In Game 3 of the 2013 NLCS, Hyun-jin Ryu took the mound against the St. Louis Cardinals and confirmed what everyone already knew about the Redbirds lineup…they couldn’t hit their way out of a wet paper bag against lefties.
Going seven innings, the left-handed Ryu allowed just three total hits, one walk, and no runs on his way to dominating a lineup that punished right-handed hitters the entire season. But there was the problem. The Cardinals, for all their vaunted offensive ability, posted a putrid .238/.301/.371 slash line against left-handed pitching during the first 162 games…good enough for 13th in the National League (by batting average), and 27th in MLB.
In the 2013 NLCS, it was simply more of the same.
But now it’s 2014, and if there’s one thing baseball is good at, it’s turning the page season-to-season.
That’s what the Cardinals did when they signed Mark Ellis, a .282 hitter against left-handed pitchers in 2013, to a $5 million contract…just to platoon with left-handed hitting rookie Kolten Wong at second base.
And it’s what they did when they traded home-town hero David Freese for right-handed hitting center fielder Peter Bourjos. Bourjos brought plenty of defense and speed to St. Louis, but the way he fit into the Redbirds’ lineup was as a RH platoon with incumbent Jon Jay in center.
Squeeze both of those players into an imposing offense along with other right-handers like Allen Craig, the best RBI man in the business, and things were bound to turn around for the Cardinals against LH pitchers.
But then there’s that other thing baseball’s good at…the unexpected.
Ellis — the Matheny-named “known quantity” — became an enigma. He didn’t hit, and therefore, as soon as Wong returned to the lineup after a brief exile to Triple-A, he didn’t play. He was left off the postseason roster for the NLDS.
Bourjos, the talk of the town when he arrived, couldn’t adjust quite fast enough to his new team and new league to hold off the .300-plus hitting Jon Jay for the starting center field position. Jay would eventually contend (sort of) for the NL batting title…and therefore, Bourjos didn’t play.
And then there’s Allen Craig. For whatever reason — and there are several theories to choose from — Craig’s bat never showed up in 2014, and he was eventually traded to the Boston Red Sox for tonight’s starter John Lackey.
It seemed everything the Cardinals had done over the winter to improve against left-handed pitchers would go for naught. As it turns out, the Cardinals may never have needed much help in the first place.
In 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals improved to 8th in the National League (16th in MLB) against LH pitchers with a .254/.330/.388 slash line…good enough for smack dab in the middle of the rankings.
Not impressed? Consider this…
For four months of the season, the Redbirds continued to slot slumping hitter Allen Craig and his 2014 .215/.279/.315 line into the starting lineup, often at cleanup. And while his move to Boston removed his bat from the lineup, it forced LH hitter Matt Adams to play first base every day rather than platoon with Craig. Adams is an atrocious .190/.231/.298 against left-handed pitching this season.
And Yadier Molina — the Cardinals MVP-caliber catcher who hit a whopping .333/.374/.509 to lead the team against LHP in 2013 — missed nearly two months of the season!
So how did they do it? How did they manage to improve against lefties when all their best-laid plans went awry? How ’bout this…
Left-handers Jon Jay and Kolten Wong surprised everyone by hitting .375 and .315, respectively, off LHP this season. Matt Holliday posted a .301/.440/.564 slash line off lefties with 11 home runs. Johnny Peralta — the Cardinals free agent acquisition likely to hit cleanup tonight — slugged 12 homers off left-handers, and Molina hit .278 with a .352 on-base percentage and .443 slugging percentage.
Even Matt Carpenter, left-handed leadoff hitter grabbing the spotlight in this year’s NLDS, hit a respectable .262 and posted a .364 OBP against southpaws.
Don’t tell these guys they can’t hit lefties. They’ve been doing it all season long.
Still not convinced? Okay, okay…I get it. After all, the narrative says the Cardinals have always been bad against lefties and always will be bad against lefties.
Let’s take a quick look at a few more notes about the Cardinals’ chances against Ryu tonight in Busch Stadium…
– Randal Grichuk. The Cardinals’ young right-fielder — the “other” player in that Freese-to-Angels deal — has a s0-so average (.252) against lefties to go with a less-than-impressive on-base percentage (.254)…but his .435 slugging percentage and three home runs are enough to get excited about. And to be honest, with very limited time at the MLB level, it’s really his Triple-A numbers this year that give us a better indication of his abilities against southpaws: .325/.376/.724 with 12 home runs…in just 123 at-bats. Expect him to hit second between Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday tonight, and if his first-inning homer off Clayton Kershaw is any indication, expect damage early as well.
– Ryu’s Rust. Ryu hasn’t pitched since September 12th due to shoulder inflammation, an outing in which he allowed four earned runs in just one inning of work. The Dodgers insist he’s well-enough to make this start, but it feels like a push…a push based entirely off of his performance against the Cardinals in last year’s NLCS. It’s a gamble that could very well pay off…for the Cardinals.
– Home Sweet Home. The Cardinals are an amazing 51-30 at home in Busch Stadium this season. That’s tied for the best home record in the National League with Washington and Pittsburgh. And that suits tonight’s starting pitcher for the Cardinals, John Lackey, just fine. Lackey may have had his struggles this season, but he seems to do an outstanding job of leaving them on the road. He’s 7-3 in home games this season with a 2.94 ERA. That mark is impressive enough on it’s own, but it borders on predictive when compared to his road record of 7-7 with a 4.73 ERA. Sure, sure…maybe most of those home games were played when he was in Fenway as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Think again. Since August 3rd — after the trade that brought him to St. Louis — Lackey has thrown five games in Busch Stadium…and allowed two earned runs or fewer in every one of them. He also threw six or more innings each time out, throwing seven or more three times. There’s no doubt about it…Busch Stadium is the right place for both Lackey and the Cardinals to play a pivotal Game 3.
Any way you slice it, it’s clear this Game 3 is set to play out dramatically different than Game 3 of last year’s NLCS. I wonder if anyone told Don Mattingly and Hyun-Jin Ryu that…
— GO CARDS!!!