Cardinals all good with OBP but have room to improve with RISP

ST. LOUIS — Finding ways to get on base doesn’t appear to be a problem for the Cardinals’ offense.

It’s the challenge of driving those runners in that continues to elude them too often.

Statistics show the disconnect quite clearly, beginning with the fact that St. Louis ranks fourth in the National League with a .322 on-base percentage and 11th with 3.7 runs scored per game. The Cardinals are batting .260 overall, but their .222 average with runners in scoring position ranks 11th in the National League, and a .164 average with two outs in those situations puts them in last.

Manufacturing runs can take other forms as well, and a lack of execution cost St. Louis a chance at a big inning in Monday night’s 4-1 loss to Philadelphia. Jon Jay led off the third with a leadoff walk before John Lackey struck out trying to sacrifice bunt, and Jay got caught trying to steal second on a hit-and-run.

"It usually comes back and gets you when you don’t do the little things right, like getting the bunts down in a close game," Matheny said. "But that probably was our best opportunity that inning, and they got the big hit when they needed it and we didn’t."

The Cardinals still scored a run thanks to two-out singles by the top three hitters in the lineup, capped off by Matt Holliday’s eighth hit in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position. A chance at more runs went by the wayside when Mark Reynolds ended the inning with a bases-loaded groundout.

Cole Hamels’ successful sacrifice bunt to advance runners to second and third in the Phillies’ three-run seventh inning provided a stark contrast, thanks to a pair of key two-out hits. Matheny acknowledged that could have been the difference in the game while noting bunts aren’t easy, particularly when Hamels puts such good movement on his pitches.

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"It’s a big play and I think we statistically look at that; every time a guy does something positive offensively, one of our pitchers, what that translates into," Matheny said. "It usually translates into wins and translates into runs."

Pitching continues to carry the first-place Cardinals to plenty of wins, and they’ve come up with the runs they’ve needed more often than not. But it’s clear the opportunities are there for more with St. Louis ranked 28th in the majors at 7.7 runners left on base per game, including an average of more than 10 in their six losses.

The timing for the Cardinals’ baserunners also comes into play. Their .363 on-base percentage with two outs leads the majors, but leaves fewer chances to bring those runners home.

No one expects St. Louis to replicate its 2013 season, when the Cardinals hit a remarkable .330 with runners in scoring position to lead the league by nearly 50 percentage points. But a few more hits at the right times could go a long way, and Jay said the offense isn’t getting frustrated by the missed opportunities.

"Just part of the game," Jay said. "It’s going to happen. We’ve got a lot of baseball to play, so just keep it going."

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.