The St. Louis native Earl Weaver, who captured pennants and a World Series title as Baltimore’s manager, famously won games because of “pitching, defense and three-run homers.”
The St. Louis Cardinals, in their first 34 games of 2023, infamously lost games because of pitching, defense and trying to hit three-run homers (sometimes even with no one on).
“When we get down, everyone wants to go up and hit a home run and score, right then,” Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong shared after his team’s 10-5 win Sunday over the Los Angeles Dodgers. “But when we’re playing well, we’re trusting that we can hand the baton off to the next guy. ... Using all those outs so we have, trusting that we can take a walk or (get a) base hit and then it leads to a big inning. ... It’s just about doing the little things, putting pressure on the other team ... and using our baserunning that we work on.”
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Well, they’re now playing well. It’s been a respectable and, really, a remarkable turnaround by manager Oliver Marmol’s club. After those first 34 games, the Cardinals were 10-24. They’re now 21-27. Heck, they’re only five games out of first place (with 114 games to play).
Things were going poorly, they can’t deny that. And, look, it’s not like all problems are solved. The starting pitching has been better, but the question marks haven’t turned into exclamation points just yet. Every few games, a reliable reliever suddenly becomes a batting practice pitcher. And, even with the potent offense, you’re going to have some guys struggle (Lars Nootbaar has a lone hit in his past 24 at-bats, while Brendan Donovan is four for 25). But overall, the Cardinals’ players are working together to create wins instead of trying to do it all and lose.
“Guys are picking up one another,” pitcher Jack Flaherty said. “When you start playing well, things start to go your way and you can feel it. You can feel the momentum of the game. That is just the way it goes.”
Drew VerHagen picked up Flaherty on Sunday out of the bullpen, just like Giovanny Gallegos picked up Ryan Helsley the night before (now, some in Dodger blue could say Gallegos got lucky with a missed call by an ump. But on Sunday, the Dodgers got lucky on a missed call on a Flaherty third strike, which was called ball four).
And offensively, things are finally flowing. Sure, it helps when Nolan Arenado starts hitting like Nolan Arenado — and come to think of it, Nolan Gorman starts hitting like Nolan Arenado, too. But the boys are taking better at-bats. Through the first 34 games (May 6), the Cards were 14th in OPS in the majors (.740). But from May 7 up to Sunday, the Cards were first in OPS (.854). And then on Sunday, the Cards scored 10 runs.
“It’s a real offense,” said Marmol, whose team won the game against Clayton Kershaw on Sunday, as well as recent games against famous names such as Corbin Burnes and Julio Urias. “We’re coming together and a lot of different guys, including our bench, can beat you. And it’s showing. And it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
Oh yeah, speaking of the upcoming chances to watch the Cardinals maul, the schedule sure looks enticing. St. Louis has won four consecutive series — and its next four series, starting Monday in Cincinnati, are against three teams under .500 and one (Pittsburgh) right around it.
In the Cards’ three-out-of-four series win against Los Angeles, the Dodgers surely saw something in St. Louis they didn’t see in their late-April sweep of the Cards.
Whether approach at the plate, pitch conviction or just overall body language, the April (and early May) Cardinals were unsure.
“(It’s) confidence and a lot more trust — and it shows,” Marmol said. “This game has been a lot of different emotions to it, and right now, these guys are trusting one another. They’re playing with a heck of a lot of confidence. All the pieces are coming together. Bullpen, VerHagen today. And you look at Jack’s outing. ... That’s a tough lineup, and he navigated it well. Overall, I actually thought he did a pretty good job.”
To Flaherty’s credit, he brilliantly bounced back from his uninspiring start to 2023. He opened this latest homestand with a start deserving of a gemologist’s appraisal. And he closed the homestand with an admirable effort, but it was blemished by the missed call to David Peralta and the ensuing hit and walk that finished Flaherty’s day in the fifth.
Even though he didn’t go five, he sure had some good stuff, especially early — in the first two innings alone, he tallied three swing-and-miss third strikes with his slider. Sure, he needs to cut down on walks, which likely would increase his innings pitched in future starts. But he’s, at least, showing signs of the great pitcher he can be.
“You’ve got to have a little bit of irrational confidence, regardless of what the results are,” Flaherty said Sunday, repeating a sentiment he shared after a start in Seattle. “And that’s something that you got to try to find a way to have, no matter what the results may be or what the record is or what the average is or what the ERA is. You’ve got to know who you are — and that the work that you put in is going to take care of everything else.”
Lately, the Cardinals are trusting who they are — and trusting each other.
@hochman on Twitter