As the offense submitted quietly to John Lackey last night, among the many missing aspects of the heretofore dynamic offense was their proficiency at hitting with runners on base. Before last night, the Cards carried a team .258 (57/221) batting average with the bases empty, while hitting .296 (61/206) with at least one runner on base. Twenty-eight of the 61 hits had gone for extra-bases, including 11 of the 21 home runs they have hit so far this season.
Last night, in spite of Lackey’s dominance, St Louis still had 13 plate appearances with at least one runner on base. Aledmys Diaz’ double that set up the only real scoring opportunity of the night was the only hint of success the Cardinals enjoyed in those at bats.
St Louis had been almost other-worldly, so far, when they have put two runners on base. They already have hit 6 3-run homers (they had only 15 of those all last year) and were 20 for 60 (.333) with a .683 team slugging percentage with two runners on before last night. Lackey was very effective at diffusing the offense before things got to that point. He faced only two Cardinal batters all night with two on, striking out both Leake and Carpenter to strand the runners.
St Louis, at the 13 game mark, has played 9 games against presumptive also rans in Atlanta, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, battering them for 78 runs in the 9 games. They have now played 4 games against presumed contenders in Pittsburgh and Chicago and have scored 7 runs in those games. These are far too few games to make any sweeping observations over, but it does underline the scrutiny that the Cardinal offense is under this year. After two unremarkable offensive seasons during which they have averaged 3.91 runs per game – and following a less-than-spectacular offseason – the offensive concerns of Cardinal Nation can’t quite be assuaged by pushing around second division teams. As the season wears on, this team will have to show at some point that they can score a few runs against the contending teams as well.
Mike Leake and Tyler Lyons invited plenty of trouble throughout the game. With the bases empty, the Cubs hit .316 (6/19) against the pair, including both their doubles and their home run. Leake and Lyons, however, responded solidly to these threats. With a runner on base, Chicago was held to just 3 of 15 (.200), grounding into two double plays. Subtract Diaz’ error on a potential third double play ball, and the last two innings of this game would have a much different energy.