Polanco shows off his tools
On July 5, Neal Huntington met with the media in the hallway behind the press box. At the time, Gregory Polanco was struggling and some outside of the team were suggesting that perhaps the young right fielder needed to return to Triple-A to regain his confidence. He owned a .637 OPS and ranked as one of the least productive corner outfielders in the game. Huntington was asked point-blank whether he was committed to having Polanco work through his offensive challenges at the major league level, or if he was open to giving him a minor-league stint. Huntington responded quickly and confidently, "It hasn't even been a conversation."
That afternoon Polanco went 0-for-3 and and it looked like the narrative of Polanco-to-the-minors might have legs, even if people in organization weren't thinking about it.
But just as things seem to go with this team this year and, indeed, with this franchise the last couple of years, precisely when some of us on the outside started to feel some righteous indignation over some decision the organization had made, that decision started to pay dividends.
After another big day at the plate, Polanco is now batting .326/.391/.502 in 207 plate appearances since July 6. In the last 30 days, he has contributed 1.4 WAR and trails only Andrew McCutchen in that span.
On Friday night Polanco didn't just hit, he did it all. As Clint Hurdle said afterwards, "He showed all the tools."
The damage at the plate amounted to three hits, two runs scored, a double and a RBI. On the bases, he stole second and legged out a double on a close play. Both extra bases turned into runs. In the field, Polanco perfectly played a fly ball off the Clemente Wall and returned it to the infield in time to capture Nick Hundley between first and second. Then in the eighth he cut down the potential go-ahead run by throwing out the speedy Jose Reyes as he tried to score from third on a fly ball.
"Greg's confidence continues to grow," Hurdle said, "He's refining his game through hard work everyday, through his routine and practice. He's getting his opportunities in games and he's nailing it come game time. In high-leverage situations, he's just nailing it."
For his part, Polanco said that he's never felt like this playing baseball before. When he was asked if this is the most confident he's ever felt playing the game, he smiled broadly.
"Oh, never," he said. "Right now I'm very confident. I put in good work every day to try to stay like that."
More ideas for using Blanton
Joe Blanton's success is generating new and interesting ideas about how to use him from reporters.
Last homestand Hurdle was asked if he would be open to starting the right-hander. "I don't know. We'll see," was his response.
This afternoon, reporters inquired whether Blanton will be considered for shorter, high-leverage situations later in ballgames.
"That's what I love about everybody in the game and the fans," Hurdle replied with a smirk. "The better [a player] does, the more they should do something else."
Hurdle didn't completely dismiss the idea, however, telling the media to "stay tuned and see how we work it out."
A.J. Burnett completed another bullpen assignment on Thursday and he mixed in some breaking balls for the first time during his rehab. He is scheduled to pitch a three-inning simulated game Sunday morning.
Cardinals doing it again
In 2013, the Cardinals posted the highest batting average (.330) with runners in scoring position in the history of the statistic. Timely hitting was largely responsible for the Cardinals outperforming their expected run total by 68 runs (wRC = 715, actual runs = 783). It also helped them win the National League Central by three games over the Pirates.
This year the Cardinals are once again performing at historic levels with runners on scoring position, but with one big difference. St. Louis pitchers are limiting opponents to the second-lowest batting average with RISP in history at .198. Timely outs have put the Cardinals on pace to post the highest strand rate, 80.4 percent, yet recorded. More importantly, the Cardinals' historic ways are once again responsible for much of the 4.5 games of cushion they enjoy over the Pirates.