Sosa, DeJong form SS tandem down stretch

September 12th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals shortstop Edmundo Sosa has recovered from the left wrist injury he sustained Wednesday, but it was Paul DeJong who got the start for Sunday’s series finale against the Reds, just over 12 hours removed from hitting a tide-turning homer in Saturday's 6-4 win over Cincinnati.

Manager Mike Shildt said that the club wants to ensure that Sosa does not sustain a setback in his recovery, but he also acknowledged that time between the two shortstops might be split down the stretch in a “day by day mode,” after Sosa had entrenched himself as the starter through the opening of September as one of the hottest hitters in the National League.

The plan will be fluid, as it’s been for the Cardinals at the shortstop position all season long.

“Some of it has to do with some pitchers that are better for Sosa’s swing path and some of them better for Paulie, so that'll be a factor,” Shildt said. “It’s a good problem, though. Love to have two different guys to move in and out of the lineup.”

That hasn’t always been the case for Shildt. DeJong, very public about his struggles this season to date, has found it a challenge to hit above .200. But his power -- labeled as “easy pop” by his club -- makes him a potent threat when he’s going well.

That played out Saturday, when DeJong’s third-inning blast was a crucial punch back after the Reds blasted a pair of two-run homers the half inning prior. It ultimately incited a comeback, the biggest of the Cardinals’ season against a team they have to win against to claw back into an NL Wild Card spot.

DeJong has slashed just .216/.301/.376 (87 OPS+) over the past two seasons since he was an All-Star in 2019, seeing his role this season shrink dramatically but earning praise for his approach throughout it all.

“It's all hands on deck,” said DeJong, who’s tinkered with his timing and his leg kick to try and get back to form. “We’re just kind of playing that playoff mentality of what can I do right now to help this team?”

Sosa, for his part, has been a spark plug with both his defense and offense. He entered this Reds set with the highest batting average in the NL since Aug. 26 (.400) and owns the highest on the Cardinals since the All-Star break (.333).

Both have performed capably on defense. For DeJong, that’s been the part his manager has leaned on, that despite his offensive struggles his defense has remained up to par. DeJong and Sosa have worked well together, wholly supportive of each other getting their starting chances.

Asked if DeJong’s home run Saturday, after an arguably more important two-walk performance Thursday, could incite him over the remainder of the season, Shildt responded quickly in the affirmative.

The Cardinals could surely use such an incision, with production from their shortstops this year in the middle of the pack by both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs' WAR standards. They don’t quite need an All-Star performance to emerge with the depth of their lineup. But at the very least, they could use their former All-Star to look like his former self.