Earlier this season, colleague Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch pointed out, at difference times, the Cardinals’ over dependence on home runs, and also that the club was “fundamentally flawed.” Bob Ramsey and I suggested that the team wasn’t necessarily fundamentally flawed, but was flawed, fundamentally.
Now as we head into late August, that reliance on home runs has come home to roost, and a team that is flawed fundamentally can’t overcome the dependence on the long ball.
As the Cardinals raced to an 18-8 start, they scored 133 runs (5.1 per game), and 55 of those runs, or 41%, came on home runs. When they were hitting the ball out of the park, they were taking advantage of a relatively non-athletic group that can get on base by getting them home with homers.
Since the hot start, the Cards have gone 47-43. In the 90 games, they’ve scored 403 runs (4.5 per game), with 137, or 34%, the result of the 85 homers the club has hit in those games.
While the Cardinals are still getting on base at a .336 clip, their lack of homers, lack of athleticism, and lack of fundamentals have prevented them from making up that half a run per game.
With Ryan Ludwick traded and David Freese hurt, you would expect that they wouldn’t be able to slug the way the team was originally set up to. In fact, I’m sure the Cards expected Freese to pick up some of the extra-base power Ludwick took with him to San Diego. When Freese didn’t come back, the offense was left mostly to Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday blasting taters, with occasional pop from Colby Rasmus and Yadier Molina.
Even though the Cardinals have excellent starting pitching, they’ve LOST ten games in which their pitching has allowed one or two runs. Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Chicago was a microcosm of the season.
Bernie Miklasz has noted the ridiculous number of runners the Cardinals have lost on the bases. They’ve led the league in that department pretty much all season long. Beyond losing runners, STL is 12th in the NL with 64 stolen bases, yet only two teams, the Padres and Dodgers, have been caught stealing more.
That results in the Cardinals being 13th in stolen base percentage. If you can’t run, how do you manufacture a run? By getting a runner into scoring position with a bunt. But the Cardinals are just seventh in the league with 51 sacrifices. They can’t bunt, so they have to hit with a runner on first. They’re third in the league in double plays grounded into. And even when they do get a runner to third with less than two out, they can’t get him home. The Cardinals’ 28 sacrifice flies are 13th in the N.L.
This team was set up to hold the opposition down with great starting pitching, and to bludgeon them with home runs. When the Cardinals stopped hitting homers like the ’27 Yankees in early May, and then lost Freese and Ludwick, they had to deviate from their plan. Unfortunately, this team isn’t set up to run, or bunt, or sacrifice. So while they still have starting pitching, they can’t score one run at a time. And ultimately, the reliance on home runs, and the fact that they’re flawed fundamentally, will lead to a fundamentally flawed team that will have tremendous difficulty winning it’s division.