Kolten Wong has never played this many games before. He’s never had this many at-bats, never trotted out to second base this many times in one calendar year. Acclimating oneself to the grind of an entire regular season is one of the toughest hurdles a Major Leaguer has to overcome. It also has little to do with talent. The mental strain of a 162-game season is just as daunting as the physical ailments than can pile up with that much activity.
The St. Louis Cardinals have just nine games remaining before they enter the postseason as favorites to reach the World Series — again. The Cards are an amazing case study in consistency, They’ve won at least 90 games in three straight seasons and at least 86 for the past eight years.
Wong became a big part of the offense and suited up for 113 games in 2014, but he’s gone well beyond that total with 143 games played entering today’s action. After an All-Star caliber first half, Wong’s productivity tailed off drastically, but the UH product begun to turn things around before the most important time of the year.
After a scorching hot month of May that ended with an .889 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), Wong saw his OPS dip to .759 in June, .629 in July and all the way to .507 in August. He has 11 home runs on the season, but hasn’t hit one since July 27.
While St. Louis hasn’t seen such a drastic decline as a team, the Cards are definitely better when Wong is hitting. He has an OPS of .808 in victories, which plummets to just .541 in losses. If they hope to at least reach their fifth consecutive National League Championship Series, getting some offense from Wong’s spot in the lineup would seem to be a step in the right direction. His production of late is an indication that he may be trending back upwards.
After hitting .202 in August, he’s back up to .273 in September and his on-base percentage is up almost 100 points this month over last. Statistically, he’s been back to his early-season form in place of his summer swoon.
Baseball is such a streaky game that playing the trends is usually a fair predictor of success. If a hitter starts to get hot at the plate, they will frequently continue to rake before gradually regressing to the mean. If a player starts having bad swings and isn’t making solid contact, that doesn’t typically correct itself quickly. Whatever the reason is, there is a reason. Maybe a nagging wrist injury has gotten worse or better. Maybe they’ve developed or corrected a small hitch in their swing. Maybe they’ve begun or ended a relationship.
But baseball trends are a lot less random than one might think. That’s why St. Louis should feel encouraged by Wong’s recent success. If he is on his way back to being an All-Star level hitter, that’s just another weapon at the Cards’ disposal to keep them at the top of the totem pole.
With only one week left in the season, things may be reassembling perfectly for both Wong and St. Louis.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.