Injuries and the other attrition that attends the course of the long major league baseball season has shaken the staid lineups that the Cardinals had trotted out through most of the early months of the season.
With the Cubs in town tonight to end the month of July, both teams sit tied atop the division with identical 56-49 records. The Cards have gotten here on the wings of a 15-8 July that has been a little remarkable for all the critical pieces that have been missing for all or most of the month.
The Cards July run has been accomplished without Matt Carpenter (4 games played this month), Jordan Hicks (0 games), Yadier Molina (2 games) or Marcell Ozuna (0 games). You would have thought that losing any of these players for any extended period of time would weaken this team, and that the loss of more than one of them would be crippling. But the stealth strength of this team all along has been its depth – at the major and minor league levels. All of these significant losses have been mitigated by more than capable play from the next men up.
There is that famous line in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The gang has tried everything they can think of to shake a pursuing posse – only to look back and see them following every step of the way. “Who are those guys?” Perhaps the Cubs have wondered the same thing.
Here are some random observations about the evolving Cardinal lineup:
Adam Wainwright opens the Chicago series tonight. Adam has had good and bad days, but for the month of July he has been something of a good luck charm – the Cards are 4-0 in his starts this month.
One of the most significant upgrades this off-season was Yadi’s backup. Since it was assumed that Molina would start about 140 games, there was little reason to think that the backup catcher would be a terribly important factor. But with Yadi on the shelf for a significant period of time, the addition of Matt Wieters has been huge.
St Louis is 9-6 this month with Wieters starting, and 18-12 (.600) this season.
But the impact here stretches beyond Wieters. The Molina injury also opened the door for Andrew Knizner to play an important role in the July surge. Andrew has started 6 games this month, with the Cards winning 5 of them. For the season, they are 6-2 when Knizner starts.
One of the most useful moving pieces has been Yairo Munoz. Between third base, shortstop, left and center field, Munoz has started 13 of the 23 July games so far. St Louis is 10-3 (.769) when he starts, and 5-5 when he doesn’t.
Ozuna’s absence has opened the door for Tyler O’Neill. Of all the players who have stepped up, O’Neill might be the one who has earned himself continued playing time – even when Ozuna returns.
Tyler has made 26 starts this year. The Cards are 16-10 (.615) and are scoring 5.00 runs per game when Tyler starts. They are 40-39 (.506) scoring 4.44 runs per game when O’Neill is not in the lineup.
Jose Martinez also seems to be a necessary lineup element. St Louis is 40-30 (.571), scoring 4.86 runs per game when Jose is in the lineup. They are 16-19 (.457) scoring 4.03 runs per game when Martinez begins the game on the bench.
Both of these outfielders have an ability to spark the team. Before his injury, the Cards were only 37-40 (.481) when Ozuna started – scoring 4.40 runs per game. In the 28 games they’ve played without Ozuna in the lineup, St Louis is 19-9 (.679) scoring 5.07 runs per game.
Matt Carpenter – poised to return soon to the lineup – has started only 74 games this year (62 against right-handed starters and 12 against lefties). The Cards are 6-6, scoring 4.67 runs per game when Carp is in the lineup against lefties. They have lost 6 of the 9 games against left-handers that Carpenter hasn’t started, scoring just 34 runs in those games.
Meanwhile, they are just 32-30 in the games the left-handed Carpenter has started against right-handers, scoring 4.50 runs per game in those contests. They have faced 22 right-handed starters without Matt in the lineup. St Louis is 15-7 in those games (.682) scoring 5.09.
Tommy Edman is another of those rookies who has made a splashy debut in the show. He has ended up making 17 starts this month. But St Louis is just 10-7 when Tommy starts (they are 5-1 this month when he doesn’t start). Much of the reason for this, I believe, is that Edman is mismatched as a leadoff hitter. Thirty-seven games into his major league career, Tommy has drawn all of 5 walks and his on base percentage is .299.
For the season, Carpenter has batted leadoff 67 times to Edman’s 21. St Louis is 37-30 (.552) scoring 4.69 runs per game with Matt leading off. They are 11-10 (.524) scoring 4.43 runs per game with Tommy in the leadoff spot.
As for Carpenter, he has made 7 starts in a lineup spot other than leadoff. St Louis has scored only 21 runs in those games, losing 6 of the 7.
For all the angst over Carpenter’s ragged season so far, Carp just doesn’t seem to be himself when he doesn’t hit leadoff, and the Cards don’t seem to be themselves when someone else is there.
In moving Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong down in the order, manager Mike Shildt has been searching for the right person to hit second. This month, more often than not, that person has been Martinez. It is, perhaps, not his best fit.
St Louis is only 8-6 in Jose’s 14 starts batting second this month, scoring 4.71 runs per game. They are 7-2 with someone else there, scoring 49 runs in those games.
Of those other players who have hit second this month, Shildt has turned to Dexter Fowler 5 times, with St Louis winning all 5, scoring 34 runs in those games.
For the season, Goldschmidt has still made the most starts in this lineup spot – he has batted second 55 times. St Louis is 26-29 in those games, although they’ve scored a healthy 4.85 runs per game. DeJong has the second most opportunities to hit second with 24. The record in those games is improved at 14-10, although the scoring is down to 3.67 runs per game.
While Goldschmidt has been hitting home runs in July, management’s question has been where to bat him. Paul has hit fourth 12 times and third 10. The numbers suggest that third might be the better fit in the new lineup. St Louis is 7-3 when Goldy hits third. They have scored 52 runs in those games. They are 7-5 when he hits fourth (.583) with the team scoring 5.00 runs per game.
For the season, Goldy has hit cleanup 14 times (8-6, 4.79) and third 32 times (20-12, 4.19 runs per game). DeJong has still made the most starts this season hitting third with 64. In spite of the fact that St Louis is averaging 4.78 runs per game when DeJong hits there, they are just 30-34 in those games.
If not Goldschmidt batting fourth, how about Tyler O’Neill. He has hit there 11 times this month (8-3). Fourth, of course, is where Ozuna hit when he was in the lineup (all 77 games).
After the fourth spot, all of the remaining lineup spots have been completely up for grabs. Twenty-three games into the month, and no one has made as many as ten starts in any of the last four spots in the batting order.
For the season, four different players have hit fifth at least ten times (Martinez 42, Molina 17, Fowler 14 and O’Neill 10). None of them has made even one start there this month.
Molina has made the most starts this season batting sixth. The team is 21-26 in his 47 starts, although they are scoring 4.51 runs in those games. In his absence, Fowler and Kolten Wong have been trading opportunities in this lineup spot – both with solid results.
Wong has hit sixth 9 times this month, with a 6-3 record. The team has scored 55 runs in those games. For the season, the Cardinals are 8-7 (.533) scoring 5.00 runs per game when Kolten hits here.
For his part, the team is 4-2 in Fowler’s 6 starts hitting sixth, with 29 runs scored. Dexter has batted here 22 times this season, with the team winning 14 of those (.636) while scoring 4.41 runs per game.
Fowler (33) and Wong (29) have also made the most starts this season batting seventh. While the offense has done better with Dexter hitting seventh (5.12 rpg vs 4.03), the record is better when Wong hits there (17-12 as opposed to 14-19).
Note for Tonight
This will be the tenth meeting this season between these ancient rivals. To this point, the home team has won all nine games.
Recent Scoring Changes
For those of you scoring at home:
On July 12 the Cards hosted Arizona. In the fifth inning, Nick Ahmed drilled a one-out shot into the left-centerfield gap, ending up at second. Originally scored a single and an error, Ahmed has since been credited with a double. So erase an error from Jose Martinez and add a double to Daniel Ponce de Leon’s pitching line (amended box score).