St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals relying on Carpenter’s re-emergence to boost sluggish offense in Game 3

A Cardinals lineup with Matt Carpenter, Tommy Edman, and Paul DeJong in its first three slots would not have looked out of the ordinary for many months in the 2019 season. Instead, on Sunday, those three were written in the sixth, seventh and eighth spots for St. Louis in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

Harrison Bader, who played center field and batted eighth in each of the first two games of the series, was shifted to the bench after a three-strikeout performance in a 3-0 Cardinals loss in Game 2.

Carpenter made 69 starts in the leadoff spot this season. Edman was written into the second slot 20 times, and DeJong hit third 65 times. By shifting, essentially, the top third of a Major League lineup down the order, the Cardinals hope to find the depth and consistency in their attack that has been lacking in large measure thus far in these playoffs.

“It’s a deep lineup,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “Typically is, today’s it’s very deep. Very balanced. So we’re excited to run it out there do some damage.”

Carpenter, who struggled through the most difficult season of his career at the plate, is making his first appearance in the starting lineup in the 2019 postseason. His career has been littered with a collection of dramatic playoff moments, including his game-tying, pinch-hit single in game one. Overall, he holds a .248 batting average and .453 slugging percentage in the playoffs. Among his 34 hits are eight doubles, a triple, and six home runs.

“Matt’s a really good player,” Shildt said. “We think about it and every season has its own season. We always have to prove ourselves in this game, we understand that. That being said, there is a confidence factor when guys have history of success.”

“It’s something that I enjoy,” Carpenter said Friday in Atlanta. “I certainly don’t shy away from at all. And (Shildt has) been very open with me about what my role is and how those moments are going to be given to me and giving me plenty of time on the bench to get ready, keeping a heads-up.”

There’s no time on the bench to prepare for Carpenter on Sunday. Instead, Atlanta’s Mike Soroka and his downward-moving pitches presented the necessary matchup to convince Shildt that Carpenter’s moment had arrived.

“The biggest factor to that is their guy’s down, he’s in that swing plane,” Shildt explained Saturday. “He’s tougher on righties; he’s a high ground ball game. Matt doesn’t play on the ground a whole lot. So it’s a good matchup for Matt.”

That challenge to righties likely played a role in DeJong’s move down. Sunday is the first game he’s been scheduled to bat eighth since May 4, 2018 — more than two months before Shildt became the Cardinals’ manager. This postseason in his first in the major leagues, and though he posted a respectable 2-for-7 mark in the games in Atlanta, he also turned in three strikeouts. Both hits were singles, and he reached on a fielding error by Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies in the second inning of game two.

Depsite being the only Redbird to make the National League All-Star team this summer, DeJong finished the year with an OPS+ of 97; 100 is designated as league average.

He didn’t hit above .233 in any month after April, and excepting July, his strikeout totals rose in each month over month. He finished the year with 60 punchouts in his last 215 plate appearances, an alarming 27.9% strikeout rate.

DeJong did, however, find success against right handers. Despite conventional wisdom which would suggest that righty sluggers should crush lefty pitching, DeJong’s slugging percentage was a full 101 points higher (.464 vs. .363) against righties than lefties. He had only ten extra base hits against southpaws and drove 52 against righties. Soroka’s sinkers may fit his swing profile as well as any hitter on the St. Louis roster.

Ultimately, it’s Carpenter’s re-emergence that the Cardinals will rely on to revive a sluggish offensive attack. At many points this season, Shildt pushed back against the implication — or outright statement — that Carpenter didn’t belong in the lineup. He refused to turn his back on last year’s ninth place finisher in voting for National League Most Valuable Player, and he cited that number to reporters frequently. He did it again Sunday as he expressed satisfaction in knowing that he kept his old-new third baseman ready for the situation which now rises to meet him.

“We gave him opportunities and I really respect the fact that Matt continued to compete in the manner that he has without as many opportunities of late and stayed ready,” Shildt said. “And the question earlier about how well he’s played speaks to where his head was at, and said I’ve got to get myself in a position where I can help this team. And he’s clearly done that. So I’m excited about the lineup today with him in it.”