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BenFred: Before Cardinals can stack series, they have to get (and hit) right

BenFred: Before Cardinals can stack series, they have to get (and hit) right

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Washington Nationals vs St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong swings and misses to strike out to end the second inning during a game between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday, April 12, 2021. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

The Cardinals (7-8) have scored more than the National League average amount of runs per game (4.29) six times in 15 games, but they have scored five or more runs in back-to-back games just once.

They did it the first two games of the season, and have not done it since.

The trend played out again when Saturday’s 9-4 win against the Phillies got sandwiched between losses of 9-2 on Friday and 2-0 on Sunday.

The lost series became the Cardinals' fourth in five, and it once again proved true an early trend that is contributing to the inability to break free from a .500 pace.

The Cardinals are punishing left-handed pitching while getting punished by righties.

See the latest series for more evidence.

The Cardinals blitzed Phillies southpaw starter Matt Moore and reliever JoJo Romero in their lone win in Philadelphia. Then right-handed Aaron Nola shut them down in the series finale, after the all-right Phillies trio of Zach Eflin, Connor Brogdon and Brandon Kintzler limited the Redbirds to just two runs in the series opener.

Even with their season-opening pummeling of Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo and their more recent thumping of a headed-to-the-injured list Stephen Strasburg, the Cardinals woke up Monday morning as one of the major league’s most meager performers against righthanders.

Cardinals against RHP

.203 average, 26th in the majors

.279 on-base percentage, 26th

.343 slugging percentage, 26th

.622 on-base plus slugging percentage, 28th

Let’s compare that to what the Cardinals have done against southpaw starters and relievers.

Cardinals against LHP

.302 average, 2nd in the majors

.411 on-base percentage, 1st

.523 slugging percentage, 1st

.943 on-base plus slugging percentage, 1st

The good news is the Cardinals are off to the kind of start that suggests this could be one of their better seasons against lefties. They haven’t beaten the NL average on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) against southpaws since the 2018 team posted a .753 OPS against them, ahead of the NL average OPS that season of .720. The bad news, which you all already know, is that there are a whole lot more righties than lefties.

The Cardinals entered Monday's game with 408 at-bats against righties (10th most in the majors) compared to just 86 at-bats against lefties (26th). They had faced 1,795 pitches from righties compared to just 454 from lefties. Before this gets shrugged off as over-analysis of 15 games, it’s worth pointing out that the Cardinals produced just a .690 OPS against righties last season, which ranked 25th in baseball. Between the start of the 2020 season and now, the Cardinals’ .675 OPS against righthanders trails all but five MLB teams. (That sound you hear is hollering from anyone and everyone who wished the Cardinals would have added an impact left-handed bat this offseason, in addition to new third baseman Nolan Arenado.)

Eight healthy and active Cardinals have totaled 25 or more at-bats so far this season. Four entered Monday's game with an OPS against righties that is currently below the NL average of .695. The list includes Paul Goldschmidt (.521 OPS against righties), Paul DeJong (.564), Justin Williams (.500) and Matt Carpenter (.391). The first two are concerning because the Pauls are supposed to be key hitters in the lineup, no matter who’s on the mound. The last two are concerning because Carpenter and Williams are left-handed hitters and are supposed to be weapons against right-handed pitching. 

The Nationals, like the Phillies, are going to throw two righties (Joe Ross and Max Scherzer) at the Cardinals with a southpaw (Patrick Corbin) sandwiched in between.

First up Monday night is Ross, who blanketed the Cardinals for six scoreless innings in a Nationals win last Wednesday. He is one of the six righthanded starters with a quality start against the Cardinals so far this season, and one of 21 righthanded pitchers to throw at least one scoreless inning against the Cardinals through the season’s first 15 games.

Many things are keeping the third-place Cardinals from the consistency required to stack series wins.

Getting right against righties has to be near the top of the list.

In this episode of Inside Pitch, sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon discuss how Paul DeJong's slow start is holding up the Cardinals' lineup, and wonder if the No. 6 spot might be the best for the shortstop. Kim's return to the rotation and Justin William's encouraging signs of late also come up.

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