“When you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.”
– Dr. Seuss
You may have heard something about the Cardinals and how their hitters are currently stuck in a massive crater of preposterous futility.
Over the past few days I can confirm that there have been rare sightings of base hits, but evidently it is no longer possible for the fellers to score a run … so don’t turn all greedy, OK?
The next time a St. Louis runner safely steps on home plate, I’ll pause what I’m doing to recite the famous words of astronaut Neil Armstrong, delivered as he became the first human being to walk on the moon.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The Cardinals have not scored a run since the 11th inning of Saturday night’s weird win (1-0) over the Reds. The Cards have been rendered scoreless for 27 consecutive innings and have only one run – unearned – to show for their last 43 innings.
The Reds shut out the Redbirds on Sunday, and the Padres followed up by bewildering the Cardinals with two consecutive shutouts of their own. That’s three straight blankety-blank displays of nothingness on offense by your NL Central division leaders.
Perhaps manager Oli Marmol will go with the late Billy Martin’s slump-buster cure by picking his lineups out of a hat to break up the monotony and give the players something to laugh about. Martin did that while managing the Tigers in 1972, and went back to it as the Yankees manager in 1977, and went with the hat trick as Oakland’s manager in 1982.
Here’s the crazy thing: It worked, especially for the Yankees. After Billy went with the random lineup, the Bronx Bombers won six in a row. The hat-luck lineup was highlighted by catcher Thurman batting second, no-power speedster (and the usual leadoff man) Mickey Rivers batting fifth and RBI-producing first baseman Chris Chambliss moving from middle part of the lineup to hit way down there in the No. 8 spot.
When asked to explain his, um, lineup construction, the feisty Martin told reporters “It served the purpose. It was supposed to relax the guys—and it worked.”
There’s an idea for you, Oli Marmol. You’re tensing up because of this no-runs offense and the embarrassment that it’s causing … so go with a funky lineup for Wednesday’s late-afternoon game at San Diego and the matchup with Padres right-handed starter Joe Musgrove. (He won’t.)
“When you’re in a slump, you do something different, just to try it. I remember one time I was in a slump, and I borrowed one of Henry Aaron’s bats and hit two homers. I used my own bats the next night. I just needed a change.”
— Hall of Famer Joe Torre
Another good idea. I think Joe is onto something here. During the three-straight shutout streak that has intensified the severity of the famine on offense, the Cardinals have nine hits in 88 at-bats for a .102 average.
In the three games Albert Pujols is 3 for 10 for a .300 batting average.
His teammates are 6 for 78. That’s .077.
The other dudes should borrow a bat from Pujols – and the runs will come.
“I’ve been riding on the crest of a slump lately.”
— gravelly-voiced songwriter Tom Waits
A cold front has moved into sunny, warm-climate San Diego where the waves are plenty. This cold front even has a name: the St. Louis Cardinals.
Their slump is so severe, all you can do is marvel at the overall barrenness of it all.
– Until now the Cardinals hadn’t been shut out in three straight games since their final three encounters of the 2015 season.
– The Cardinals have not scored a single run in the first nine innings of the past four games.
– It is now Thursday. The last STL home run, RBI hit, and earned run came in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, when Yadier Molina lofted a two-run homer with one out in the third inning. The Cardinals didn’t score the rest of the way and didn’t need to … defeating the Reds 5-1.
— In addition to scoring nothing but one unearned run over their last four games, the Cardinals have failed to get a hit in 27 of 38 innings. And they haven’t had more than two hits in an inning; during this dry spell they’ve had exactly two hits in three of 38 innings.
– Over the last four games the Cardinals have batted .116 with 15 singles, one extra-base hit (a double) and 37 strikeouts … and ONLY 13 total bases. That’s nuts. They have an overall strikeout percentage of 27.6% in the last four games. They’ve left 26 runners on base, and are 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
“Slumps are like a soft bed. They’re easy to get into and hard to get out of.”
— Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
— In the first two games of the series against the Padres, St. Louis hitters failed to post up for the first six innings of each contest. The Cardinals had one hit in 36 at-bats with 12 strikeouts during innings one through six. And only six hitters reached base in the team’s 41 plate appearances.
— In the first five innings of their last four games, the Cardinals went 7 for 65 (.108) with no extra-base hits and 22 strikeouts.
— Lots of soft contact, lots of swings and misses, and a glaring lapse in plate discipline. In the last four games the Cardinals have a hard-hit rate of 24%, a line-drive rate of 8.5%, and a swing-and-miss rate of just under 15%. And they’re lunging at way too many pitches out of the strike zone. For example: in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to the Padres the St. Louis hitters had a horrible chase rate of 40.8 percent.
“We’re in such a slump that even the ones that are drinkin’ aren’t hittin.”
— Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel.
As mentioned, Pujols was 3 for 10 in the three shut-out losses. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado combined to go 2 for 17 with four strikeouts.
Rookies Alec Burleson and Juan Yepez were a combined 2 for 10.
Corey Dickerson, Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, Andrew Knizner and Nolan Gorman were a combined 0 for 38 in the three games.
Sigh. No surprise that the Cardinals since Sept. 4 have the worst OPS in the majors at .619 and are 29th in batting average (.207), and 28th in OBP (.280) and slugging (.338.) After a 39-game stretch in which they homered every 19 at-bats, the Cardinals have hit a homer every 38.6 at-bats in their last 17 games.
The Cardinals are 14 under .500 with a record of 40-54 this season when they sock less than two home runs in a game.
“I had slumps that lasted into the winter.”
— Bob Uecker, catcher turned Hall of Fame broadcaster
Surely the boys will come out swinging, show new life and resurface from the netherworld. That’s the message from Oli Marmol. And he’s right, of course. Slumps will come to an end … just as hot streaks will flame out. We’ve seen two extreme examples of this from the Cardinals since the All-Star break – one on the hot side, and now on the cold side. The way it’s going now, in the moment, is damn hard to watch.
“Here’s the deal,” Marmol told reporters after Wednesday’s big zero. “I have more confidence in this group than I did when we were killing the league on offense and nobody was talking about the fact that we weren’t scoring runs. I have more confidence in what we were able to do as a club today than I did a month ago. You can tell about people when you go through what we’re going through right now – how they respond to it. That tells you a lot about who they are, their character, their ability to fight through it. I have a ton of confidence in them. I know I’m repeating this: I am concerned zero.”
“If I’m in a slump, I ask myself for advice.”
– Ichiro Suzuki, legendary (future) Hall of Famer
The incredible Ichiro should know; he had 3,089 hits in 18-plus MLB seasons after coming over from Japan at age 27. Obviously most MLB hitters are inferior to Ichiro – but they’re also capable of working through their problems to find solutions to terminate slumps and get back on track. The easiest and laziest thing to do is point fingers at the manager or the batting coaches or the front office. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have been this way before. So has Pujols. And Corey Dickerson, Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, Yadier Molina … and others.
Just this season we’ve seen all of them go through frustrating stretches, and exhilarating stretches. We’ve watched them wobble, then rally. Coaches can spot flaws and suggest corrections, but in the end it’s up to the hitter to pull himself up and out of the down times. Some players — Paul DeJong – seem incapable of it. Some aren’t good enough, so we shouldn’t be taken aback by their ice-age slumps. But many definitely have the combination of talent, acumen and mental clarity to fix themselves at the plate.
This reminds me of a quote from Connie Mack, who owned the Philadelphia A’s, managed teams for 7,755 regular-season games over 53 years before retiring after the 1950 season.
“I have seen boys on my baseball team go into slumps and never come out of them,” he said. “I have seen others snap right out and come back better than ever. I guess more players lick themselves than are ever licked by an opposing team. The first thing any man has to know is how to handle himself.”
The slump will end when someone in this lineup does something big to defuse the tension, get his teammates smiling again, and make it easy to exhale. That’s when the Cardinals will get back to normal.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
Accounting Department: Since completing a Busch Stadium sweep of the Cubs in a series that ended Sept. 4, the Cardinals have leveled off with an 8-8 record … they’ve lost three in a row, are 4-5 in their last nine, and 6-7 in their last 13 … with two consecutive losses at San Diego the Cardinals are back to .500 on the road (36-36) and are 8-18 in road games against opponents with winning records … The Cards are 27-32 overall this season in games vs. winning teams … entering Thursday St. Louis is 11-8 in September for a winning percentage of .579 that ranks fifth in the NL and 10th overall … The FanGraphs simulation model projects the Cardinals to finish the regular season with an average of 93.3 wins. They’re 87-53 going into Thursday’s game at Petco Park.
Goldy And The MVP Award: Goldschmidt’s numbers are down in September, but I feel compelled to point out that he’s still getting on base at a decent rate (33.8) and slugging .426 for a .764 OPS. Not great – but not terrible, either. It’s below the standards he established over the first five months. The most noticeable shortage in September are his two home runs and seven RBI.
You may be wondering if the quiet month (so far) has lessened his chances of winning the NL’s MVP Award. I really don’t think so. I don’t see a reason to downgrade the overall value and quality of his season.
Through Wednesday, here’s how Goldschmidt measured up against other NL position players:
1st, WAR, 7.0
1st, Onbase Percentage, .408
1st, Slugging, .595
1st, OPS, 1.003
1st, Total Bases, 314
1st, OPS+, 186
1st, Adjusted Runs Created (wRC+), 182
2nd, Batting Average, .320
2nd, RBI, 112
2nd, Extra-Base Hits, 75
3rd, Runs Scored, 103
4th, (tied) with 35 home runs.
Shouting Over Shutouts: The Cardinals have been shut out 16 times this season, most in the NL and tied with Kansas City for second-most overall. Detroit has been shut out 21 times … the Cardinals have been held to one run or no runs in 30 games this season and have a record of 4-26 when it happens.
Paul DeJong’s Depressing Numbers: in 44 plate appearances since Aug. 22, he’s 2 for 37 with 5 strikeouts … for the season DeJong is slashing .154/.250/.297 … among the 342 major-league hitters that have at least 200 plate appearances this season, DeJong ranks No. 341 in batting average, 333rd in onbase percentage, 323rd in slugging percentage, and is 331st with his .547 OPS. DeJong is 42 percent below league average offensively this season with a 58 OPS+ … since the start of last season, among 245 MLB hitters that have at least 610 plate appearances, DeJong ranks 272nd in batting average (.182), 239th in onbase percentage (.239), 217th in slugging (.359) and 229th in OPS (.631).
St. Louis Outfield: Still Struggling. In September. The STL outfielders – when playing outfield, not DH or at another position – are collectively batting .195 and rank 28th in the majors in slugging and OPS this month. They’ve homered five times in 213 plate appearances. And during the team’s current three-game shut-out streak the STL outfielders are 2 for 29 for a .069 average.
Stout Starting Pitching In September: Miles Mikolas did enough to lead the Cardinals to a win on Wednesday. But in a 1-0 loss his teammates couldn’t score any runs or even get a hit until the seventh inning. Mikolas pitched six innings, getting nicked for three hits. He walked two, struck out six and was victimized for an unearned run.
The Cardinals rank 5th in the majors and 2nd in the NL in September with a 3.09 starting-pitching ERA. Since the All-Star break the Cards rotation ranks 10th in the majors in standard ERA 3.60, eighth in Fielding Independent ERA (3.48), is tied for fifth in WAR (6.0) and is seventh in Win Probability Added (2.44).
Quickie Nolan Gorman & Jordan Walker Updates: In his first two games for Triple A Memphis after the Cardinals sent him down to regroup, the rookie second baseman is 0 for 9 with six strikeouts. I assume the Cardinals were hoping for a better response than that. Gorman must regroup mentally.
In other prospect news, Walker closed his season at Double A Springfield with a .306 average, .388 OBP, .510 slug, and .898 OPS. He had 19 homers, 31 doubles, 68 RBI, scored 100 runs and swiped 22 bases in 27 attempts. Walker did a fine job of limiting strikeouts (21.6% rate) and walked in 11 percent of his plate appearances. He’d look good in the St. Louis lineup right now.
Thanks for reading …
Enjoy the day baseball …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.