The St Louis Cardinals finished their weekend series against Arizona with 25 offensive innings. They only managed to put their leadoff batter on base in 5 of those innings. Getting that first batter on base has been a constant struggle since April. For the month of July, now, Cardinal leadoff batters hold a .266 on base percentage. For the season, they sit at just .302.
The results in those 20 other innings against Arizona were fairly predictable. The Cards scored in only 3 of them, totaling 4 runs. Certainly one of the factors in the slow offensive start is the fact that all too often the power hitters are up with no one on and two outs. Nobody – it seems – wants to embrace the table-setter’s role.
The good news is that – at least during the Arizona series – the Cardinals did finally figure out what to do once they did get that runner on. They scored in 4 of the 5 innings that their first batter reached, totaling 7 runs in those innings.
This had also been a problem. In the six games preceding the All-Star break, the Cards put their leadoff runner on 16 times, bringing him home just 6 times (38%). For the season, only 48% of the Cardinal leadoff batters who reach base end up scoring. When the offense is functioning well, that number will typically be closer to 55%.
It was only three games – and only one of the many offensive issues that this team will try to correct in the second half (and the offense overall hit just .215 and scored 3.67 runs per game in the Arizona series). In essence, the offensive turnaround so far is more hoped for than evident.
But doing something when the leadoff batter gets on is at least a healthy place to start. A baby step, if you will.
Thrust into the lineup due to the thumb injury to Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters is starting to find a comfort level at the plate. He caught the first two games of the series, going 3 for 6 with a home run. Matt has only had 24 plate appearances through the early games of July. But he has answered those plate appearances with 4 singles, 2 home runs and 4 walks – a .300/.417/.600 batting line.
Heating up, finally, is Kolten Wong. One of the mysteries in the Cardinal lineup, Kolten finished the series with 4 hits, and now has a little five-game hitting streak underway. He is hitting .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.
Kolten is up to .375 (9 for 24) in early July.
Flashing a bit of the ability that has made him so successful at AAA, Tyler O’Neill put together a fine series against the Diamondbacks. Moreover, as he is getting consistent at bats, Tyler is starting to show some encouraging consistency.
He was 3 for 8 against Arizona – with all the hits going for extra bases, and has now hit safely in all of his last 5 starts. He is 7 for 20 (.350) with a .600 slugging percentage in those games. For the month of July, Tyler is a .321 hitter (9 for 28) with a .536 slugging percentage and 5 runs batted in in just 7 starts.
Paul Goldschmidt was a big bat in the Sunday game with an important two-run home run. He was held to an 0-for-4 on Friday, breaking a seven-game hitting streak. During the streak, Paul had hit .346 (9 for 26) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs. He drove in 6 runs during the 7 games, with a .654 slugging percentage.
Tommy Edman ended the first half hot, hitting in his last 5 games. He finished with 6 hits in 18 at bats during the streak, including a triple and a home run. He drove in 6 runs over the 5 games with a .333 batting average and a .611 slugging percentage.
He began the second half going 0-for-5 against Arizona.
In the early games of his career, Tommy hasn’t yet shown a great knack for leading off an inning. He was 0-for-3 as a leadoff batter against Arizona, he is 1-for-9 leading off innings this month. So far, Tommy has lead off in 22 innings with 5 hits and 1 hit-by-pitch (a .273 on base percentage).
Edman has only walked once in his first 60 plate appearances.
Jose Martinez’ bat was another important weapon that was limited during the Arizona series. Jose went hitless in 6 at bats during the series, and is now 0 for his last 11.
The primary reason that St Louis managed victories in two of the three over the weekend was the emergence of the starting rotation. Building off the Jack Flaherty’s sterling seven-inning performance against San Francisco just before the break, all three Cardinal starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright) followed with quality starts of their own. The three combined to pitch 19.2 of the 27 innings of the series, allowing a total of 3 runs. They finished the series with a combined 1.37 ERA and a .149/.240/.239 batting line against.
Daniel Ponce de Leon
Daniel Ponce de Leon turned his latest spot start into the one that has vaulted him into the rotation. He muffled Arizona for 6.2 innings, limiting them to 1 run on 3 hits with no walks (although he did hit one batter) and 7 strikeouts on Friday. He lowered his overall ERA to 1.99 for the season, and to 0.79 (with a .114 batting average against) for the month.
He’s been nothing but impressive so far. He’s forced his way into a starting job. Now we’ll see if he can stay there.
Dakota Hudson – Saturday’s starter – tossed his ninth quality start in his last 11 games. Hudson is 6-1 with a 2.84 over his last 11 games.
Outdueling Zach Greinke in the series finale, Adam Wainwright threw seven scoreless innings, and has quality starts in two of his last three outings, recording a 1.93 ERA in those outings.
Inheriting the closer’s rule in the wake of the season-ending injury to Jordan Hicks, Carlos Martinez has been as good as could be hoped. He saved both wins against Arizona, and has now thrown 6 straight scoreless outings (covering 7.1 innings). Not only has he allowed no runs of his own, he has also stranded all 5 runners he inherited during those games. He has 10 strikeouts over those innings, and those that are hitting the ball in play against him are hitting it almost exclusively on the ground (10 of 13).
He hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit since June 9.
Yairo Munoz started at shortstop on Sunday afternoon, breaking Paul DeJong’s streak of 26 consecutive starts at short. That had been the longest current streak of any Cardinal at the same position. That mantle now falls to Paul Goldschmidt, who on Sunday made his eighteenth consecutive start at first.
The Saturday game registered an official temperature of 90 degrees – significant evidence that summer is in full force in St Louis. It was just the third 90+ degree game this season, and the first since May 25 when they beat Atlanta here 6-3. The hottest game of the year so far was played in Mexico on April 13 when we lost to Cincinnati, 5-2.
That home series against Atlanta had been the hottest by average temperature this season at 86.3 degrees. The just finished Arizona series averaged 88.7 degrees. And, no, it was not a dry heat.
When the Cards took their 5-0 lead into the seventh inning on Sunday, it marked the first time they held a five-run lead going into the seventh inning since May 18 when they took a 7-2 lead into the seventh in Texas – on their way to an 8-2 victory (box score). One of the consequences of the recent offensive struggles is that any late inning lead this team holds is generally precarious. Laughers have been few and far between lately.