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10 signs they've ignited the struggling offensePosted Monday, June 25, 2012, at 12:55 PM
With the return of Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter, two of the St. Louis Cardinals' casualties from the month May, the team seems to have begun playing good baseball. What, or who, is responsible for the recent offensive upturn?
For the majority of two months, the St. Louis Cardinals have struggled offensively. Whether it's getting hits, scoring runs or working with runners in scoring position, they kept falling short.
In recent days, however, things have begun to change. Slumps are ending, both for players and the team. While the Cardinals are 5-4 in their last nine games, a deeper look shows a much better trend than the win-loss record indicates.
Following are 10 signs that the Cardinals offense is coming back to life.
1. They've Been Hitting
When the Cardinals showed up in Kansas City Friday for the second half of the I-70 series, in no time at all they made an impact.
With three hits, two walks and an HBP in the top of the first inning, they quickly got on the board with four runs.
The hitting didn't actually start in Kansas City, though.
The Cardinals have managed more than 10 hits in six of their last nine games. The struggle came with runners in scoring position.
2. They Have Improved with RISP
Since early May, the Cardinals have struggled to piece together extended rallies. In Kansas City, they seem to be making progress.
On Friday and Saturday, the team was 21-39 with runners in scoring position (.538). In Detroit, the team was 3-22 (.136) with runners in scoring position.
The Cardinals won't keep up the .500 pace forever, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
3. Scoring Without the Home Run
Of the Cardinals 30 runs this weekend, only six came from home runs.
Scoring on small ball is something the team has battled with several times this year with 137-of-355 runs being scored off of the long ball through Saturday.
The home run is a lot like the three-point shot in basketball-live by the home run, die by the home run.
This small ball trend has everything to do with why the Cardinals are scoring clusters of runs.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cardinals beat reporter Joe Strauss made an interesting observation on Twitter Friday evening.
Cardinals score as many runs w/in tonight's first 19 pitches as in their last 19 innings in Detroit.
4. Pitching Has Improved
Cardinal pitching seems to be going the same way as their hitting.
As Cardinal starting pitchers began to heat up over the last two weeks, the offense began showing signs of improvement.
Through most of May, the Cardinals were still scoring. The Cardinals scored at least four runs in 10 of their 16 May losses. In June, the team only scored four runs in one loss.
With that said, June's wins have been explosive.
One cause for this is that the team seems to be feeding off one another's success. With an improved bullpen and stabilizing rotation, the offense is starting to pick up the slack.
5. Holliday Is Hitting the Ball More Consistently
Cardinals slugger and No. 3 hitter Matt Holliday seemed to drag early in the season but has heated up for a couple games at a time on multiple occasions.
Since the Kansas City Royals came to St. Louis on June 13, Holliday's bat is on fire. Over his last eight games, he has gone 17-34 (.500), 12 RBI, six doubles and two home runs.
He raised his batting average to .299.
If Holliday isn't consistently hitting the ball, it will be difficult for this team to win.
6. Furcal Comes Back to Life
In the last four games, shortstop Rafael Furcal has begun to pull out of his June slump, as well.
After going 2-21 in the previous six games, he has gone 7-19 (.368) in the previous four games. Three of those games were multi-hit nights.
Friday evening Furcal had his first multi-hit game since going 3-5 on June 7 in Houston. The Cardinals were 4-6 between the two stints.
His overall on-base percentage is .354, but in the month of June, that number has only been .233
Furcal has been the Cardinals most solid leadoff man in years, and the Cardinals success relies heavily on his ability to get on base.
7. Beltran Has Hit Safely in Last 9-10 Games
Carlos Beltran, who has carried the Cardinals offensively through much of the year, is still on an MVP caliber-run.
He is 15-41 in his previous 10 games, with six of those games featuring two or more hits through Saturday. Over that stretch, he has seven RBI and six walks.
On Sunday afternoon, Beltran hit his 20th home run of 2012.
Beltran is on pace for an impressive season with 43 home runs, 119 RBI and a .310 batting average.
Will he reach those numbers? If he stays healthy, it is a definite possibility.
8. Craig Pulling out of His Slump
Allen Craig cooled off over the last week, but Saturday against the Royals seemed to be seeing the ball better.
He showed more patience at the plate and went 4-9 with a home run and five RBI on the weekend.
Craig offers a definite threat in the middle of the lineup, but for him to be effective, he has to stay healthy. In 2002, he's already been on the disabled list two times.
He has the ability to drive the ball and is hitting .320 in 2012. A quick fan favorite in St. Louis, Craig is the kind of player who can round out a lineup, and whenever Lance Berkman returns, offer serious pop off the bench.
9. Matt Carpenter Returns to the Lineup
The return of all-around player Matt Carpenter, somewhat overshadowed by Jon Jay's return on the same day, is crucial to this team.
His loss was much larger than realized by many. Carpenter has the ability to play every position in the infield, including catcher, and can fill in most outfield spots when the need arises, as well.
He has worked hard at making himself indispensable and has done a good job.
Carpenter is, at least at this stage in his career, a super-utility player.
He's hitting .288 in 2012 with 21 RBI and a .346 OBP. He shows good patience at the plate and can drive the ball anywhere he chooses.
Having Carpenter active will give manager Mike Matheny a much easier time resting players who need a day off.
10. What Does Jon Jay Mean to This Team?
Far more than many give him credit for.
Jay's growth as a center fielder, combined with his ability to get on base (.392), make him an integral part of the 2011 Cardinals.
Since his Friday return from the disabled list, Jay is 3-10 with three runs scored. He did well on his two-game rehab stint in Triple-A Memphis, as well.
If Jay can come in, take command of the No. 2 spot in the lineup and keep his OBP up, he has the ability to transform the offense.
His return puts Beltran farther down the lineup giving the Cardinals added power depth, something they have needed badly since he, Carpenter and Lance Berkman were injured in May.
If the team can keep at least two or three of these guys hot and healthy, at once, they have the ability to compete against anyone in MLB.
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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.
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