After an 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Friday in which the offense failed to score more than two runs for a third straight game, manager Mike Matheny had to do something to rejuvenate his offense.
While most managers across the league tend to put their best hitters toward the 3-4-5 spots in the lineup, Matheny unorthodoxly placed his hottest hitter in the leadoff spot for Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh.
Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals new-old leadoff hitter, went 2-5 in a 4-1 victory Saturday.
This new-look lineup has Carpenter as the leadoff hitter with Jose Martinez following, and Tommy Pham in the three-hole.
Carpenter has gone 6-13 with a pair of home runs in the past three games as the team’s top-of-the-order hitter.
He’s been the hottest Cardinals hitter as of late, with 20 hits in the previous 12 games. Interestingly enough, Carpenter only had 16 hits in the first 34 games of the season before this recent stretch. He’s raised his batting average from .160 to .221 on the year.
Carpenter’s teammates batting behind him have benefited from his ability to get to the opposing pitcher early on, as the Cardinals have averaged just under 20 baserunners per game since.
Martinez, who has seen most of 2018 in the third spot of the lineup, thrived hitting a spot higher in the batting order. Although he may not look like a typical second hitter, his low strikeout rate (30 K in 211 PA), high batting average (.306) and ability to square up the baseball (40.3 percent of contact is 95+ mph) suggest that he has the tools to excel his new spot.
One reason the Cardinals’ offense looks better with Carpenter and Martinez heading the lineup is the ability to have more runners on base for power-hitters Tommy Pham, Marcell Ozuna and Jed Gyorko.
While Carpenter and Martinez can certainly provide some power of their own (six and five HR respectively), the latter part of the recent St. Louis batting order has the ability to do some real damage with runners in scoring position. Both Ozuna and Gyorko have benefited, totaling for three RBI in Sunday’s 6-4 win.
Pham has been struggling as of late, picking up two hits in the past seven games, but all indications point towards this being a classic slump every hitter goes through.
He ranks sixth in the Majors in hard-hit percentage at 53.4 percent — a stat that tracks balls hit over 95 miles-per-hour. Pham also ranks eighth in the league in average exit velocity with 93.3 miles-per-hour.
While he’s struggling, his hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity suggest he’ll continue to hit the ball hard and eventually break out of his recent slump.
If Carpenter and Martinez can continue to stay hot, the Cardinals could have a scary 1-2-3 punch to start out games.
Jack Parodi covers the St. Louis Cardinals and you can find him on Twitter @jack_parodi