Where, oh where, have the Cardinals’ deep balls gone?
ST. LOUIS — Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the construction of Ballpark Village. Maybe it’s the players. Or, likely, it’s all of the above.
Whatever the reasons, this is certain: The Cardinals aren’t hitting as many homers this season, most noticeably at home.
The numbers, please:
The Cardinals hit 159 homers in 2012, the 17th most in the majors. They are on pace to hit 125 this year and they rank 27th.
The Cardinals hit 76 homers at home in 2012. They are on pace for 56 this season. Opponents hit 64 homers at Busch last year. They are on pace for 49 this season. Those differences are too great to pass off as outlier, to borrow a term used by general manager John Mozeliak.
If manager Mike Matheny has a theory, he has yet to share it. Asked about the team’s lack of homers Thursday, he brushed it off as a superstition.
“I want you to talk about that,” he said Thursday. “The last time you guys (media) did, we hit like six in two days.”
Slugger Matt Holliday, who hit two of the team’s four homers on their just completed 4-6 homestand, believes an unusually mild summer that has followed last year’s scorcher has held down the power numbers.
So, the ball carries better in the hot summer air?
“It’s not even close,” he said. “Taking batting practice (this year), when you see the flags blowing in, it’s tough to hit a ball out there. A lot of balls hang up and cost you doubles. It hurts rallies. It really takes away some of the big innings when you hit balls that you think should be doubles or home runs and they turn out to be outs.
“Both teams are hitting in the same weather so there’s no excuse, but that could be why we haven’t hit as many home runs as we’ve hit in the past.”
With long-awaited Ballpark Village rising beyond the center-field gates, maybe the wind currents somehow have shifted and that’s held down homers.
“I would doubt it,” Mozeliak said. “But I don’t think we have any answer why.”
When completed, the building would seem to be in a position to block the wind and allow the ball to travel farther. For now, though, based on the flapping of the flags, the wind often is blowing in from center field.
Of course, Ballpark Village doesn’t explain why Cardinals homers also are down on the road. They hit 83 homers outside of Busch; this year, they’re on pace for 69.
So there must be another possible explanation, right? Well, how about the players? Specifically, their approach of grinding out at-bats and taking what the pitcher gives them.
Teams that typically hit a lot of homers also are teams that strike out a lot because they’re trying to pull pitches. Their lineups are stocked with players who swing for the fences even when they have two strikes. But while the Cardinals have hit the fourth-fewest homers in the majors, they also have the fourth-fewest strikeouts. They finished with the 20th most strikeouts last year while ranking 17th in home runs.
Guys like Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina are not power hitters as much as they are line-drive hitters. They don’t try to hit home runs; their goal is to hit the ball hard. Craig and Molina are particularly adept at hitting to the opposite field. The Cardinals are second in the majors in doubles.
Though they had a similar approach when Mark McGwire was hitting coach, they seem to have taken it to another level under John Mabry and Bengie Molina.
The result is a deep lineup that has shown an uncanny knack for hitting with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals’ majors-leading .333 RISP average is, in fact, 60 points higher than their overall team average.
“You have to do whatever you can to try to make something happen,” Matheny said. “Like take advantage of the little things. We’ve had a lot of opportunities we’ve missed (lately), getting bunts, getting guys over, getting ’em in. Those are things we did early on very consistently. They’re things we’re going to have to do consistently the rest of the way.”
Because, whatever the reason, he’s not relying on a surge in home runs.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.