NEW YORK — When Jedd Gyorko swung at Noah Syndergaard‘s navel-high 98 mph fastball and yanked it into Citi Field’s left-field stands in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader — a 3-2 win for the Cardinals — it hinted at the rare length of the St. Louis lineup and a balance of power the game has rarely seen.
When he swung at Bartolo Colon’s 84 mph sinker and hit it to a similar location in Game 2, a 3-1 St. Louis loss, it spoke to how hot Gyorko is at the plate. The utility infielder with a welder’s physique has homered in six of his past nine games. His seven home runs since July 18 — in just 32 at-bats — are the most in the majors.
“I don’t think people realize how good a player he is,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
They probably don’t realize how dangerous several of these Cardinals hitters are. The second blast was Gyorko’s 14th of the season. His power has been in the middle of a steady rain of Cardinals home runs from all corners of their lineup and bench. With 62 games left in their schedule, they have as many home runs this season (137) as they had all of last season.
What is unique about this team’s power is how diffuse it is. If Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk can manage to hit eight home runs each in the team’s final 62 games and the other players continue on their current paces, the Cardinals would have eight players hit at least 20 home runs this season. No team has ever done that.
Five teams, the most recent being the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays, have had seven 20-home run hitters, the major league record. The Cardinals play in a stadium that tends to suppress power. The Blue Jays play in a launching pad.
Rather than have all their power concentrated in two or three batters, the Cardinals have it sprinkled throughout the lineup. Two of their leading home run hitters, Matt Carpenter (14) and Brandon Moss (17), are on the disabled list but expected back in the next week or so.
“Up and down the lineup, you’ve got guys on any given night who can go out and hit the ball over the fence,” Gyorko said. “That’s a luxury to have. Any guy in the lineup can change a game.”
In Gyorko’s rookie season, the best of his career until now, he hit 23 home runs for the San Diego Padres.
And the Cardinals had little idea how much power Aledmys Diaz would provide. He never hit more than 12 in the Cuban leagues or 13 in the minor leagues. He has 13 in this his rookie season, with more than two months left to go.
It is the production from players such as Gyorko and Diaz that has made the Cardinals the formidable offense their fans weren’t expecting and their front office was hoping for.
“It’s been nice the power we have. We’ve got a number of guys with 20-plus home run potential and that’s something not something every team can say,” Matheny said.
And yet brawn alone hasn’t been enough to carry the Cardinals as far as they would like. They remain stuck too close to mediocrity, at 53-47, after Tuesday’s split. Their starting pitching has been better since the start of June, but short starts from both starters on Tuesday put more strain on the bullpen.
Carlos Martinez seemed perplexed and exasperated by the strike zone of plate umpire Stu Scheurwater, particularly in the fourth inning. On a 2-1 curveball in the vicinity of the inside edge of the zone, Scheurwater called it a ball, causing Martinez to drop to his knees. His next pitch left the ballpark off the bat of Mets catcher Rene Rivera to cut the Cardinals lead to 3-2. Later, Martinez started walking off the mound because he thought he had struck out Yoenis Cespedes, but Scheurwater didn’t call that one a strike, either. After Cespedes grounded out, Yadier Molina walked over to Martinez near the line, put his arm around him and had a few things to say.
Martinez insisted he didn’t lose his focus at any point amid the non-calls, but Matheny said, “We’ve talked about it. His emotions are a good thing. He’s just got to know when to harness them.”
“I think I was feeling better and better as the game was going on, but I understood the situation and why he pinch hit,” Garcia said.
Hazelbaker grounded out, which fit into the pattern. Nothing worked Tuesday against Colon. The stout 43-year old flummoxed the Cardinals with his low-80s sinkers and ability to put the ball where he intends it.
Colon only needed 87 pitches to get through seven innings and strike out eight Cardinals, while allowing just three hits.
“He was getting a little bit off the plate, and any time he can get those calls, it’s going to make him really tough, just because that ball has so much movement; as a righty it’s hard to commit to it, and as a lefty it’s hard to pull the trigger,” Gyorko said of Colon. “Any time he’s got that command, he’s going to be pretty good.”