position that is at all contested. Kolten Wong has started 20 of the 34. But only 5 of the last 9 as both he and Jedd Gyorko are struggling to find any consistency at the plate. At this point, St Louis is 11-9 when Kolten starts, scoring 5.4 runs per game with a 3.31 team ERA. With Gyorko at second, the record is 7-7. The scoring is a bit higher (5.71) but the team ERA significantly higher (4.31). The momentum, however, may be turning in Jedd’s direction. They have won 3 of Gyorko’s last 4 starts scoring 21 runs. They are 3-2 in Wong’s last 5 starts, scoring 24 runs in those games.
Wong made 140 starts at second last year, with St Louis winning 91 of those games.
Jhonny Peralta held this position for 147 games last year, leading the Cards to a 93-54 record in those games. His backups were Pete Kozma (4-4) and Greg Garcia (3-4). Of all of those players, only Garcia has seen starts at shortstop this year. He has two (both Cardinal wins). Kozma is elsewhere and Peralta has missed the entire year so far with an injury. Reuben Tejada was acquired as a stop-gap, but his season has been curtailed by an injury of his own. Jedd Gyorko was supposed to make some starts there as a back-up. Those two players have combined to make 7 starts at short. St Louis is 2-5 in those games.
In spite of all these injuries, Aledmys Diaz began the season at AAA. For one day. Tommy Pham’s opening day injury not only shuffled the plan at first base, but opened the roster spot that finally went to Diaz. The injury to Bobby Bonilla that opened the door for a rookie named Albert Pujols is one of the great injury-opportunity stories in Cardinal lore. For Diaz to get his chance, three other players had to go down.
Now Diaz is here, hitting .382 at this moment, and has taken over at short. In his 25 starts there, the team is 14-11, scores 6.24 runs per game with a 3.77 ERA.
Position: Third Base
Third base is the only current position (other than catcher, which we discussed yesterday) on the team where last year’s uncontested starter is also this year’s uncontested starter. A 141-game starter there last year (91-50), Matt Carpenter has made 31 of the first 34 starts there this year. Reynolds was the primary backup there last year. In his absence, Carpenter may play 150 games there. Gyorko was thought to be a useable backup at third – and he may turn out to be. So far, he has only started there once. Tejada has made the other 2 starts there.
St Louis is in an unusual position at third, as none of their first base candidates (Adams, Moss, Holliday) can double as a third baseman. All most every other team has at least one “corner infielder” on their roster.
Position: Left Field
Matt Holliday – his injury notwithstanding – still made the most starts of anyone in left field last year. That number was just 64 starts (41-23). Seven different players made starts there (Piscotty – 40, Grichuk – 37, Moss – 9, Pham – 5, Reynolds – 4, and Jon Jay – 3). Thirty-four games into this season, and already four different players have started in left. But mostly (for 23 games, anyway) it has been Holliday.
The results, however, with the season now more than a fifth over, are a cause for some concern. St Louis is 9-14 (.391) with Holliday starting in left, scoring 4.78 runs per game with a 4.32 ERA. The numbers for the others: Jeremy Hazelbaker – 6 starts, 5-1 record, 8.67 rpg, 2.67 ERA; Brandon Moss – 4 starts, 4-0 record, 6.25 rpg, 1.75 ERA (although 5 unearned runs have scored against the team in those four games); and Tommy Pham, who started the season-opening 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh. In the 23 games that Holliday has started in left, the pitching staff fashioned just 9 quality starts. They have 8 in the 11 games that someone else has started in left.
Is it too early to draw conclusions from these numbers? I think so. But it is a little jarring to note that we have as many wins without Matt in left as we do with him (in less than half the games). This is a trend we will keep an eye on.
Position: Center Field
Randal Grichuk has made 25 of the first 34 starts in center field. He would probably have five or six more starts there, but his early-season offensive struggles have bought him a few more days off than he would have liked. Standing in for him have been Hazelbaker (7 games) and Piscotty (2 games). Even though Randal has yet to find his hitting groove, the numbers still show that he is the best option in CF. The Cards are 14-11 with him and 4-5 without. They score 5.72 runs per game with Grichuk in center and 5.00 with someone else. The team ERA is 3.51 with Grichuk in center. When the other two are out there, it rises to 4.33. Randal – though off to a slow start – is a big-time talent. The plan is for him to be in center field in St Louis for a long time to come.
Position: Right Field
Stephen Piscotty started the second most games in right field last year. He started 11 there. Over the off-season, his name was floated as an option at first base (where he started 9 times last year). But with the defection of last year’s starting right fielder, it was clear that the talented Mr. Piscotty would be ticketed for the right field position. Stephen has started 29 there already this year, with the Cards winning 16 of them. Other right fielders have been Moss (1-2) and Hazelbaker (1-1). Stephen has some versatility. He can play first as well as all the outfield positions. But for the foreseeable future, expect to see him in right field pretty much every day.
Meanwhile, last night’s victory added more credibility to the recent Cardinal turn around. Yes, yes, it’s mostly against Philadelphia and the Angels (although I remind you that the Phillies are 19-15), but encouraging nonetheless. In winning, now, six of their last nine, St Louis has fashioned a 2.89 ERA and pitching-wise is starting to resemble a little the staff we saw last year.
With two more hits and an RBI last night, Piscotty is now hitting .421 (16-for-38) over his last nine games, with seven RBIs.
Stephen was also 1-for-2 with runners in scoring position. He now has 6 hits in his last 10 RISP opportunities.
Moreover, Piscotty added a couple more two-strike hits. Over the last 9 games, Piscotty is now 6-for15 (.400) with two strikes on him.
Piscotty’s hits last night came in the fifth and seventh innings. Through his last nine games, Piscotty is only hitting .167 (3-for-18) through the first four innings. From the fifth inning on, Piscotty has 13 hits in his last 20 at bats (.650)
Yadier Molina shows little signs of slowing down, in spite of his heavy early season work load. Two more hits last night raise his season average back up to .325. He has hits in 10 of his last 32 at bats (.313).
Molina also added a 2-strike hit. He is now 6 for his last 14 (.429) with 2-strikes on him.
Yadi’s third-inning double was his only 2-out at bat of the game. Molina is 4 for his last 10 (.400) with two-outs.
Grichuk’s bat continues to heal. His two hits last night raises his average to .308 (8-for-26) over the last 9 games (including 2 home runs and 6 RBIs).
Matt Carpenter is 5 for his last 8 first-inning at bats. Thereafter, he is 5 for his last 24 (.208).
Holliday still can’t seem to put together any kind of streak. After a 3-hit game yesterday, Matt went 0-for-4 last night. He has just 7 hits in his last 33 at bats (.212) and is now down to .243 for the season.
Jaime Garcia was in charge again last night. Over his last two starts (both wins), Jaime has allowed 6 hits and no earned runs in 14 innings.
Mike Scioscia loaded his lineup with right handed batters against the lefty Garcia. Thank you Mike. All his righties went 3-for-22 against Jaime (.136). Garcia – who always has dominant reverse splits – has now held right handed batters to a .173 average this season (22-for-127).
Jaime is also a nasty pitcher to hit when you have to protect the plate. Last night, batters with 2 strikes on them were 1-for-14 (.071) against Garcia. Over the two starts, batters are just 2 for 25 (.080) when hitting against Jaime with two strikes on them.
Trevor Rosenthal needed 22 pitches to get out of the ninth inning. He has now thrown 76 pitches in his last three innings.