Rarely has a baseball team demonstrated regression to the mean as unrealistically—as oversimplistically—as these St. Louis Cardinals. Unrealistically because they’ve basically operated like a game of Lights Out, with the guys who powered the first half of the season going dim just as the ones who’d slumped brighten up.
Witness, then, the return of Jon Jay—after a season in the dumps he’s nearly clawed his way back to league average. In the second half he’s hitting .325/.375/.438; since the start of the Cardinals’ most conspicuous losing streak he’s hit .349/.400/.444 in 16 starts. (Because it wouldn’t be a Jon Jay season without a low-grade state of panic about his average on balls in play, he’s also struck out a team-leading 17 times.)
He’s joined by Matt Holliday, who’s hit .403/.486/.565 since the losing streak began, driving in 12 runs and scoring 13 himself. (If you’re keeping track, he’s also hitting .319/.412/.496 since I asked if it was time to start worrying about his decline phase. [Is it time to start worrying about the Cardinals never winning again? My column:])
Holliday is the unclutch bodhisattva. With every new twist in the Matt Holliday legend he forces us to ask stranger and more abstruse questions about the nature of unclutchness, because he knows it will push us closer to enlightenment.
Is it unclutch to be the only effective hitter on a team that is 5–13? That’s the wrong question. What is the value of one guy hitting?
Whatever the answer—I will have to be reincarnated as a number of other semipro bloggers before I am able to understand—Holliday is climbing toward his own career averages, which means he’s chosen stay on this earth to tend to the spiritual needs of sports radio callers for another few years. If the decline in his defensive value is real it could be a problem, but the bat remains.
In the meantime, the Cardinals have been without Yadier Molina; they’ve watched Matt Carpenter deal with the worst slump of his brief career; they’ve seen Allen Craig slow down and Pete Kozma, somehow, struggle more than usual.
If Allen Craig and Matt Holliday are actually a matched set of radio buttons, the Cardinals are in trouble. If they aren’t, it’s just another way of illustrating the Cardinals’ ugly run—when you’re not hitting home runs, and each hot hand is bordered by two automatic outs, there’s not a lot of offensive resilience to be had.