When Nolan Arenado flipped a single through the nearly vacant right side of the Met infield to drive in Paul Goldschmidt in last night’s eighth inning, it put a bow on three days of an offensive orgy in Citi Field. Last night’s 11-4 final (box score) featured 16 hits – 8 of them for extra-bases. The outpouring brought the offensive totals for the three games (all wins) to 25 runs on 41 hits (including 9 doubles and 6 home runs). The team-wide batting line for their visit to the Apple was an encouraging .331/.378/.548.
So what do we make of this?
It seems we’ve been fretting over this offense for the entire year. We look at the lineup and we scratch out heads. So this is an offensive breakthrough that is long overdue, right? Well, sure. But there’s another element at play here that can’t be dismissed. It’s an aspect of this team and its situation that we actually discuss here several times a year every year since I’ve done this blog.
Let’s just say, it’s not a coincidence that this sudden offensive outpouring happened on the road.
Last night was the eighth time the Cards have scored ten or more runs. Seven of those games have occurred on the road. In 73 road games, St Louis has scored 5 or more runs 32 times. They have been held under 4 runs 32 times also.
In 72 home games, they have hit the five-run mark just 23 times, being held under 4 runs 39 times.
For the season, the team holds a .242/.311/.378 batting line at home (.689 OPS), where they score an average of 3.71 runs per game. They have 64 home runs in their home park – hitting one every 40.1 plate appearances.
The batting line on the road is .240/.313/.423 (a .736 OPS). This has resulted in 4.68 runs per game. With 103 road home runs, their rate away from Busch is one home run per 27.1 plate appearances.
As the team’s hitters have started to come together, the gulf between the home and road splits is becoming cavernous.
Beginning on August 10, when they began a 6-0 road trip through Pittsburgh and Kansas City, the Cards have won 14 of their last 19 road games. The offense has performed at near video game levels. St Louis has scored 119 runs over its last 19 road games (6.26 runs per game), and have done so while hitting .287/.353/.512. In the 19 road games, they have bashed 34 home runs – hitting one every 22.2 plate appearances.
In between the 19 road games, they have played 15 at home. They are 7-8 in those games – games in which they have scored 45 runs (3.00 per game) while hitting .218/.287/.346. They have 12 home runs in their last 15 home games – one every 45.2 plate appearances.
The knee-jerk perception is that the home games – since they included a series against the Dodgers – included tougher teams than the road games. Apart from the Dodgers (who they split four games with), that’s not as true as you might think. The home games included five games against Detroit and Pittsburgh (games the Cards went 2-3 in while scoring a total of 13 runs). The road games included three each in Cincinnati and Milwaukee – as well as the three against the Mets, who were a .500 team when the Cards hit town. St Louis was 6-3 in those games, scoring 55 runs. They scored 20 runs in the three games in Milwaukee against one of baseball’s most feared pitching staffs.
This will actually be the subject of a significantly more in-depth exploration after the season is over. It’s timely as the organization has finally recognized that there is a deep divide here.
For now, I want to suggest that the offense that we’ve been kvetching about all summer is probably better than we give it credit for. We have seen multiple moments where things seemed to be coming together, only to watch the offense suddenly dry up. Probably, we didn’t connect the offensive surges with their road trips and the sudden bouts of futility with their returns to their pitcher-friendly home park. As the organization is finally prepared to do something about this (hopefully something other than moving the fences in), this dynamic may change significantly next year.
The immediate future, though, is a little complex because of this dichotomy. Should this team hold on to the final playoff spot, they will predominately be a road team through the rest of their playoff existence. This could be a positive, as the team has been playing exceptionally well on the road lately.
In the specific, though, this initially means Los Angeles and San Francisco – two of the most Busch-like parks in the league. One of those two teams will win the West Division and finish with the league’s best record (barring a surprising finish from Milwaukee). This will give that team the right to face the winner of the Wildcard game in the first round. The team that doesn’t win the division will go in as the first Wildcard and host the game that St Louis is fighting to get into.
The door prize for the second Wildcard team is the league’s two best teams lined up and waiting for them. The upside of that, though, is that these first two levels of the playoffs will be the shortest series. One will be a one-and-done, and the other will be a three-of-five.
If you have to get past the Dodgers and Giants, your odds are best in short series. And maybe if they can figure out how to score a few runs in their last 9 home games, they will find an approach that will work in the big ballparks on the West Coast.
Paul Goldschmidt continues his inexorable climb to the .300 mark after a struggling start. Paul singled, doubled and homered last night, and has now hit in 7 of his last 9 games, with three multi-hit games in the mix. Goldy’s average in these games is .364 (12 for 33). He has scored 9 runs in the 9 games, while slugging .636 (3 doubles and 2 home runs).
Paul is one of several Cardinals off to scorching hot Septembers. Goldschmidt has been to the plate 59 times already this month, contributing 8 singles, 3 doubles, 4 home runs, 13 runs scored (in 14 games), 7 runs batted in, 10 walks and 2 stolen bases – a .306/.424/.612 batting line. The surge has also carried Goldschmidt to a .324 average in the second half (68 for 210) with a .590 slugging percentage (15 doubles, a triple, and 13 home runs).
Tommy Edman singled and doubled last night, pushing his hitting streak to 6 games. It was his second straight two-hit game, but still leaves him hitting just .286 (8 for 28) during the six games.
Tommy has been one of the bats at the forefront of the recent road success. Over the last 19 road games, Edman is hitting .325 (27 for 83) and slugging .566 (8 doubles and 4 home runs).
Tyler O’Neill stretched his young hitting streak to 5 games in a row – getting two hits in each of the last three – when he singled and doubled last night. O’Neill is hitting .381 during the streak (8 for 21). This is part of an even longer hot streak for the young outfielder.
Tyler has hit safely in 9 of his last 11 – with multiple hits in 5 of the games. Over his last 11 games, O’Neill is hitting .372 (16 for 43) and slugging .721 (3 doubles and 4 home runs). He has scored 11 runs in those games.
O’Neill leads the team for the month of September in batting average (.333 on 19 of 57 hitting) and slugging percentage (.667 on the strength of 4 doubles and 5 home runs).
Kind of the missing offensive link, cleanup hitter Nolan Arenado seems to be turning the corner and heating up with the rest of the team. He singled and homered last night, giving him a baby five-game hitting streak, and his second multi-hit game during that streak. Nolan is now 7 for his last 20 (.350) with a triple and 3 home runs in those at bats (.900 slugging percentage). He has 8 RBIs in his last 5 games.
Arenado is one of the primary players who has been hurt by his home field. Since the break, Nolan is a .304 hitter on the road (28 for 92) with a .652 slugging percentage (3 doubles, a triple and 9 home runs). He has 21 runs batted in over his last 24 road games.
In the 29 home games since the break, Nolan is hitting .191 (22 for 115) with just a .230 on base percentage (he has 6 walks). For the season, Nolan is slashing .230/.289/.444 with 13 home runs and 47 runs batted in at home, and .280/.332/.557 with 19 home runs and 52 runs batted in on the road.
While his series began with his errant throw drilling an umpire, Edmundo Sosa ended up going into New York to do what everyone goes to New York for. He became a star. He had hits in all three games – including an opposite field home run on Wednesday, made several exceptional defensive plays, and ran the bases with an alert aggression.
As each day passes, Sosa looks less and less like a flash in the pan, and more and more like the shortstop of the future. In 76 at bats over his last 26 games (20 starts) – a substantial sample size – Edmundo is hitting .355 (27 for 76). He is up to .316 for the month of September (12 for 38) and .321 (34 for 106) in 43 games in the season’s second half.
Half of his six home runs have been hit to the opposite field, and another shot out to straight-away center. Only two have been pulled.
Edmundo is hitting .377 (23 for 61) in his last 16 road games. He’s scored 14 runs and driven in 13 in those games with a .639 slugging percentage (1 double, 3 triples and 3 home runs).
Harrison Bader is another Cardinal who comes home on a hot streak. Bader has hit in 4 of his last 6, getting multiple hits in 3 of those games. He is 8 for his last 23 (.348) including 2 doubles and last night’s home run – good for a .565 slugging percentage. Harrison is now hitting .308 (16 for 52) and slugging .538 (3 doubles and 3 home runs) for the month.
Bader seems like a natural fit for a large stadium like Busch, but his hitting approach only rewards him on the road. In the season’s second half, Harrison is a .313/.353/.573 hitter on the road, and a .210/.282/.257 hitter at home. All 6 of his second-half home runs have come on the road.
For the season, Bader is a .294/.350/.534 batter away from home, and a .200/.272/.290 performer at home. Ten of his 12 home runs have been hit on the road.
Pushed around early, Jon Lester turned in another strong, strong performance last night. In 3 September starts, Jon is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA. Over his last 5 starts he has 3 quality starts, a 2-0 record, and a 2.12 ERA. Lester has allowed 7 earned runs over his last 29.2 innings – 6 of them on solo home runs.
Lester has been something of an anomaly as he has pitched far better on the road (1.93 ERA in 23.1 innings) than he has at home (6.08 ERA in 26.2 innings) since he became a Cardinal.
Andrew Miller faced three batters last night, and all got hits. He didn’t make a lot of bad pitches, and much of the contact against him was soft – but that’s how it’s been going for Miller in a very snake-bit year. Off and on the injured list with foot blisters, Miller has pitched to a 7.30 ERA and a .340/.393/.560 batting line in 12.1 innings since the break.
Miller has been a kind of microcosm of what most of the pitching staff is experiencing. Andrew has a 7.07 ERA in 14 innings on the road this year, but a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings at home.
The 7-run lead the Cards took into the ninth inning last night was their largest ninth-inning lead since they carried an 8-run lead into an eventual 15-4 rout of Milwaukee on September 3.
The three games in New York averaged 3:56.3 per game – making it the longest series by average time of the season. An abbreviated, two-game set in Chicago (July 9-10) that ended the season’s first half had been the longest, the two games averaging 3:44.5.
The Met series presented the Cards their fifteenth opportunity to sweep a series, the ninth such opportunity they’ve had on the road, and the fifth time they had a chance to sweep a team that had won its previous series (the Mets, in fact, had won 10 of their previous 15 before falling victim to the Cards). St Louis has now completed the sweep 10 of 15 times overall, 5 of 9 on the road, and 3 of the five against teams fresh off a winning series.
O’Neill’s two-run, first-inning double gave him his sixth game-winning RBI of the year. Arenado (14), Yadier Molina (14) and Goldschmidt (12) are far in the lead in this category, but Tyler has moved into fourth, just ahead of Bader and Edman, who have 5 each.
It took them 145 games, but the Cards finally have 50 quality starts for the season.
Lester has yet to throw a wild pitch this year. In his sixteenth season, Jon has bounced at least one every season so far.
While he’s been an important fresh face in the Cardinal bullpen, T.J. McFarland is no rookie. He is pitching in his ninth big-league season, and had 400 career innings pitched before joining the Cards. During those seasons, McFarland has shown flashes of being a pretty good pitcher – he posted a 2.76 ERA in 58.2 innings in 2014, and a 2.00 ERA in 72 innings in 2018, but this year has been out-of-nowhere good for the 32-year-old lefty. At his current pace, TJ will set career bests for ERA (1.82) walks per nine innings (1.52) average against (.212), on base percentage against (.255), slugging pct against (.308) and OPS against (.562).
Bader’s home run tied his career high (12) and his 3 RBIs set a new career high at 41. His 3.5 home run percent will also be a career high if he can keep it there, and – importantly – his 19.8 strikeout percentage will be – by far – a career low. Bader has never finished a season of any length with a strikeout rate of less than 26.1%
After the barrage of last night, the team slugging percentage has crept back up over the .400 mark to .401.
My Designated Hitter Rant
Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter. Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH. While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it. So, I have re-written it here. The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks. I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.