The St. Louis Cardinals lost one a spot for one of their many sluggers Friday when they mercifully returned to Busch Stadium to face the Miami Marlins. The loss of the designated hitter in their return to National League play might actually help the team.
The Cardinals 6-5 Independence Day loss on Thursday to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim finished the worst two-week stretch of the Cardinals’ 2013 season.
They went 2-8 against nearly the entire American League West Division. The Texas Rangers swept the Cardinals at home, the Houston Astros split a two-game series in Houston, and the Cardinals lost two of three on the road to the Oakland A’s and the Angels.
The Cardinals had the designated hitter available for all of those games except the three against Texas since the rest were played in American League ballparks, but the Cardinals were actually worse with the extra hitter. They lost a key bat off the bench, and the DH created an unbalanced lineup that disrupted what had been the National League’s best team.
The Cardinals scored four or fewer runs in six of the recent 10 games against the American League teams, but the larger factor was how much the designated hitter disrupted the team’s lineup, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny still couldn’t get all of his hitters regular at-bats.
For much of the season, the pitcher’s spot appeared to be a roadblock that simply didn’t allow first baseman Matt Adams to play every day. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 260 pounds, Adams has the look of a designated hitter. He could walk up to the plate four times a day, hit a homerun, get a base hit and his team would get a win more often than not.
But that wasn’t how interleague play worked out this season. Adams went 7-for-30, including six starts, in those 10 games, but rightfielder Carlos Beltran, first baseman Allen Craig, third baseman David Freese or leftfielder Matt Holliday were often placed in the DH role while Adams played first.
Holliday had a pinched nerve in his neck during the series against the Angels, and Matheny surely wanted to give the other hitters half a day off while he could, but the disjointed lineup showed on the field as the Cardinals made seven errors in those 10 games, or nearly one-third of the 36 errors they have committed this season.
Plus, Matheny shuffled the batting order to try to fit in the extra bat. All of a sudden catcher Yadier Molina was a regular sight in the No. 2 spot and Holliday dropped to the No. 5 spot.
Second baseman Matt Carpenter was about the only hitter not moved from his regular spot atop the lineup, and he mashed during the 10-game stretch, hitting .340 with eight hits for extra bases and 10 runs batted in.
The Cardinals lineup returned to normal Friday outside of a day off for Beltran to rest. Centerfielder Jon Jay filled the No. 2 spot, and the team broke out for four runs in the first three innings to establish their lead for a 4-1 win.
The lineup felt comfortable again, and it will be even more so with Beltran as a regular presence near the top of the order. Yes, Matheny will still have to be creative to get Adams enough at-bats, but the Cardinals played 20 games above .500 with that problem. They were six games under .500 when American League rules allowed the team an extra hitter.
The Cardinals have enough good hitters to produce an American League lineup, but as a whole they are still a National League team. Perhaps they can get back to their dominating ways now that they’re back in their own league.