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BenFred: Four (as in runs) is a serious number for the Cardinals

BenFred: Four (as in runs) is a serious number for the Cardinals

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St. Louis Cardinals' Harrison Bader scores on a throwing error by Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell during the sixth inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. The Cards won 7-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The secret to the Cardinals’ season has been discovered.

In an era dominated by advanced analytics, Statcast statistics and metrics that sound like they have more to do with launching missiles than playing baseball, this revelation is more of a throwback, a trusty measuring stick more than a computerized calculation.

Ready?

Here it is.

Four. As in runs.

The Cardinals (24-24) proved the theory true again in Friday’s doubleheader sweep of the lowly Pirates, just as they had proven it in Thursday night’s loss to the same club.

When the Cardinals score four or more runs, they tend to win.

When they don’t, they usually lose.

The Cardinals have won 21 of the 24 games in which they have scored four-plus runs.

They have lost 21 of the 24 games in which they have scored three runs or fewer.

I presented my in-depth research to manager Mike Shildt, fully prepared for him to tell me I was oversimplifying.

“I love those facts,” Shildt said. “Those are bottom-line facts. Those are the numbers that we don’t underscore enough sometimes. Basic. You don’t need to carry the one and have the Pythagorean theorem to figure it out. Sometimes you need some of those advanced metrics to help crystallize things and make decisions, and they’re valuable. But the fact of the matter is, you score runs and you win.”

“We pitch well. We play defense. I’ve said all along, we don’t give anything. We take everything the opponent gives us.”

“You score four or more, and you have a chance to give the old, proverbial COVID-era high-five after the game.”

The NL average for runs per game this season is 4.74. The Cardinals’ searching lineup has failed to reach four runs in half of their games. They have been held to two runs or fewer 14 times, all of which were losses.

The Cardinals are in the bottom-third of MLB in metrics like average exit velocity (87.2 mph, 28th), barrel percentage (6.6 percent, 23rd) and hard-hit percentage (34 percent, 28th).

They are sagging in slugging percentage (.380, 25th). They have just two spots that are producing a top-third on-base plus slugging percentage: first base (.858, seventh) and designated hitter (.843, fifth). A whopping 69 percent of their hits have been singles.

We can go on and on, but what we are really doing is finding different ways to say the same thing. The Cardinals need to score more runs, more often.

And while the front office is not yet ready to discuss a second consecutive season of the offense being an anchor on an otherwise solid club, there will come a time when a solution must be decided upon, even in the complicated offseason that approaches, one that is full of unanswerable questions about how the ongoing pandemic could affect everything from number of games played to payroll.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak on Friday again voiced support for second-year hitting coach Jeff Albert and stayed true to the notion that the pandemic-related hurdles the Cardinals have encountered should be factored into evaluations.

“We are going to play a 60-game season, and never be the team we thought we were,” Mozeliak said. “To beat us up, or beat someone up over this, I don’t know if that’s the fairest way to do it. Now, it sounds like I’m just giving you an excuse and a cop-out for why we are playing the way we are playing. Look, we are all adults. We all understand our responsibilities. And we will respond to that, in an appropriate time. But, in fairness, what this team has been through, and what they have experienced, it’s not normal.”

A different direction at hitting coach could be the eventual answer. The addition of a power-producing outfielder or third baseman would certainly help. If the Cardinals do wash, rinse and repeat, they will need to figure out how to sell that approach to frustrated fans.

For now, though, the Cardinals insist their focus is on chasing a spot in the expanded postseason, a reality still possible thanks to a deep and talented pool of impressive pitching and strong defense.

These strengths can suppress runs and even steal them, but they cannot score them.

Friday’s two wins once again proved the power of the four-run rule.

The Cardinals committed an uncharacteristic four errors in game one. Their pitchers walked eight. But thanks to eight hits and six runs, the Cardinals held on for a one-run win against a bad team they desperately needed to beat.

The words of Cardinals Hall of Famer turned Fox Sports Midwest broadcaster Jim Edmonds, who sounds a little more like a hitting coach every day, sounded almost prophetic as Kolten Wong scratched across the Cardinals’ sixth and final run in the fourth inning with a groundout that scored teammate Yadier Molina from third.

“You just have to get it done,” Edmonds said, referencing a lesson taught to him by former Angels hitting coach and Hall of Famer Rod Carew. “I remember coming back to the bench after not driving in a run in that situation. Rod Carew would sit down and say, ‘What happened?’ I would say, ‘Man, I was looking for this, and he did this, and I missed this pitch.’ And he would say, ‘I don’t care. You’ve gotta get the run in. I don’t care what happened.’

“Get it,” Edmonds concluded. “Bunt. Do something. You have to get the run in.”

Scoring in whatever way possible was again on display again in game two, when the trailing Cardinals cobbled together a catcher interference, a walk, a sacrifice fly, and two fielder’s choices together in the sixth to reach the four-run mark right before Dylan Carlson’s three-run homer broke open the game for good.

Calculating the number of wins the Cardinals need to make the postseason is a mess because we don’t yet know if they will be asked to play 60 instead of 58.

No matter.

The magic number for this club is four.

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