I’ll just let the Moody Blues play me in:
“Listen to the tide slowly turning…wash all our heartaches away…we are part of the fire that is burning…and from the ashes we can build another day.”
A fitting sentiment for the recent play of our St. Louis Cardinals. They have very sneakily won the 2nd most games in the Majors since June 25th (topped only by the Dodgers), slowly turning the tide on a disappointing season. Now the tide is rising through the Central Division with the current winning streak beginning to wash away the heartbreaks and letdowns that we fans have suffered over the past 4 months. We are emotionally invested and actively involved in the current fire that is raging down on Clark Street. Following a quiet deadline, Matheny’s fan musings, and Yadi-gram, it seemed that the house may burn down. But the team is rising from the ashes like a phoenix. Born anew, the season has been revitalized by a 7-game winning streak.
What a crazy week.
So many things have contributed to the Cardinals turnaround. DeJong taking over at SS for Aledmys Diaz was a notable change since the June 25th marker. Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha settled in and started pitching exceptionally well. Wong and Fowler found health returning from the DL. The team finally stopped giving Stephen Piscotty important at-bats in the middle of the lineup, sending him to Memphis to remedy his failing swing mechanics. The bullpen has found definition. Plenty of minor changes have caused a major shift. Here’s a look at a few of the recent happenings.
Wham, Bam, Thank You Slam!
As if the #RallyCat setting up Yadier Molina‘s lead-shifting grand slam on Wednesday wasn’t enough, Dexter Fowler decided to give us an encore in yet another thrilling comeback victory on Thursday. Even wilder, these weren’t even the only Salami’s during the stretch as Jose Martinez gave us one on Sunday in Cincy. And these were just 3 of many big home runs for the Cardinals in the past week. In the win that started it all, Paul DeJong broke free of his slump with a 2-run bomb that put the Birds ahead for good on Saturday night. The Royals narrowly avoided another Grand Slam on Monday with an ill-advised, bases loaded, pick-off attempt that brought in the runner from 3B. Shortly thereafter, Matt Carpenter would call on his 9-iron and peg a perfect 120 yard shot into the RF corner to clear the remaining Birdies from the bases. It was his first home run since June 24th.
Jedd Gyorko hit a clutch shot in Kansas City on Tuesday that marked the first since his initial at-bat of the 2nd half nearly a month earlier. Jose Martinez added a home run against the Kansas City team that traded him to the Cardinals for cash last season, not even a year removed from winning a batting title at AAA. For one of the feel good stories of 2017, that one had to feel great. Grichuk and Wong also got in on the long ball action, making it 11 home runs hit by 8 different players over the 7 game stretch. They have averaged a whopping 8.86 runs per game. This, of course, immediately followed Tommy Pham challenging his clubhouse by saying that they weren’t very good or dynamic and that they lacked power and speed. Challenge accepted, Tommy. What a leader he has become this year. Where would they be without him?
The Lineup Card
Yadi Hitting 5th
Cardinals fans will find something to complain about with every lineup that Mike Matheny puts out. Most of the time it’s fair criticism. This past week though, it really hasn’t mattered. Amazingly everyone is hitting well. I have been pretty adamant that Yadi is not a 5-hitter. And he isn’t. Matheny has stated that Molina has been productive in that spot. This statement isn’t false, by Yadi standards he is having a productive season. The problem is that Mike can’t seem to separate that a good year for Yadi is a bad-to-mediocre year for a 5-hitter. (The Cardinals 5-hitters this year rank 13th in the NL in OPS, 13th in HR’s, and are tied for last in 2B’s.) However, the team isn’t exactly crawling with legitimate 5-hitters and Yadi is red-hot. So, for now, I’ll table this argument.
DeJong 3, Fowler…4?
My recent frustration, and friends have expressed the same feelings to me, is Paul DeJong now being locked into the 3-spot. A big part of the gripe was that he was inserted there and then quickly went into a slump, going just 3 for 21 against Arizona and Milwaukee. That’s not a good look for your 3-hitter. He has since picked it back up. The other part of the argument is that his all-or-nothing profile simply doesn’t fit the 3-hole. Typically you want a combination of power and OBP in that spot, someone that can drive in runs or work a walk to keep the line moving.
A few days ago I was pretty aggravated by the insistence to bat him 3rd. I have actually stepped back from that a little bit, and it’s not just because the team is winning. With a top 2 of Carpenter and Pham providing OBP and extra base hits, having DeJong’s power potential sitting behind them is a recipe for a big inning. And while I think Fowler is the most logical 3-hitter, having him as an OBP safety net behind DeJong actually makes a lot of sense as opposed to having say DeJong and Gyorko back-to-back, which carries a huge risk of rally killing strikeouts.
There are better ways to arrange the lineup for this team, but there are also worse ways. Attempting to get the most out of DeJong’s raw power while sandwiching him in the middle of 4 strong OBP hitters is actually a fairly smart play by Mike Matheny. Mark your calendars, I don’t praise him too often.
Turning the Lineup Over…
Speaking of praise, how about some love for Kolten Wong? It tends to get overlooked that during a big chunk of the turbulent first 4 months, Kolten was on the DL, missing 37 games. In between those trips he has done nothing but hit like the player we always hoped he could be. Early in his career he had a couple dramatic home runs and probably swung for the fences too often. He has learned what he can and can’t do, and has turned into the line drive hitter that he was throughout the minor leagues. He’s not hitting home runs now, but he has a solid 21 2B’s in 237 AB’s. That is a 162-game pace of about 46, which is a really good number. Some have questioned his .394 OBP because he hits 8th often and likely gets worked around in front of the pitcher. However, his OBP elsewhere in the lineup is a strong .382. This number is actually hurt by a poor .298 mark in the leadoff spot, his OBP is a robust .434 in the 5-7 spots, so his overall approach is improved and he is drawing walks no matter where he hits. Keep an eye out for a more in-depth look at Wong from Adam Butler, publishing this week at the Redbird Daily.
For the Love of Lance Lynn
I can’t say enough about this guy. He’s a bulldog on the mound, must-see TV in his post-game interviews, and now he’s taking line drives off the dome without even flinching. If you didn’t see him with Jim Hayes on Thursday night you need to check it out (I included a link to the video at the bottom of the page). My goodness. The man has given up too many home runs this year and is out-pitching his peripherals a bit, but he continues to get results with 7 consecutive Quality Starts. Keep in mind that coming off of Tommy John surgery, we can’t expect his performance to be at peak level, and it isn’t. His FIP (Fielding independent ERA) is at 4.83, he has allowed a career high in home runs, and has benefited from some luck with a .229 BABIP. But the guy knows how to work out of trouble and make pitches when he needs to. He is rock solid in the middle of a good rotation.
Following the silent trade deadline I jokingly put on Twitter that the Cardinals would try to spin it something like this: ‘Not trading Lance Lynn will be as much a vote of confidence for the clubhouse as any acquisition we could have made.’ Kidding aside, it might hold some truth. When the front office could have easily sold off several players and turned the page to 2018, keeping the band together could definitely lift the morale in the clubhouse. It will be tough to see Lynn walk away at season’s end (though I do suggest a few ways he could stay here) but I’m sure glad we get to attempt at least one more run with the big hoss.
With a week of excellence, the Cardinals have made the NL Central a true race. They need to keep winning over the next month, as their final 22 games of the season are all against divisional foes, including 7 against Chicago. We’re in for a fun ride.
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Be sure to check out Adam Butler and myself on the Bird Law podcast.
Link to Lance Lynn Post-game Interview: http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/video/1022264387973