What Is The Matt-er with St. Louis Cardinals Offense?
Losses in the first two games of their three-game set with the National League Central division leading Milwaukee Brewers has many St. Louis Cardinals fans wondering if the 2014 Cardinals are ever going to snap out of the collective offensive funk they have been in for the entire month of April. With these two losses to the Brewers the Redbirds now trail the Brew Crew by 6.5 games.
St. Louis is averaging 3.4 runs scored in their first 28 games, and they have been held to two or fewer runs in 13 of those games. Furthermore, the Cardinals have only reached double digits in one game this season. There is plenty of blame to go around for the lack of offensive output, but two players in particular that were being counted on to spark the Cardinals offense have dramatically under-performed thus far.
Perhaps the most important slots in any batting order are the leadoff hitter and the cleanup hitter. The leadoff hitter is expected to be the table-setter for the offense, and the cleanup hitter is generally the primary power and run producer in the lineup. Matt Carpenter has batted first the majority of the time for the Cardinals this season, and Matt Adams has occupied the fourth spot in the lineup most often for St. Louis.
Carpenter had a brilliant 2013 campaign; one which saw him lead the Major Leagues in runs scored (126), doubles (55), and hits (199) while batting .318. Meanwhile, Adams slugged 17 home runs and drove in 51 runs while batting .284 in only 296 official at bats last year so it was widely assumed that he would significantly improve his power numbers with regular playing time.
However, with the month of April winding down Carpenter is hitting .264 with only three doubles and four extra base hits total leading to a .321 slugging percentage. In 2013, Carpenter had seven triples and 11 home runs to go along with the 55 doubles he racked up for a total of 73 extra base knocks resulting in a .481 slugging percentage. More significantly, he has struck out 28 times in 106 official at bats this season. Including his walk total of 17 this season means that Carpenter is fanning at a rate of once every 4.4 at bats. In 2013 he whiffed only once every 7.1 at bats.
Adams has hit for average (.327) in 2014, but his power and run production numbers are not what is demanded from a cleanup hitter. He has produced only one home run and five runs batted in so far this season, and he has not driven in a run in his last 11 games. Adams has particularly struggled against left-handed pitching; as he has compiled a .158 mark (3-19) against southpaw offerings.
Part of Adams’ issue seems to be his focus on avoiding the defensive shift opponents routinely employ against him which has the second baseman aligned in shallow right field and the shortstop swung around to play up the middle in an effort to negate his 2013 tendency to be a pull hitter with power. To try and counteract the defensive shift Adams has made a concerted effort to try and hit the ball to left field and left-center field.
This has resulted in an improved batting average for Adams, but he has so far not demonstrated an ability to hit for power when he goes against the defensive shifts and drives the ball to the opposite field. He has started 26 of 28 games for the Cardinals in 2014, and he has had 25 opportunities to hit with a runner in scoring position so he is averaging nearly one chance to produce a run per game while only delivering three times resulting in a .120 batting average in these clutch situations. If this trend continues look for the Cardinals to begin benching Adams against left-handed pitching, and if the Redbirds want to avoid letting the Brewers pull further ahead in the division race, it might not be too much longer before the front office has to promote top prospect Oscar Taveras to the big league roster.
Allen Craig is slowly beginning to work his way out of a slump so a Taveras promotion could result in Craig moving back to first base; which would relegate Adams to the platoon and pinch hitting role he filled in 2013.