Home has not always been where the heart is for the St Louis Cardinals over recent seasons. In fact, during their three-year playoff absence, one of the galling factors has been their struggles at home.
Through the first 16 years of this century (2000-2015), the Cardinals were 835-519 (.617) at home (counting playoffs). During that same span (including playoffs) they were only 694-668 (.510) on the road.
Over the last three seasons, though, that home field advantage has all but completely disappeared. Between 2016 and 2018, your Cardinals have played just .514 ball at home (125-118). This number includes the only season in this century when the Cards finished with a losing record at home (38-43 in 2016). During those same seasons, they are 132-111 (.543) on the road.
The most apparent reason for the home issues seems to be the largeness of the ballpark. Busch has always played large – especially as far as getting baseballs to sail over the wall. As the Cardinals have become more and more reliant on the home run ball over the last few years, they have – at times – seemed out of place in their own ballpark.
From 2000-2015, St Louis averaged 4.75 runs per game at home and 4.73 runs per game on the road. Home runs still came easier on the road (1 for every 31.93 at bats, vs 1 per 34.11 at bats at home), but a more diversified Cardinal offense was capable of finding other ways to score. Over those 16 seasons, they hit 173 more home runs on the road (1492) than at home (1319) – an average of 10.8 more home runs on the road than at home per season.
Since 2015, The Cards have averaged 4.38 runs per game at home, against 5.08 runs per game on the road. While they have improved to 1 home run per 28.92 at bats at home, those blasts are still significantly easier away from Busch – where St Louis managed a home run every 24.37 at bats. Over the last three years they hit 72 more home runs on the road (349) than they did at home (243) – an average of 24 more road homers than home runs in their home park each year.
So, one of the most encouraging notes of the very early season has been the Cardinals prowess at home. Sunday’s 5-2 conquest of Cincinnati (box score) concluded a 7-2 home stand that pushed the Cards to 12-4 at home so far this season.
The early results shows no more success hitting the ball out of their home park than in any past season. In fact – if anything – the home runs at home have regressed a bit so far in 2019. In the first 16 home games, the Cards have managed just 16 home runs – 1 every 32.44 at bats. They have been home run machines on the road. In 11 road games they have driven 23 balls over the wall – 1 every 17.17 at bats.
But – as a team – the Cards are hitting .277 at home, scoring 5.69 runs per game. During the just-completed home stand, St Louis collected 90 hits and scored 54 runs while hitting just 9 home runs during the 9 games. But they managed 6 runs per game on the strength of their .302 team batting average.
In spite of the home runs, St. Louis is hitting just .258 on the road, scoring a still-impressive 5.27 runs per game.
Yes, the season is still very, very young, and this is a trend that could completely disappear as the season rolls on. The early read on this team is that they will certainly hit their share of home runs. But this edition of the Cardinals may not be as dependent on the long ball as some of their predecessors. That would be a huge step in the right direction for this franchise.
Matt Carpenter – bedeviled for most of the season by the shifts that he has been trying to hit against – has picked up a few hits to the other side in recent games – some on bunts and some on floaters into short left. This part remains a work in progress (Carpenter doesn’t have an extra-base hit in his last 7 games). But the on-base part of his game is definitely coming back. He has drawn 6 walks (and scored 6 runs) over his last 5 games – a span during which he holds a .455 on base percentage. He was 2 for 5 against the Reds with 3 walks – reaching base in 5 of his 8 plate appearances.
In his first 61 plate appearances at home, Matt holds a .393 on base percentage. All of his first three home runs this season have come on the road.
The Dexter Fowler resurgence continued over the weekend against the Reds. Dexter went 3 for 8 with 3 walks – a .583 on base percentage during the series. Dexter basically tore things up during the home stand. In his 32 plate appearances, Fowler contributed 7 singles, 3 doubles, 1 home run, 5 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, 5 walks and a hit-by-pitch. This translates to a .423/.531/.654 batting line – a 1.185 OPS.
Dexter has hit in 13 of his last 15 games, batting .396 (21 for 53) with 6 multi-hit games. He is also now hitting .333 at home (15 for 45) so far this year.
Jose Martinez wrapped up a 3-for-9 series against Cincinnati with 2 hits and the game-winning RBI on Sunday. Finding his way back into the starting lineup, Jose has now started 11 consecutive games, and is hitting .400 (16 for 40) in that span. In the 9 games of the home stand, Jose hit .438 (14 for 32).
Martinez is now the Cardinals’ leading hitter at home. He is a .435 hitter (20 for 46) at his home ballpark. Up next for Jose is a road trip into Washington and Chicago. His early season struggles mostly came on the road. In his first 24 road plate appearances, Jose has managed just 3 singles and 1 double, while striking out 9 times and grounding into 2 double plays. Martinez carries 3 runs batted in and a road batting line of .167/.167/.208 into tonight’s contest against the Nationals.
Going 4 for 12 against the Reds, Paul DeJong has now pushed his hitting streak to 8 games. Paul is hitting .382 (13 for 34) during the streak, with 6 of those hits going for extra-bases (5 doubles and a home run) – a .618 slugging percentage.
DeJong now carries a .397 batting average at home (25 of 63) with 13 extra-base hits (10 doubles, 1 triple and 2 home runs) – a .683 slugging percentage. In just 48 road at bats, DeJong has 3 road home runs.
Not everyone prospered during the Cincinnati series. After a very hot start, Kolten Wong continued to regress to his norms. Wong finished the series just 2 for 11. It has been 9 games since his last multi-hit game. In that span, Kolten is hitting just .167 (5 for 30). Only one of those hits (yesterday’s double) was for extra-bases.
Wong might be one of the few Cardinals looking forward to the road trip. Almost all of his early success came away from Busch. After this last home stand, Wong is now a .154 hitter in his home park (8 for 52). His 8 hits include only 2 for extra-bases (both doubles), for a .192 slugging percentage.
On the road (through 11 games) it has been a different story for Kolten. In his 44 plate appearances away from home, Wong has achieved 8 singles, 2 doubles, 1 triple, all 4 of his home runs, 7 walks (1 intentional) 2 hit-by-pitches, and 3 stolen bases. Kolten has driven in 10 runs while grounding into no double plays in his 11 road games. His batting line there is an impressive .429/.545/.886.
Pitching Better than the Numbers Suggest
In the conquest of the Reds, the Cardinal pitching numbers continued to suffer. Cincinnati finished the set hitting 5 more home runs and scoring 17 runs – leaving the Birds with a 5.67 team ERA for the series. The numbers – of course – are skewed by the beating the team took on Friday night – a 12-1 shellacking (box score) that featured all five of the home runs Cincy hit this weekend.
In truth, the series showcased some of the finest Cardinal pitching to date. Subtract three pitchers who struggled (Miles Mikolas, Dominic Leone and Tyler Webb) and the rest of the pitching staff posted a 1.33 ERA over 20.1 innings.
The 73 batters who faced the rest of the staff managed just 12 singles, 1 double, 3 walks, 1 sacrifice hit and 1 sacrifice fly – a .188/.219/.203 batting line.
Over the course of the home stand, the starters (3.73 ERA) out-performed the bullpen (4.75 ERA) for one of the few times this season. During the upcoming road trip, the starters will be very much under the microscope. In the early days of the season, they have been very much Jekyll and Hyde. They are 9-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a .240 opponent batting average at home. They are 1-4 on the road (for a 5-6 Cardinal road team). They have served up 17 home runs in 52 road innings while struggling to a 6.58 ERA, a .307 batting average against, and a .628 slugging percentage against.
This will be a big opportunity for them.
The clear pitching highlight for the weekend was the effort of Sunday’s starter – right-hander Jack Flaherty. A revelation last year, Jack has been as inconsistent as most of the Cardinal rotation. But on Sunday he shut out Cincinnati on 4 hits over his 7 innings, walking just 1.
Flaherty is now 3-0 at home with a 1.88 ERA. He has walked just 4 batters in his 24 home innings, holding the rest to a .184 batting average.
Closer Jordan Hicks came in to a 2-0 game in the eighth inning – ostensibly to record a four-out save. After St Louis added three runs in the bottom of the eighth, Hicks was removed – as the game seemed well under control (it would get more interesting at the end).
Nonetheless, Jordan finished the series pitching in both the Saturday and Sunday games, retiring all four batters faced (with two strikeouts) and claiming a save (on Saturday) and a hold (on Sunday). Hicks has been good all year long – but especially at home where he is 6-for-6 in save opportunities and has surrendered just one run in 6 innings. Batters are hitting just .105 against him at home.
Dominic Leone, with a second chance to make a first impression, was really having a terrific year. Having lost almost his entire first season in St Louis to injury, Dominic’s first 11 appearances of 2019 hinted at the pitcher the Cardinals believed they were signing. After 11 innings, Leone held a 1.64 ERA and a .111 batting average against.
He appeared in two of the weekend games against the Reds and was batted around. He entered the ninth inning of the first game, trailing 6-1. Thirty-four pitches later, he left the mound trailing 12-1 with still only two outs in the inning.
He returned for Sunday’s ninth inning, this time holding a 5-0 lead. Again, he couldn’t finish the inning as he gave hits to 3 of the 5 batters he faced and turned the game over to John Gant with the Cards still holding a 5-2 lead. In all, he faced 14 batters over the two games who hit .692 against him and slugged 1.154.
It is hoped that these two nights against Cincinnati were a blip. But his next trip out of the pen will certainly be worth noting.