At the All-Star break, when the St. Louis Cardinals had the best record in baseball, their offense was the best in the league in a number of categories. The most impressive stat their offense held was their incredible conversion rate of driving runners in scoring position in to score. Their other-worldly batting average with runners in scoring position at the time even raised speculation if the offense was overachieving and therefore likely to regress. The fear of their clutch hitting slipping, coupled with their low home run rate raised concerns about this team’s sustainability for this season.
Indeed the offensive production has declined, as the Cardinals were averaging 4.97 runs per game before the All-Star break, and only 4.61 runs since. Just as the offense was coming back to earth, the starting pitching also began to falter and this has lead to the Cardinals’ lackluster record after the break (16 wins and 17 losses). Their average with runners in scoring position has indeed dropped a bit, but their overall average has as well, and a team’s average with runners in scoring position does not matter if baserunners rarely make it that far. According to baseballreference.com the Cards were hitting .276 before the break and have hit just .260 since.
Normally a team with the star power of the Cardinals could soften the blow of a slump by smacking a few homers to keep their offense honest. But strangely this Cardinals team has never really been threatening with the long ball like they should be.
According to teamrankings.com, only two teams in the National League, the Giants and the Marlins, have more at bats between home runs than the Cardinals, and both of those teams have struggled with offense all season.
The power outage in David Freese’s bat has been especially disappointing. Freese had 20 home runs last year, and currently he sits at six for this season. Additionally, the Cardinals have grounded into more double plays than any other team in the league, although that rate has gone down since the All-Star break according to teamrankings.com. That combination of a low home run rate, and a high double play rate is obviously disturbing.
Much of the Cardinals recent struggles can be attributed to Yadier Molina’s stint on the disabled list earlier this month. Tony Cruz did an admirable job trying to replace Yadi behind the plate, but there is no denying the offensive drop off between the two. Equipped with a full and relatively healthy lineup again, perhaps the Redbirds will regain their winning clout.
As the season has progressed, it has become obvious that the Cardinals’ starting pitching is not the strength that it may have appeared to be earlier in the season. If this team is going to be successful, they are ultimately going to need to outscore opponents and rely on a solid bullpen. All season long, there has been pressure on the Cards’ clutch, situational hitting, and they could make it easier on themselves by connecting for more home runs, something their lineup should be very capable of doing.