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Back at Coors, Cardinals Nolan Arenado says Paul Goldschmidt, Busch help him get 'better'

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Cardinals aim for series win against the Dodgers

Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado is welcomed home by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt after hitting on a two-run homer in the third inning against the Dodgers on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 at Busch Stadium.

DENVER — The question that followed Nolan Arenado as he left the comforts of Coors Field for contending at Busch Stadium was whether his mile-high production would travel anywhere.

What he’s discovered over time is if he can hit in St. Louis, that plays everywhere.

“I think experience and playing in a big ballpark — little things that I’ve had to learn about myself on how to grow up,” Arenado said Tuesday before his second series as a Cardinal back at his first big-league home. “What works here doesn’t work in St. Louis because the ball doesn’t fly like it does in Colorado. So I’ve really had to get a moment to myself and find a way to get better.”

The result, he said, is maybe the best baseball he’s ever played.

A perennial MVP candidate during his peak years in Colorado, Arenado has returned to that conversation this summer. Arenado won the National League’s player of the week award after going 10 for 21 (.476) with a 1.000 slugging percentage this past week as the Cardinals swept a six-game home stand. It was Arenado’s second player of the week award this season, and it continued a surge out of the All-Star break. Arenado bowed out of the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, suggesting he would benefit from resting and tending to a sore back.

In his first dozen games since, he’s hit .356 with four homers, nine RBIs, a .733 slugging percentage, a 1.176 OPS, and more extra-base hits (nine) than strikeouts (seven).

But, he stressed, it will take more to be MVP.

“That’s Goldy’s award,” Arenado said of teammate Paul Goldschmidt, who leads the league in average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS. “I would have to go on a serious run to get that award from him. ... I’ve played with some good players, but Goldy, to me, is the best player I’ve ever played with. I think he’s way better than me. So I’m always trying to find ways ... to get better with him.”

And that starts at homefield.

Before the start of Tuesday’s late game, Arenado sat in the visitors’ dugout for a gathering of Denver media Tuesday and talked about his return to Coors.

He mentioned the traffic and the tunnel to the clubhouses and said the memories still flutter like butterflies as he sees former teammates or spies a familiar corner, especially the memories from winning seasons and playoff runs. Asked if the Cardinals’ winning streak and leading the division was what he envisioned when he sought a trade, Arenado nodded and added a phrase he’s said often: “It will be the first time ever I’ve been a part of a team that won a division.”

Both Goldschmidt and Arenado spoke Tuesday about how they “help each other get better,” as Goldschmidt said. They talk hitting and approach, they talk how an opponent’s sinker moves and how their mechanics are staying together. Arenado and Goldschmidt both have studied Albert Pujols in person this season and borrowed some. Arenado started during the same drills off the pitching machine as Pujols.

The most significant statistical change for both has happened at Busch Stadium, a pitcher-friendly ballpark that has stifled right-handed hitters and vexed even the stoutest of sluggers, as Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge experienced this past weekend.

“There’s a real mental adjustment to be made,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “We saw it in the Yankees series. I mean, a lot of those balls are homers if we’re at Yankee Stadium. And they touched first base and they kind of look over like, ‘What the heck? Why are we not jogging around the bases right now? That takes some adjusting. There’s no way to measure the psychological part of a hit or two finding a hole and what that does to the confidence and momentum and then you build off of that. And you keep rolling.

“But when you hit some balls hard an they’re caught at the track, you start making adjustments that aren’t needed simply,” Marmol continued. “The ballpark is eating you alive.”

Arenado experienced that in his first season with the Cardinals, his first outside of Coors Field after the blockbuster trade in February 2021. The nine-time Gold Glove winner finished with 34 homers and 105 RBIs in 2021 but left the season frustrated by a .255 average and a .312 on-base percentage. The anchor on those numbers were his .228 average at Busch.

He conceded to searching for those adjustments Marmol mentioned.

“I hate to say it, but it was almost a blessing in disguise that I didn’t play as good as I wanted to because it just showed me I had to get back to the drawing board in a sense,” Arenado said. “Figuring out how I can be better and what I needed to do. I feel like I’ve done better this year. I made that transition. I found a way. What worked in Colorado won’t in St. Louis.”

This summer, Arenado’s OPS on the road is .895, not too different from his road OPS of .885 a year ago. Goldschmidt had a .909 OPS on the road last season, and it’s .903 this season. They’ve elevated their production at Busch. Goldschmidt slugged .500 there in 2021, and that’s up to .704 this season, launching his home OPS from .848 a year ago to 1.156. Arenado had a .435 slugging percentage in St. Louis last year and a .722 OPS. This year? He’s slugging .568 for a .974 OPS at home.

His career OPS at Coors is .982.

Hits make a home.

“St. Louis is probably the best pitchers ballpark in the game, and to be able to play well there is a good sign,” Arenado said. “I think I definitely wanted to prove people wrong (about the Coors effect). There’s a sense of pride, I guess, when you want to prove people wrong. Obviously, I didn’t have the year I expected to. I still drove in 100, still hit 30. Those are still important things. We made the playoffs. It used to bother me a lot. I just got over it. I know who I am as a player.”

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