Fearless forcast – mark it down. At some point this season, the Cardinals will lose a game to the Cincinnati Reds. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will.
It almost happened Saturday afternoon. Three Cardinal home runs accounted for all of their scoring in a 4-3 win (box score) – a game in which they were 0-or-6 with runners in scoring position (RISP). This has been a continuing sore spot for an offense that has still mostly underachieved (in spite of the fact that they are still scoring 4.81 runs a game). With the 0-for-6 on Saturday, the Cards fell to 6 for 32 (.188) is RISP opportunities over their four previous games. It also dropped them to .230 (35 for 152) for the season in RBI opportunities.
For one afternoon on Sunday, though, the concerns were temporarily allayed as St Louis cruised past Cincinnati (for the seventh straight time this season) by a 9-2 score (box score). One of the game features was a 5-for-16 performance (.313) with runners in scoring position. Whether this is the beginning of a turnaround is yet to be determined.
Noteworthy in the game – and in the early season struggles – is second-year shortstop Paul DeJong. Entering the game just 2-for-19 (.105) with runners in scoring position, Paul had ducks on the pond every time he came to the plate Sunday afternoon. Batting eighth in many of the recent games, manager Mike Matheny sought to change things up by batting DeJong fifth this day, and the game continually found him.
In the first inning – with the game still scoreless – DeJong came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. He bounced into the 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Now it’s the third inning. The Cards have just pushed their lead to 2-0, when Paul came to the plate with runners at first and second and one out. But instead of another rally-killing ground ball, DeJong slapped a single that positioned a runner (Yadier Molina) at third, where he would score on a fly-ball off the bat of Tyler O’Neill (his first major league RBI), giving the Cards a 3-0 lead.
When Dexter Fowler led off the fifth with a walk and a stolen base, DeJong had yet another RISP opportunity. Nothing came of this as Paul grounded out.
In the meantime, the Cardinal offense had slowed, and the Reds began to chip away at the deficit. So, when Paul came to the plate in the seventh inning – with runners at first and second and two out – the Cards were clinging to a 3-2 lead. Just 3 for 22 at this point with runners in scoring position on the season, Paul DeJong finally came through. He delivered a crushing three-run homer that took much of the pressure off, and sent the Cards on to their decisive victory.
While DeJong hasn’t (yet) been as consistent as he was in his rookie year, this was – nonetheless – his seventh home run of the young season. Big hits in clutch situations from DeJong would go a long way toward healing what’s wrong with the St Louis offense.
If DeJong is turning the corner, the RISP results are still frustrating for Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter. Wong ended the third by striking out with runners at first and second. He is now 2 for 11 (.182) in the early season with runners on base. Carpenter had a fourth inning chance with two on and no one out, but he was retired on a fly ball. Matt is just 2 for his first 15 (.133) in RISP situations.
Again, it’s early.
Two RISP Pitching Notes
On the subject of runners in scoring position, a couple of pitching numbers jumped out at me this morning. Neither pitcher pitched on Sunday, but rookie Jordan Hicks and top starter Carlos Martinez have both found another gear when pitching in RISP situations. Hicks has held batters to 0-for-16 in these opportunities so far this season.
As for Martinez, he served up a two-run single to New York’s Yoenis Cespedes in the second inning of his shaky opening start against the Mets. That has been the only hit this season off of Carlos when he has had ducks on the pond. Batters are now 1-for-24 (.042) against Martinez in these situations – including 0 for their last 21.
Speaking of Pitching
Miles Mikolas (Sunday’s starter) added another strong effort to the rotation’s early success. Miles finished his day having pitched 7 innings, allowing 1 earned run on 5 hits. Since the first two games of the season, the Cardinal rotation holds a 2.73 ERA, allowing just 8 home runs over their last 112 innings.
Recent Scoring Changes – For Those Scoring at Home
Dexter Fowler’s struggling start got a little better. In the fifth inning of the April 12 game in Cincinnati, Fowler reached when his pop-fly to short fell in. Originally scored an error, Dexter has now been awarded a hit on the effort. It pushes his early season average up to .192.