It was bound to come at some time, of course. Major league teams don’t make it through a whole season without hitting at least one grand slam home run. Ninety-five games into the season is, perhaps, longer than most thought it would take (although this is not without precedent), and I doubt most prognosticators would have tagged Tommy Edman as the author of the Cards first grand slam of the year, but you knew it would eventually happen.
According to baseball reference, only the Cleveland Indians have yet to contribute to the 87 four-run home runs tallied by major league teams this season. The Cardinals – now off the schneid – are one of six teams that have grandly cleared the bases just once this season. The Houston Astros – who have teed off with the bases loaded 9 times, have done so with more frequency than the eight fewest teams combined.
It is, perhaps, fitting that Edman’s jolt came when it did, as the Cardinals are currently riding a fairly impressive wave of doing damage with runners on base. With last night’s 7-4 victory (box score) St Louis has wins in five of its last six games. In the six games, the Cards are only hitting .249 as a team, but are slashing .324/.395/.706 once a runner reaches base. For the month, they have a .374 slugging percentage when there is no one on base, and a .536 slugging percentage once someone manages to reach.
Over the last 6 games, St Louis has hit only 8 home runs – but only one of those (the home run Tyler O’Neill hit off of Chris Archer in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s game) came with the bases empty. Beginning with Yairo Munoz’ two-run shot off of Seattle’s Anthony Bass on July 2, 12 of the Cards last 17 home runs have brought home at least one extra run.
It still wouldn’t hurt this team to set the table a little better – they managed a .176 on base percentage with the bases empty last night, and are at .256 over the last six games. But if you are going to do some damage, better to wait until there are runners on to take advantage, right?
For the month of July so far, this team averages one home run every 36.7 at bats with the bases empty, against one home run every 13.8 at bats with a runner on. Twelve of their last 16 extra-base hits have come with at least one base occupied.
This is all – as long as it lasts – a positive trend. It does, though, re-raise the question of home run dependency.
Last night, 6 of the 7 Cardinal runs came courtesy of the long ball. Over the last 6 games, 60% of the offense (18 of the 30 runs scored) have scored due to the home run. Through the end of June, the Cardinal dependence on the home run was at a reasonable 41%. This month, 61% of the offense (36 of 59 runs) has come on home runs.
With the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna all modeling Cardinal red this year, this was a team that was expected to hit some home runs. But home run dependency – especially for a team that plays in a stadium like Busch with the hottest days of the summer still before us – can be a decidedly double-edged sword.
Tyler O’Neill is still in the midst of his hot streak – and, boy can he make it look easy. O’Neill’s overall hitting streak is up to six games, during which he is 12 for 24 – with 11 runs batted in. He has also hit safely in each of his last 9 starts, batting .444 (16 for 36), and slugging .833 (2 doubles and 4 home runs).
For the month of July, O’Neill is hitting .409 (18 for 44) and slugging .750.
Over the last 6 games, Tyler is a very impressive 8 for 11 (.727) when he hits with runners on base. Five of the 8 hits are for extra bases – resulting in a 1.727 slugging percentage. That will play. For the season O’Neill is 15 for 42 (.357) with runners on base, with 4 doubles and 3 home runs – a .667 slugging percentage.
This is a nice specialty to have.
The worm might be starting to turn a bit for Matt Wieters. With 2 hits last night, Matt is 4 for 13 (.308) over his last 4 games.
Very quietly, Kolten Wong is putting together a very solid July. He had two hits again last night, and is now 11 for 32 (.344) for the month.
Included in this is a .389 average (7 for 18), and .450 on base percentage with the bases empty. Kolten is one of those guys who looks like he could embrace the table-setter’s role.
While some Cards are starting to heat up, Dexter Fowler looks like he’s starting to cool a little. Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Fowler is 0 for his last 8. He was moved into the fifth slot in the batting order five games ago. To this point, he is hitting .235 (4 for 17) with 1 run batted in in those games.
Pitching Staff Reverses Field
While the offense has become more reliant on the home run, lately, the pitching staff has been moving things in the opposite direction. Rigorously bombed for most of the season, the St Louis pitching staff has allowed just 3 homers over their last 6 games, and only one of the last 7 home runs hit against the Cards has accounted for more than one run.
July began with 18 of the first 28 runs scored against the birds coming on home run balls (64%). Over the last 6 games though, that number has dropped to just 19% (3 of 16).
After authoring 8 straight quality starts, Dakota Hudson has lost his way a bit. He scuffled through five innings last night (3 runs, 6 hits) and now carries a 4.58 ERA over his last 4 starts. He has walked 10 batters in his last 17.2 innings.
Last night, 5 of the 9 batters he pitched to with the bases empty, reached (3 singles 2 walks). The 36 batters he has faced this month with the bases empty have a .417 on base percentage against him.