Speaking on the pitching following Tuesday’s loss to Cleveland -- specifically Carlos Martínez’s five earned runs across four innings, three of which came via a home run -- Cardinals manager Mike Shildt let out a subtle exasperation of equal parts disappointment and ambition:
“We need our own three-run homer on our side,” he said. “Or a couple of them.”
His team desperately does. One of the better slugging teams in the National League through the first two months of the season, St. Louis has seen just four balls leave the yard over seven games in the month of June after rattling off 10 in as many games to close out May. And the losses have arrived in connection with that power outage.
In fact, amid this current skid, which has grown to 6-12 over their last 18 games, the Cardinals have rapped just 15 homers -- one-third of which have come from Tyler O’Neill alone -- including eight games with zero. St. Louis has lost each of those homerless games save for one, when O’Neill tracked down a drive from the Dodgers' Mookie Betts that was destined to walk things off in Los Angeles.
By the numbers, on the season entering Wednesday’s series finale against Cleveland, the Cardinals are:
• 5-16 when they don’t hit a home run
• 26-14 when they do
• 14-6 when they hit multiple
“We want a holistic approach,” Shildt said Wednesday. “... We look to be opportunistic in every way shape or form, and right now, the opportunities haven't been as consistent as we'd like. But we, clearly, have been able to do it, and [we] will do it again.”
Most concerning about the drying home run trend is that the strikeouts have risen in conjunction; St. Louis has been tagged for double-digit whiffs in six of its past seven games after doing the same just three times in the 15 games prior.
Trends throughout baseball would seem to suggest that as homers go down, so do strikeout rates, with hitters selling out less for the long ball. That may be what makes the confluence of trends all the more glaring.
“I don't want, nor will anybody on this club, to alibi anything, but we also can't turn away from the fact that we have faced some of the best pitchers in baseball in Chicago, Los Angeles and the series we’re in last night with [Shane] Bieber,” Shildt said. “ … I think that's a contributing factor, and we just haven't been able to get swings that have been able to consistently get balls out of the ballpark.”
The Cardinals have gleaned some positive developments in spite of the downward homer trend -- such as a single, stolen base and RBI single in the ninth inning to win their last game, June 1 in Los Angeles; a home run merely kick-starting what became a small-ball seven-run inning on Sunday; and some players finding more of their footing in small steps, with Paul Goldschmidt slashing .364/.440/.636 over his last seven games entering Wednesday.
That’s part of what made Shildt also decree that he believes his club is just around the corner from “getting hot.” So if the homers start to pick up in tandem, don’t be surprised.
“Being able to score with homers is instant gratification -- and you got to make sure you touch the bases,” Shildt quipped, a day after a Pirates homer was disallowed because Ke'Bryan Hayes missed first base. “But otherwise, you're in pretty good shape.”