With a 13-4 smackdown of the Reds on Tuesday night, the Cardinals improved to 33-23 since the All-Star break, and they’ll try to keep the thunder rolling on the tracks, all the way up to Chicago for an urgent three-game showdown at Wrigley Field tis weekend.
That 33-23 mark isn’t something that rivals the Cleveland Indians’ sensational 20-game victory streak, but STL’s second-half .589 winning percentage is the fourth-best in the majors. If the Cardinals take Wednesday’s game at Busch Stadium, they’ll rise to eight games over .500 for the first time in 2017. With only 18 games left in the regular season, the Cardinals must go higher and higher to overtake the Cubs in the NL Central.
There are several reasons for the Cardinals’ turnaround from their mediocre 43-45 record at the All-Star break. The pitching staff provides a strong base. The bullpen commotion has settled down. Manager Mike Matheny is doing a good — if obligatory — job of putting his best players on the field. The defense steadied.
The schedule softened, with only four of the Cardinals’ last 36 games coming against opponents that currently have a winning record. The Cards took advantage of the chance to stack wins on the backs of lesser teams by going 23-13 during this key 36-game stretch.
But more than anything — if I had to identify the most significant factor — I’d pick the flight of the St. Louis offense.
The Cardinals were 10th in the NL in runs per game (4.57) before the All-Star break.
And the Cards are third in the NL runs per game at 5.16 — and second if you properly discount the Rockies’ stats distorted by the hitters’ driving range otherwise known as Coors Field. In park-adjusted runs created, the Cardinals’ position players are 11 percentage points higher than the Rockies in the second half.
The Cardinals’ run production has improved 13 percent since the All-Star break.
Their team onbase percentage is up 18 points (to .347) since the All-Star break.
Their slugging percentage, .424 in the first half, is up 20 points to .444 in the second half.
The Cardinals already were getting good pitching; they ranked third in the league in run prevention before the All-Star break. They’ve moved up a notch, to No. 2, in preventing runs during the second half. But again: Cards’ pitching already was a strength. The offense, somewhat weak in the first half, had buffed up since the All-Star break. And that’s made a big difference.
These five hitters have done the most to reinvigorate the offense over the second half:
The Remarkable Jose Martinez: He’s having a blistering second half. He’s molten hot. Among NL hitters that have at least 100 plate appearances since the break, Martinez is third in batting average (.350), third with a .441 OBP, eighth in slugging (.650), and fourth with a 1.091 OPS. Martinez is third in park-adjusted runs created; he’s an astonishing 84 percent above league average offensively.
The Relentless Tommy Pham: In 218 plate appearances since the break, Pham is still crackling with a .313 average, .429 OBP, .514 slug, and a .943 OPS. And Pham is 52 percent above the league average in park-adjusted runs created, ranking 11th in the category. Power, speed, superb plate discipline, and elite onbase skill make for a dynamic offensive talent. As a catalyst, Pham ranks fifth in the NL with 41 runs scored since the break.
May You Stay Forever DeJong: (Sorry; I had to do it. I’m getting punchy.) DeJong was promoted to the minors on May 28. Since that time, he’s jacked more homers (22) than any renowned member of the defending world-champ Cubs … while it’s true that DeJong’s numbers have leveled off some since the break, let’s not overstate it. In the second half DeJong leads NL shortstops in home runs (13) and RBIs (37) and ranks third among shortstops in OPS (.838) and park-adjusted runs created (118 wRC+, or 18 percent above the league average.)
The Eternal Catcher, Yadier Molina: We riffed on Molina’s excellent second half earlier this week, but let’s update the digits … since the All-Star break he’s batting .302 with a .345 OBP and .505 slug … with runners in scoring position this half, Molina is batting .353 with a .913 OPS … Molina leads all NL catchers with 35 RBIs since the break and is second with eight homers … he also ranks fourth among NL catchers in second half slugging percentage, OPS (.851), and park-adjusted runs created (22 percent above league average.) This post All-Star surge has increased Yadi’s season RBI total to 75; that’s most among NL catchers.
The Oddly Unappreciated Matt Carpenter: You’re damn right I included him here. I’m tired of dunces who look at his bad-luck batting average and ignore his walk rate and onbase percentage at the top of the STL lineup. Carpenter has been bothered by a strained shoulder for the last few months, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up a .405 OBP and .442 slugging percentage in the leadoff role since the break. For the season, Carpenter has a leadoff OBP of .419, and that’s the best in the bigs … and would be the best leadoff OBP of his career. His second half hasn’t been as good as his first half, but let’s have some perspective here. Even with the shoulder discomfort Carpenter is 31 percent above the league average offensively since the All-Star fun. Carpenter is working on his career-best walk rate as a leadoff man (19 percent). He’s doing what he’s supposed to do: get on base at a prolific rate to set up run-scoring opportunities. Earl Weaver would have loved him.
Thanks for reading …