Patient Cardinals offense giving pitchers fits
St. Louis' deep lineup only gets better as game gets longer
NEW YORK -- They wait you out. They see what you have. And then they strike. Again and again and again.
The St. Louis Cardinals' offense is all about patience, and not the kind that means laying off a slider in the dirt -- though the Redbirds are good at doing that, too. They do the most damage after they've seen a pitcher a couple of times, as the Mets' Jeremy Hefner learned on Tuesday night.
After Hefner danced around the dangerous lineup for three innings, the Cardinals started getting to him in the fourth. Then they exploded in the fifth, en route to a 9-2 thrashing of New York at Citi Field. The Cardinals piled up 12 hits against Hefner and three relievers, increasing their league-leading scoring average to just less than 5.1 runs per game.
Their pitching has gotten the lion's share of the attention this season, and rightly so. Even with four starters currently on the disabled list, St. Louis leads the National League in ERA, and that's no small feat. But the bread-and-butter for this team is that fearsome, relentless, deep lineup.
Offense has been the hallmark of Cardinals baseball since a roster overhaul following the 2010 season. Since the start of 2011, no NL team has scored as many runs as the Cards. In that span, only the Rockies and their homer-rific ballpark are even within 90 runs of St. Louis.
This is what they do. This is how they win.
"It's as deep a lineup, I think, as I've played with or played on," said Matt Holliday, who stayed hot with three hits on Tuesday. "Obviously we don't have Albert [Pujols] anymore, but we have a lot of guys up and down the lineup that are putting out tough at-bats, hit well with runners in scoring position, use the big part of the field. I think we have the potential to have one of the better offenses I've been a part of, if not the best."
They lead the league in on-base percentage, which has become a calling card for Cardinals teams in recent years. That doesn't mean being passive, by the way. It means having a good strike zone. Only three teams in either league have swung at more first pitches than St. Louis this year, and only one has more first-pitch hits.
But if the opposing pitcher doesn't come in the zone, the Cardinals are happy to wait him out. They're also happy to wait until the second and third time they see him, which may be the most striking thing about this ferocious offense. Throw strikes, and throw good strikes, or it's going to be a long night.
"You throw nasty pitches and they look at them like, 'Surely you've got something better than that,'" Hefner said. "They'll lay off pitches or, I don't know. It's very different than any team that I've faced this year. It's impressive. Even last year, it's different than anyone I can remember."
When facing a pitcher for the first time, the Cardinals are actually fairly ineffective. They're batting .248 with a .315 OBP and .369 slugging percentage in those situations, for the 10th-worst OPS (on-base plus slugging) in the Majors.
The second time through, they improve to .311/.368/.433, good for the fourth-best OPS in the Majors and the best in the NL. The third time against a pitcher? Try .309/.357/.492, third-best in the Majors and again the best in the NL.
The old story for some pitchers is that if you don't get them in the first inning, you're not going to get them. With this Cardinals offense, if they don't get you in the first or second, they'll get you in the third, or the fourth, or the fifth. But they will get you.
"I think a successful offense adjusts correctly," said David Freese, who had two hits. "You're not always going to be productive, but whether you're in the box or your teammate's in the box, I think we're all watching. ... That's just what we do. We see how the pitcher is adapting. I don't think it's [statistical] noise. I think there's something to it."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.