19. St. Louis Cardinals (31–37, minus-16, LT: 15)
The Cardinals offense has disappointed for much of the season, with injuries and unexpected performance dips waylaying several players projected to be major contributors. But lately, they might have hit on an answer to their problems. Granted, the move the Cards made and the resulting surge by the two players affected is almost certain a matter of correlation rather than causation. Still, if flipping Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler is going to turn both of them into sudden Triple Crown contenders, there’s no way manager Mike Matheny’s going to do anything other than let it ride.
On June 6, the Reds annihilated the Cardinals 13–1. Leading off that game, Fowler went 0 for 2 before getting taken out early, in the process dropping his season line to .222/.317/.423. Batting second in that game, Carpenter fared even worse, going 0 for 4 and sliding to .209/.341/.396. Both those batting lines were well below what the Cardinals hoped to see, and well below each player’s historical norms. A shoulder injury helped explain some of Fowler’s struggles, while Carpenter seemed like the only hitter on Earth who’d gotten worse in the everybody-swing-for-the-fences era...possibly because he’d started swinging for the fences sooner than almost everyone else. Whatever was going on, Matheny figured a change was in order. So the skipper had his two top-of-the-order hitters switch spots, with Carpenter climbing to leadoff and Fowler (after a day off) settling in at number two.
The gambit has worked beautifully. In 12 games since making the switch, Carpenter’s batting an off-the-charts .405/.528/.857, with four homers, 11 runs batted in, 10 walks, and 12 runs scored. Over that 12-game span, Fowler’s batted .410/.477/.872, cranking five homers and knocking in 15. The Cards’ 1–2 punch suddenly looks like one of baseball’s best symbiotic relationships: Carpenter and Fowler are tied for the team home-run lead with 13, and trail only the Brewers and Cubs for most homers from the top two spots in the order this season. Fowler is particularly scorching hot right now, homering in four straight games, with two of those blasts driving in Carpenter.
The newly rejuvenated dynamic duo hasn’t helped the team’s overall fortunes, with the Cards going 5–7 during this 12-game experiment. But for a ballclub looking for any kind of spark they can get right now, having the top two hitters in the lineup raking every night certainly doesn’t hurt.