With four more home runs Sunday, the Cardinals have a National League leading 173 on the season. Their NL record streak of nine straight multi-homer games ended Saturday night in Philadelphia, but they started a new streak on Sunday.
If the club maintains its season pace in the last 39 games, they’ll hit 228, which would trail only the 2000 club’s 235 in Cardinal history.
There’s a major difference between this team and any of the other Cardinal clubs that have hit at least 200 home runs.
The others came in 1998, when Mark McGwire hit 70, and 2004, the club that featured the “MV3” of Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen.
The 2000 Cardinals had Edmonds, who hit 42 homers that year and finished fourth in the National League’s MVP voting. In ’98, McGwire was second in MVP voting to Sammy Sosa. And in 2004, Pujols was third, Rolen fourth and Edmonds fifth in National League MVP voting.
This year, Brandon Moss leads the team with 23 homers.
He’s been great for the Cardinals, but has played just 92 of the club’s 123 games.
He’s hitting .262 and has an eye-popping .908 OPS, but it’s hard to imagine Moss being in the top ten in ML MVP voting. The Cards’ MVP will likely be either Matt Carpenter or Jedd Gyorko, and neither of those is likely to get real consideration for MVP.
Looking at the league, Washington’s Daniel Murphy has had an amazing year for a team that will likely win its division. He’s the favorite for MVP honors. The Cubs’ Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are both outstanding, and without question the dominance of the Cubs will be a key storyline when writers make their votes.
The Reds have the fourth best record in the league since the All Star break, and their success has been almost exclusively fueled by Joey Votto.
He’s hit .447 with a.548 OPB since the break, and an astounding 1.241 OPS. The regular with the next best average since the break is the Dodgers’ Corey Seager at .368. Los Angeles’ rookie shortstop is the offensive leader for a team that is likely to make the playoffs. Colorado’s Nolan Arenado leads the N.L. with 32 homers and 104 RBI, and his teammate Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .320 with 23 homers and 80 RBI. The point; there are a lot of high quality MVP candidates that can reasonably be voted ahead of any Cardinal.
So if the Cardinals DO wind up leading the league in homers, their feat will be all the more impressive.
They’ve had incredible balance. They have nine guys with double-digit homers, with a chance for Tommy Pham (nine) and Jhonny Peralta (six) to join the party. Last year’s Cardinals had six players with ten or more homers, and Carpenter was the only one with more than seventeen.
The 2000 team had nine players with double-digit homers, but got 74 from Edmonds and McGwire, which was 31% of their total. This year, Moss and Gyorko have combined for 43 homers, just 25% of the team total.
This has been one of the most improbable power surges in Cardinal history.
It’s a far cry from the Whitey Herzog era. Then, center field at the old Busch Stadium was 414 feet away, with the power alleys 386 feet and the lines 330 feet. During the championship season of 1982, Herzog would joke that the goal of the entire team was to beat Roger Maris’ single season record of 61 homers, and indeed they did…hitting 67.
For everything that has ailed the Cardinals in 2016…poor defense, inconsistent pitching, numerous injuries and lack of a home-field advantage, the power and run scoring ability have been there since the first week of the season. That power has allowed the Cardinals to maintain the second wild card spot, a game and a half clear of Miami and three ahead of Pittsburgh.
Fourteen of the remaining 39 games are against the Reds and Brewers, who have allowed the most and the fourth most homers in the league, respectively. The Cardinals also go to homer-friendly Colorado for three games in September. So there’s a chance they could pull off the improbable and set the club’s franchise record for home runs in a season.
The great thing about sports is that so often we see things we’ve never seen before, and get the chance to experience the unexpected.
After last year’s eleventh in the league 137 home runs, very few saw this coming. But it’s been a pleasant surprise. It’ll be fun to see if the Cardinals can keep in going into the playoffs.