Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado is returning to Denver on Tuesday as a member of a first-place team for the initial time since his Colorado Rockies won nine of their final 10 games in 2018 to tie the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League Western Division title. But they then lost the playoff game and wound up as a wild-card team in the postseason.
The Rockies never won a division title in his eight seasons there. After a torrid streak (10 for 21, three homers, eight runs batted in) that netted him National League player of the week honors, he also returns as a .300 hitter after two sub-par seasons — .253 for the Rockies and .255 for the Cardinals.
“I’m just trying to hit some mistakes over the plate,” Arenado said. “That’s how you’ve got to be able to hit up here. You’ve got to hit mistakes.”
Often, pitching mistakes are made in games in Coors Field because pitches sometimes don’t do what pitchers think they’re going to do.
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“It’s always tough to play there,” Arenado said. “Those games are always kind of crazy there.”
When the three-game series begins Tuesday night, shortstop Paul DeJong returns to the field where he hit his first big-league homer (as a pinch-hitter in 2017). He hit his 100th career homer at Busch Stadium on Sunday.
“Denver will always be special to me,” DeJong said. “One to 100 — and now a reset.”
DeJong is six for 25, a modest .240, since returning from a two-month sentence to Memphis. But all the hits have been for extra bases — three homers and three doubles — and he has 10 runs batted in.
“I’m just enjoying every day here,” he said.
His teammates are equally as happy.
“When we saw him in Washington, we were all pretty fired up. We were like, ‘There he is, man. There’s our shortstop,’” said Arenado Sunday after the Cardinals had finished a three-game sweep of the Yankees. “We’re happy he’s playing well. We need him to play well. And he knows it.”
With DeJong back at shortstop — he has played every inning of all eight games there — Tommy Edman is back at second base, where he won a National League Gold Glove last season and was playing in the same fashion this year. For the two months that DeJong was gone, Edman took over at shortstop and played efficiently, perhaps surprising observers with his arm strength.
He says he has enjoyed playing both, and if he gets four more starts at shortstop Edman will become the first middle infielder in Cardinals history to have made at least 50 starts at both second base and shortstop. He already has 52 starts at second base.
Manager Oliver Marmol said he easily could see Edman getting those four more starts at shortstop.
Marmol, a former middle infielder himself, said he always thought shortstop was the easier position because, at second base, he found himself “going against the grain,” such as in making double-play relays to first base or just across his body after running down balls to his right.
Edman said he really had no preference as to his middle infield position but allows, “It’s great to have Paul back.”
Some other recent infielders, such as as Gleyber Torres of the New York Yankees and Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs, have done 50-50 times as middle infielders for their teams, according to research done by Cardinals baseball communications manager Michael Whitty using Baseballreference.com.
But according to the data, the closest any Cardinal has come was in 1939, when Jimmy Brown started 99 games at shortstop and 47 at second base. Brown was a key member of the 1942 World Series champion Cards.
Edman said he had no idea he was so close to team history but said, “That would be pretty cool,” if he achieves it.
Brown, a leadoff hitter as Edman has been for much of the season, actually pulled off a quinella in 1942 when he started 80 games at second and 63 at third base.
Edman’s batting numbers are somewhat different depending on which position he has played. As a second baseman over 197 at-bats, he is hitting .264 with an OPS of .752. As a shortstop for 204 at-bats, he is hitting .250 with a .630 OPS.
As a second baseman, he has walked 25 times and struck out only 33. But as a shortstop, he has walked just 11 times and fanned on 47 occasions.
Marmol said he could see why that issue would be raised, that the demands on Edman playing shortstop would affect his hitting, but didn’t put too much stock in it. Edman put no stock in it.
“I don’t think it has any correlation at all,” he said. “It has nothing to do with what position I was playing.”
But the numbers don’t lie in that over the past three months, since DeJong was sent out, Edman has batted just .244. And he has found himself batting ninth in the lineup, although Marmol said that he considers that a second leadoff man, with No. 1 hitter Dylan Carlson hitting after Edman the second time around the lineup and beyond.
On Sunday, that worked fine as Carlson had two hits and scored two runs while driving in one. Edman had a hit, run scored and RBI.
But in the eight games before Sunday, Carlson had been on base in just three of them, drawing one walk. But he had hit the ball better than that, Marmol thought.
The second spot, which had featured Edman and Nolan Gorman, had been more productive but Marmol said, “You obviously want those two guys to get on base more often in front of ‘Goldy’ (Paul Goldschmidt) and Nolan (Arenado). That’s the goal. But yeah, you’re wanting (Carlson) to be on more often.”
Coors Field in Denver definitely is a hitters’ park, not so much about the carry of the ball at high altitude but the vast expanse in the outfield, which leads to extra-base hits, if not necessarily home runs.
“It’s just so different than everywhere else,” Marmol said.
But right now, he doesn’t want too much to be different. After an 11-13 July, the Cardinals, riding a season-high winning streak of seven games, are unbeaten in August. Only one other team can say that — the Dodgers, who have baseball’s best record (75-33).