Besides the health of the team, the biggest factor in the success of the St. Louis Cardinals is finding a way to improve the team’s situational hitting.
The Cardinals don’t hit for much power and it seems like the team has abandoned trying to do the fundamentally correct thing in the moment in favor of swinging for the fences.
You don’t need to hit a home run to score when there is a player on second base with no outs. In fact, Whitey Herzog proved in the 1980s that you don’t really need to hit home runs at all.
What you need to do is make something out of all 27 outs that your team is given. If you can’t get on base when it’s your turn at the plate, at least you need to move the runner to the next station and make it easier for the next guy to drive him in.
It’s the double plays and the strikeouts that kill rallies. And the Redbirds too often play into their opponents’ hands.
Much is made of the fact that the Cardinals don’t have a proven cleanup hitter. But I would rather have a bunch of guys who hit .300 and piled up doubles in bunches than a team of guys who hit .230 with 25 homers while striking out 150 times.
Those long balls don’t add up to much when they’re solo shots. But home runs earn ballplayers big paychecks. Sacrifice flies and bunts don’t. So that’s where we stand in Major League Baseball these days...
Still, the Cardinals stranded 22 runners in their season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates. If they would have put the ball in play -- not even recorded hits, just put the ball in play -- instead of striking out 14 times they could have easily scored five or six times and they would have won the game.
Instead, all we’ve heard about during the absurd day off teams schedule after opening day, is that the St. Louis offense is toast. Flawed beyond repair.
I think the talent is there to get the job done. The Cardinals are simply emphasizing the wrong mission when batters go to the plate.
The team told Matt Carpenter -- the club’s leadoff hitter of all things -- to try to hit for more power in 2015. He did just that, cracking 28 home runs, 17 more than his previous single-season high of 11. But at what cost?
Carpenter was a.318 hitter in 2013 when he hit a MLB-leading 55 doubles to go with seven triples and those 11 homers. He struck out 98 times and walked 72 times for a .392 on-base percentage and a .481 slugging percentage.
Last year, Carpenter hit .272 and struck out a whopping 151 times. He would have probably struck out a few more had he not missed several games with “extreme fatigue” from overdoing things in the training room.
The change seems to have made his swing less consistent and the third baseman, who previously sported a sweet stroke that seemed to always be on target, went into a couple of prolonged and deep slumps.
I’m not saying threre is never a time to take a healthy cut. But it’s when the count is 2-0, not when it’s 0-2.
Kolten Wong is another player who seems to be going against the grain by trying to be a power hitter when he’s a little guy with the foot speed and bat speed necessary to be a high-average hitter.
Wong is a .250 hitter entering his third full season in the big leagues. He has the ability to be a .320 hitter who ought to be able to steal 30 bases in his sleep.
In spring training Wong showed an improved approach at the plate, smacking balls hard to all fields. It remains to be seen if he can stay the course or if he’ll be lured by the Cardinals’ home run starved offense to start trying to pull everything he sees again.
These examples are up and down the lineup. There is no one you can point to and say their bat is too slow or their eyes are too bad to be successful at the highest level. They just have to maximize that potential. And the first step is to get back to the basics of not trying to do to much, hitting the ball where it’s pitched and being smart about the game situation.