Gordo: Newfound offensive depth spurred midseason Cardinals turnaround | Jeff Gordon

These days Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol can play the matchup game with his full selection of hitters.

It doesn’t always work, as the Cardinals demonstrated at Wrigley Field Tuesday afternoon while opening their doubleheader with an exasperating 2-0 loss.

But Marmol can tweak his lineup around the MV2 duo of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado from game to game and inning to inning. He can find optimal opportunities for lefty-killer Albert Pujols.

He can read the room (as well as the team’s steady flow of analytics data) and put players in a position to succeed. He can ride hot streaks, mitigate slumps and provide rest breaks.

The offensive turning point for the Cardinals came during the second week of July, when the team’s least productive hitters stepped up and gave Marmol more to deploy.

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Through July 9 the Cardinals had lost eight of their last 10 games to fall to 45-42. They suffered four shutouts during that span. They trailed the first-place Milwaukee Brewers by 3½ games in the National League Central.

Injuries and/or slumps derailed several key hitters. The bottom of their batting order and their bench sat on the wrong side of the Mendoza Line, hitting below .200: Lars Nootbaar (.158), Edmundo Sosa (.174), Andrew Knizner (.178), Corey Dickerson (.188 ) and Pujols (.198).

Then something happened. The Cardinals stabilized by winning 5 of 7 games before the break — and the Mendoza Club helped lead the way.

Pujols went 5 for 15 with two homers in the five victories. Nootbaar went 4 for 10 with two homers, a double and five RBIs. Dickerson went 5 for 14 with two doubles, a homer and four RBIs. Knizner went 5 for 11 with four RBIs.

Even the rarely-seen Sosa chipped in, going 3 for 8 with a double and three RBIs.

The Cardinals pulled out of their tailspin and went on a 25-9 run that vaulted them past the Brewers and into the division lead.

Goldschmidt and Arenado get much of the credit for that. They got hot at the same time, putting up MVP numbers while applying constant pressure on opposing pitching staffs.

Cardinals position players got healthier, too, which reduced the team’s reliance on the rookie hitters who provided the early season lift. The addition of two capable starting pitchers and a veteran reliever right before the trade deadline gave the team a huge lift.

But don’t underestimate the impact of resurgent hitters.

Nootbaar’s reemergence made it easier for president of baseball operations John Mozeliak to trade outfielder Harrison Bader for starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery, whose value was underscored by his Monday game. And Nootbaar has remained an offensive and defensive catalyst with his full-tilt playing style.

Sosa’s revival allowed Mozeliak to trade him for intriguing left-handed reliever JoJo Romero, who threw two scoreless innings Tuesday. Sosa’s exit created an opportunity for Paul DeJong, who provided a brief power surge upon returning from his remedial session at Triple-A Memphis.

Dickerson hit well enough to buy rookie slugger Juan Yepez more time to recover from his forearm injury and reset his pull-happy hitting approach at Triple-A Memphis.

Knizner hit .280 in July filling in for the injured Yadier Molina. And when Molina’s championship-bound Puerto Rican basketball team pulled him away from the Cardinals, Knizner went 3 for 7 with two walks, a double and four runs scored in victories Saturday and Sunday.

And what more can you say about Albert?

During a stretch of 91 plate appearances since the beginning of July, Pujols posted a slash line of .378/.429/.769 with nine homers. His two blasts against poor Madison Bumgarner Saturday had exit velocities of 105.4 mph and 107.5 mph.

So Marmol has plenty to work with as he manages his offense. On Sunday, he gave Dickerson a start in left field, moved Tyler O’Neill to center field and gave Dylan Carlson a break.

He started Brendan Donovan at third base, giving Arenado a breather in the designated hitter slot. Marmol brought Pujols off the bench to hit for Donovan during the game-winning rally in the seventh inning, then he brought Tommy Edman off the bench to run for Pujols.

Three players filled the No. 2 slots in the batting order and it worked. The trio went 4 for 4 with two runs scored and an RBI in the 6-4 victory.

Pujols played first base Monday, allowing Goldschmidt to catch a breather as the DH. Albert yanked a shoulder-high pitch over the wall to give the Cardinals their 1-0 victory.

Albert moved back to DH in the first half of Tuesday’s doubleheader and produced another double. Alas, the Cardinals failed to deliver key hits against a parade of Cubs pitchers.

The heart of the batting order — Goldschmidt, Arenado and Nolan Gorman — left 13 runners on base. Marmol kept Edman and Tyler O’Neill available to pinch-hit against left-hander Brandon Hughes in the ninth inning … but they, too, failed to come through.

The Cardinals suffered their first shutout loss since before the All-Star break, but this time, it wasn’t for a lack of offensive options.

Cardinals notebook: Oliver Marmol tries mix-and-matchups for spark at several positions


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