A sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. Winning just five of their last 18 games. After what was acknowledged as a “tough” week by Mike Matheny, the weekend did not get any easier for the St. Louis Cardinals.
And while there are plenty of reasons as to why the team has struggled, Matt Carpenter had a particularly rough stretch of late.
In his last 20 games, he hit just .137 (10-73) with 21 strikeouts. Carpenter has no RBIs in his last 12 games. This comes after hitting 9 home runs and driving in 27 runs to start the season.
“It’s impossible to describe the feel,” said Matheny before the road trip. “He’s trying to find that right now. He can’t explain it exactly, but there’s just something that is a click off. And once that feel gets there, then it’s something you can ride for a while.”
“That’s well put,” agreed Carpenter later in the afternoon. “I don’t really — there’s no, like science behind it. You just know that it’s still early, you’re hitting balls hard, and they’ll start finding holes.”
Of course, it is early — still the first week of June. And Carpenter should have another 400 at-bats to get his numbers back up to the customary level. So too for the St. Louis Cardinals, who even after the sweep by Chicago and a sub-.500 record find themselves only 2.5 games in back of Milwaukee in the NL Central.
“We don’t feel anything — pressure, panic, just playing the game and knowing that it’s a long season ahead of us,” said Carpenter of the team’s struggles.
But a third of the season is complete.
Photos: Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter
And those struggles could be more real than he’s letting on as there may have been at least one recent occasion where a pair of batting gloves were donned for a session in the cage.
But the answer could really be much more simple than that.
This isn’t the first time Carpenter has gone through a prolonged funk at the plate. In 2015, he had a 45-game skid of hitting just .179 (28-156).
“Honestly, hitting is hard,” said Carpenter at the time. “There’s no real rhyme or reason — just go through it. You don’t realize it, and you don’t even know what it is until you get out of it and you’re like ‘Oh, I was doing this’ but when you’re going through, you have no idea. That’s part of it.”
But after that slump, Carpenter finished the season by hitting .300 and he drew 27 walks.
“Every season I’ve ever had, at any level — minor leagues, college — you go through patches where you don’t feel good at the plate,” he continued. “You’ve just got to find a way to fight out of it. If you can work walks and work a couple singles and do that, that’s how you have good seasons is if you can shorten that time.”
To start this season, Carpenter drew 28 walks in 132 plate appearances — just over 21%. During this current slump, he’s down to 7 walks in 83 plate appearances, less than 10%.
As Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith shared in our recent conversation about his own work at the plate, “when we would go down into the batting cage, one of the first things Mr. Ricketts would say is ‘OK, all I want you to do is watch the ball’. Before you even swing, you’ve got to watch it because if you don’t see it — the body reacts to what it sees. If you’re not seeing it, well the timing and everything’s off. So that’s the first thing, you’ve got to concentrate on seeing it.”
Seems like that worked in 2015 for Carpenter and perhaps could help get things on track again now.