Light-hitting Birds face a big test on West Coast
St. Louis Post Dispatch
The worst of all the bad atbats? Let’s go with Nolan Gorman in Sunday’s seventh inning. Highleverage situation. Two runners on, two outs. Cardinals down 3-0. And Gorman went down, 0-3. Three swings and misses, the third a high pitch above the zone. The sellout crowd came to see Albert Pujols hit a homer. The crowd saw just two Cardinals hits, both singles, both for naught. In the past eight games, the Cardinals have averaged 6.2 hits. “There’s no concern on approach,” manager Oliver Marmol said after his team’s 3-0 loss Sunday. But there’s some concern with results, at least from this keyboard on press row. Numerous recent games featured long stretches without hits or consecutive hits. And this was against the Pirates, Brewers and Reds. And if the Cardinals are going to get right this week, it’ll have to happen on the road and against probable playoff teams. In September, three Cards are hitting over .300 (Tommy Edman, Yadier Molina and Corey Dickerson), while the fourthhighest average is just .241 from Paul Goldschmidt (with a .793 OPS). Nolan Arenado is at .218 (with a .628 OPS), while Gorman’s September average is .148 (with a .540 OPS), Lars Nootbaar’s is .100 (with a .463 OPS) and the now-injured Tyler O’Neill’s is .231 (with a .776 OPS). At their best, the 2022 Cardinals can stretch out their lineup with contagious hitting, while also relying on two MVP candidates to mash. But at their worst, they press, according to Paul DeJong. “Sure, that can happen both ways,” the shortstop said. “But you also see us win some games late in the game where we were down. Everyone kind of pulls their own weight as far as the situation — and what we need from each guy and the situation. I don’t think we panic at all. It’s more about just continuing to take good at-bats and trying to win the situation. “I think that’s what keeps us most locked in, as opposed to thinking, ‘Oh, wow, we’re down 3-nothing to the Reds, we’ve got to do something big.’ But in reality, a bunch of small things add up for us — and I think that’s when we’re at our best when we can all kind of contribute and put together a big inning.” Lately in baseball, much has been made about “expected stats,” such as the expected batting average of any ball put in play. Sometimes, that expected stat suggests, a player can (or should) feel good about a batted ball, even if it was caught or a play was made. Well, similarly, a player can hang his hat on a good approach to an at-bat — and perhaps tip his hat to the pitcher, who just made great pitches. As for a batter’s approach, Marmol gushed about Goldschmidt’s ability to flush. One bad at-bat, and Goldschmidt already essentially has forgotten it, the skipper said. Other players, sometimes, carry a bad at-bat back to the plate for ensuing at-bats. A lot of herewe-go-agains (HWGOs in your scorebook). That’s what we’re seeing in Gorman. We knew he would strike out a lot, because that’s just part of his M.O. But 14 strikeouts in 27 September atbats is quite a lot. It’s gotten to the point that Marmol very well might have to make a choice for his postseason roster — the lefty Gorman’s bat or that of the lefty Alec Burleson, who, to be fair, has yet to find an offensive groove since his recent call-up. On Aug. 20, Gorman had a .791 OPS. With an upcoming late-August series against Atlanta, I wondered if the top four in the rookie of the year voting would be on display — Atlanta’s Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider, along with St. Louis’ Brendan Donovan and Gorman. But in the 20 games since Aug. 20, Gorman’s OPS has fallen to .720. After Saturday’s splattering of a performance, numerous Cardinals spoke of the value of Monday. It’s an off-day. A chance to refresh. And here’s thinking Goldschmidt will benefit the most from it. He had a scheduled day off Sunday, too. But the Cardinals must find ways to string together some offense. Great approaches and great results. And, sure, you can do the old wait-for-the-threerun-homer thing, but you still have to get two other guys on base. No question, these next eight games will be a litmus test for the Cardinals — and they enter Tuesday’s game in San Diego as an inconsistent offensive club of late. Pressure is mounting on everyone involved to get things fixed for the playoffs. The good news for the Cardinals? No matter how rough their offense is on this trip, the team’s next (and final) six games are against Pittsburgh pitching. That could lead to some increased batting averages and confidence levels, both from the dugout and press row.