WASHINGTON -- The Cardinals’ offense, through the first 15 games this season was the epitome of touch-and-go. Entering Monday’s series opener against the Nationals, they have scored a respectable 71 runs, but nearly 50 percent of them came across a mere three games. Spin that another way -- St. Louis had scored five or fewer runs 10 times.
Feast or famine? Not when Paul DeJong arrives at Nationals Park hungry.
DeJong unloaded a pair of blasts in the 12-5 drubbing of the Nats, including a grand slam in the fifth inning as part of a five-homer day for the Cards -- their season high as a team. DeJong’s jacks came in concert with back-to-back blasts by Tommy Edman and Paul Goldschmidt, as well as a laser off the bat of Justin Williams, continuing the welcome pattern of run support for Jack Flaherty.
“That’s the kind of baseball we expect to play,” said manager Mike Shildt. “Good offense, get some runs and then pitch. Get the lead, then add on and play good defense.”
No player may be more indicative of the Cardinals’ offense as a whole than DeJong, who owns 10 hits through his first 53 at-bats. Half of them have gone for homers.
“I saw something earlier today that home runs are pitched and not hit,” DeJong said.
What does that mean? It’s along the lines of what made Ted Williams a baseball legend.
“Getting a good pitch to hit is the No. 1 rule of hitting,” DeJong said.
That means taking the balls when they give them to you, fouling off those close pitches when you can and not going outside your mechanics.
“The more pitches [a pitcher] throws, the more pitches that are going to be in the middle -- and better chance you can hit one hard,” DeJong said.
Truth be told, DeJong didn’t really need any of that on Monday.
The first homer DeJong hit -- a solo shot to open the scoring in the second -- was inside, as he turned on a sinker from Nationals starter Joe Ross. The second -- the grand slam in the fifth that lofted into the D.C. night and out -- came on an elevated 1-0 four-seamer up in the zone that missed the low-and-away target.
And that DeJong sandwiched the homers with a six-pitch walk may have been the best sign after his rough start to the year, having entered the day hitting .163 (8-for-49).
“He's got easy power,” Shildt said. “Thing about Paulie, I love watching all our guys take BP, but I’ve always been impressed by Paulie, ever since the first time in a Cardinal uniform I watched him take BP.”
No one may be more on the right end of the Cardinals’ feasting tendencies than Flaherty, who tossed a quality start on Monday and has received 44 runs of support across his four outings this season.
True is the fact that Flaherty was hit around in the sixth inning -- when staked to an 11-2 lead, he conceded a trio of unearned runs, pitching past a visit of Shildt to his 102 on the night. But also true is this -- only one Cardinals starter has thrown a quality start (Flaherty, who’s done so twice), and only one has thrown a pitch into the sixth inning (Flaherty, also twice).
“Quality start is a funny stat,” said Flaherty, who became the fastest Cardinal to reach 500 strikeouts in the third inning. “I forget what it turns out to, but it's like if you throw a quality start in every single one of your starts, you’d have a 4.50 ERA or so. … For certain guys in the league, that’s good enough, but we're trying to go deeper into games.”
Most important about the Cardinals’ Monday night showing is who they did it against. Not only was it the World Series champs of two years prior -- finally finding some vengeance for the 2019 NLCS -- but it was against a pitcher who simply befuddled them his last time out.
It was against Ross, the right-hander who owned 11 scoreless frames to open the season, six of which came amid a Cards blanking at Busch Stadium on Wednesday.
“We just got through having a conversation about Mr. Ross,” Shildt told reporters pregame. “And I feel good about it.”
Call that plan a smashing -- and homer-bashing -- success.