With each passing game Matt Adams, Oscar Taveras, and Kolten Wong further entrench themselves at their positions and in the starting lineup for the St. Louis Cardinals. Adams, who turns 26 at the end of August, is slugging over .600 in the past week and a half. Wong, 23, has hit three home runs in less than a week since his return from a left shoulder injury. Twenty-two-year-old Taveras’ batting average is beginning to climb after getting better results from batted balls.
What’s one thing they share as hitters? Quick bat speed. All three hitters are lightning-quick on hard pitches inside. They do with those pitches what good hitters are supposed to do–drive them with authority to the pull side. It was especially on display last night in two instances: lefty Justin Wilson threw a fastball low and in to Wong in the seventh inning. Wong deposited it in the Cardinals’ bullpen for a solo blast. Taveras took a low fastball and singled on a sharp ground ball on which first baseman Ike Davis could not make a play, loading the bases in the fourth inning against hard-throwing righty Brandon Cumpton.
All three hitters are able to pull the ball for extra-base hits. Matt Holliday still pulls the ball with authority sometimes, but his power is down precipitously, slugging under .400 so far. Allen Craig simply doesn’t pull hard pitches with power anymore. See Jeff Sullivan’s disheartening piece today on Fangraphs.
Adams can rightfully monopolize time at first base with Craig struggling as he is. Wong should be the regular second baseman going forward. Mark Ellis is a fine piece to have, but he doesn’t supply the pop and speed that Wong offers on the bases and in the field. Taveras takes quality at bats all the time, he just has not yet shown the offensive dynamism we were told he’d provide.
Oscar did reach on a hard hit ball at the third baseman on Tuesday night, on a pitch well out of the strike zone to the outside. The scouting report on Taveras said he had an uncanny ability to barrel up balls almost wherever pitched, a sort of left-handed Vladimir Guerrero. They said he was a hacker. That is not how he has appeared at the major league level thus far. He is quite deliberative in his approach, often looking for pitches in a certain zone to drive. He hasn’t gotten on base at a good rate yet, but with more plate appearances and some luck it could easily rise to league average quickly.
Matt Holliday reached base four times Wednesday night, and Matt Carpenter continues to hit, but it is the performance of the young, lefty hitters that may determine the fate of this year’s edition of the St. Louis Cardinals. Coupled with pitching that seems to amount to enough this season, the high-upside trio of Adams, Taveras, and Wong could take them to October baseball.
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