Defense lets Cards down vs. Marlins

July 6th, 2017

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals entered this season hopeful that their defense would not become the liability it was last year. If that meant sacrificing run creation for better run prevention, it was a trade-off the organization believed worthwhile.

Yet, with a handful of regular starters ailing, the Cardinals went against that approach on Wednesday when they diluted the defense in an attempt to augment the offense. The move backfired, and the resulting unearned runs loomed large in a 9-6 loss to the Marlins that dropped the Cardinals to 5 1/2 games back of the first-place Brewers in the National League Central.

Wednesday marked the third straight game in which manager Mike Matheny pushed Matt Carpenter off first base and over to second in order to create a spot for , who plays only first. And the impact was immediate. Carpenter committed his second error in three games at second base when 's chopper off the end of the bat skipped past him to open the second inning.

"I went left, and the ball went right. It hit the ground and took a bad hop," Carpenter said. "It was a knuckle and probably shouldn't have been an error, to be honest."

The inning was further complicated when JT Riddle's grounder down the first-base line got past Voit. The rookie first baseman hindered his ability to get one out by setting his mind on turning two.

"I rushed it," Voit said. "It kind of top-spun, took a big hop. I probably should have gone home with it, but I was going to try to turn two since I was so close to the bag. But it just took a funny hop and kicked up."

The Marlins turned those two extra outs into five unearned runs, three of which scored on a second home run with two outs.

"Two well-placed balls off the end of the bat, one with a lot of English that was a tough ball to keep in front [for Carpenter]," Matheny said. "Those certainly put us in a situation. But then there were also a couple of really hard-hit balls. You can't ignore those either."

While the Cardinals have lauded Carpenter's willingness to move around the infield, their decision to move him to first base this year was driven by his below-average defensive metrics at second and third. Based on Defensive Runs Saved, second base (-10 DRS) has been Carpenter's worst defensive position.

In comparison, he ranks seventh among all Major League first baseman with a plus-4 DRS.

The Cardinals chose this defensive alignment on a night when they had a contact-inducing pitcher, Mike Leake, on the mound. Leake's ground-ball percentage of 53.9 since 2014 is 11th highest in MLB, and the Cardinals know how imperative a strong defense is to his success.

The club's porous defense in 2016 complicated things so much for Leake that he finished the season with his highest career ERA (4.59) despite posting a career-best 3.83 Fielding Independent Pitching.

"Leake didn't have his best stuff, but he pitched well enough to let us win, and that's all you can ask from your pitcher," outfielder Tommy Pham said. "We have to do a better job of going out there and just playing great mistake-free baseball."

This isn't the first time that the Cardinals have sacrificed defense for the chance at a more potent lineup. Such maneuvering happened back in April, when the Cardinals experimented with Matt Adams in left field. The trial was short-lived. This one may be, too, with the Cardinals set to get second baseman back after the All-Star break.