The Cardinals have flexed some serious muscle during their four-game winning streak, walloping 11 homers and launching a longball every 13 at-bats.
The home-run barrage generated 17 of their 30-run total during the 4-0 mini-surge. The homers made the Cardinals and their fans happy, energized the team, and enlivened the enthusiasm in the dugout.
And the home-run splurge reminded us of an important reality concerning the 2023 Cardinals: they depend on home runs for success. Hey, all teams benefit from banging home runs. This isn’t exactly a revelation.
But the Cardinals really, really need home runs to overcome a problematic pitching staff and a large set of mix-and-match fielders that collectively rank last in the majors for defensive efficiency. Because of the erratic pitching and unsteady defense, the Cardinals are 12th among the 15 NL teams in run prevention, yielding an average of 4.77 runs per game.
So how does an offense compensate for the team’s significant liabilities? By bashing a lot of homers. There are other ways to score runs, of course. But the Cardinals aren’t great in producing runs without homering.
Through Tuesday’s three-homer output in their 9-3 win at Washington, the Cardinals have scored 53.4 percent of their runs through home-run strength. In the National League, only the Braves have a higher percentage of runs (56.3) scored via homers. The Dodgers are a close third at 53.4 percent.
The Cardinals rely on homers more than their NL Central rivals. r
Here’s the percentage of total runs scored via the home run:
* Reds, 33.8%
* Cubs, 37.2%
* Pirates, 38%
* Brewers, 45.7%
* Cards, 53.7%
The first-place Reds have scored 66.2% of their runs without home-run assistance. The last-place Cardinals have produced only 46.3% of their runs without a home-run boost.
The Cardinals rank third in the NL with 105 homers in 74 games.
The Reds rank 12th in the NL with 68 homers in 74 games.
And yet … Cincinnati averages more runs per game (4.82) than St. Louis (4.68).
Wait … what?
(The sportswriter pauses to scratch his head and take another gulp of coffee.)
I’ll offer another piece of information that confirms STL’s heavy dependency on homers. Here’s a list of the Redbirds’ record based on their home-run count in a game.
No homers: 5-19
One homer: 7-12
Two homers: 6-9
Three or more homers: 13-3.
Three-homer games are huge for the Cardinals, but it’s a big ask to expect them to do that on a regular basis.
Hey guys, you need to strike for at least three homers a game to give us a chance to win the division. Two home runs should result in more wins, but we’ve only won six of 15 games when we hit two.
Let’s lay this out to show how each NL Central team fares when hitting exactly two home runs in a game:
The Reds, Brewers, Pirates and Cubs are collectively 40-16 when hitting exactly two home runs in a game. That’s a winning percentage of .714. It’s not like that for the Cardinals, who have a .400 win percentage when homering twice in a contest The Cards require at least three HRs in a game to be confident of a victory.
So why can’t the Redbirds score more often in other ways?
A lot of this has to do with sequencing and/or delivering RBI with runners in scoring position.
From May 24 through June 15, the Cardinals batted .149 with runners in scoring position and scored four runs or fewer in 18 times. Their home-run prowess slowed with St. Louis averaging a little more than one homer per contest. With that negative mix, the Cards averaged 2.4 runs while losing 15 of 20 games.
In 74 games overall this season, the Cardinals have actually been one of the best NL teams at plating RBI when hitting with runners in scoring position – but were horrible during that 20-game block. A few more homers may have changed that. And a few more homers probably would have made a difference in the games they lost by one run (7) during the harmful stretch.
That was a perfect-storm kind of thing. It’s already a daunting challenge to win games when a team is screwing up run–scoring opportunities – but it can be done. It’s a disaster when you combine the poor timely hitting with a home-run shortage. Your offense will shut down.
To this point the Cardinals haven’t had a resourceful offense. They rank last in the National League with a productive out rate of 21.9%. They don’t move runners over as much as they need to.
And when running the bases, the Cards rank last in the NL with an extra-base taken rate of 38%. They don’t advance the extra base as often as most NL teams. Whether it’s going from first base to home to score on a double, running from first to third on a single, or scooting from first to third on a single – the Cardinals are lagging.
If the Cardinals had more skill at situational hitting – and were more enterprising on the bases – I don’t think they’d be 8-16 in one-run outcomes.
St. Louis runners have no problem advancing a base – all the way to home plate! – when one of the fellers swats a home run. But the Redbirds have to come up with other ways to score.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. Listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Sports Info Solutions, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.