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Carpenter homers again. Breakout on the way?

Despite veteran's late HR, Cards' lineup tweaks produce only 2 runs
@LangoschMLB
May 25, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- After days spent evaluating the pros, considering the cons and reflecting on whether such a move may be misinterpreted as waning confidence, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt decided before Friday’s series opener against the Braves that it was time to start tweaking. For a team that had lost

ST. LOUIS -- After days spent evaluating the pros, considering the cons and reflecting on whether such a move may be misinterpreted as waning confidence, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt decided before Friday’s series opener against the Braves that it was time to start tweaking.

For a team that had lost 14 of its previous 19 games, status quo could no longer suffice.

Seeking to jump-start an offense that has been sometimes hot, yet too often cold in May, Shildt moved Dexter Fowler up to the leadoff spot and bumped Matt Carpenter down to fifth. But a new look produced the same maddening results, with the Cardinals wasting a quality start from Miles Mikolas in a 5-2 loss at Busch Stadium.

Box score

Ten days after battering Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz for eight runs over 4 2/3 innings, the Cardinals mustered one unearned run in his six-inning start. The loss dropped the Cardinals back to .500 and left them still without consecutive victories in May.

“Things tend to even themselves out, which is why I think myself and guys around the clubhouse aren’t too worried,” said Mikolas, who fell to 4-5. “You have your ups and downs. We’re down right now, but it’s all about getting hot at the right time.”

Many factors have contributed to the team’s steady dive down the National League Central standings, but an inconsistent offense has been a common culprit. Friday marked the 10th time in the team’s last 20 games that it had scored two or fewer runs.

That was the impetus behind Shildt’s first significant batting order change this season and is why he won’t abandon the new look after its uninspiring debut.

“I’m not a knee-jerk guy. I’m not a dig-my-foot-put-my-head-in-the-sand guy, either,” Shildt said in describing the time it took for him to make a change. “We’re confident in this lineup. We changed the complexion of it a little bit. I’m not naïve to the fact that we need to produce more runs consistently based on the last couple weeks.”

A lack of production from the top of the lineup has been particularly conspicuous during that stretch, with Nos. 1 and 2 hitters Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt combining for nine extra-base hits in May. All the while, Fowler continued to reach base at a regular clip. His .413 on-base percentage entering Friday ranked fifth in the NL.

Thus, it was time, the Cardinals concluded, to get Fowler back to a place in the lineup where he had long had success -- the leadoff spot.

“I just think you look at our month of May, clearly we felt it was time to do something different,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “When you look at the success Dex is having, trying to put him up top to get people on base and maybe allow Carp a little bit of a breather. I feel like Carp is getting close, but it was just something we have been discussing internally, and we decided to give it a try.”

Fowler, hitting first for the first time in 13 months, had three strikeouts. He also reached once on a hit by pitch.

Carpenter, who last batted fifth in September 2012, went hitless in his first two at-bats before lacing a leadoff single to open the seventh. He led off again in the ninth and drilled his seventh home run of the year.

“I’m just seeing more consistent at-bats,” Shildt said of his third baseman. “Carp is a feel guy, like a lot of hitters. He feels like he’s getting closer. We’re starting to see swings where he’s starting to get the ball a little more consistently than he has, driving the ball. Those are all positive things that look like we’re trending in the right spot.”

Carpenter’s slow start, though not as pronounced as it was last season, remains at least of mild concern, even as those around the Cardinals point to indicators that suggest he’s emerging from the slump.

Carpenter's .708 OPS is down significantly from last year’s .897 mark, and his batting average has continued to hover around the Mendoza Line all month. But he’s homered in consecutive games for the first time this season and has tallied three multi-hit games in the last week.

“Last year, I got to a point where I just didn’t know what I was doing and felt completely lost,” Carpenter said. “I’ve never really gotten to that point with this season. I just haven’t gotten hot and haven’t gotten a bunch of hits. But I feel like I’m having good at-bats, and I’m walking and seeing the ball. It’s just been different. Not just last year, but typically in my career, the end of May, June, July, August months have always been good, so hopefully it’ll be the same.”

Jenifer Langosch is a senior content manager at MLB.com. She previously covered the Pirates (2007-11) and Cardinals (2012-19). Follow her on Twitter.