Tommy and Mags–it sounds like a perfect name for a buddy cop flick, but for the Cardinals, it’s been the magical injection of speed and athleticism that has helped catapult the team to its current standing in first place of the NL Central.
When the Cards came back to Busch Stadium Friday, they were riding a six-game winning streak, during which contributions by Tommy Pham and Magneuris Sierra were unmistakable. With Pham on the fritz and Sierra on the bench that night against the defending world champion Cubs, the Cardinals dropped a close contest that snapped the streak.
Saturday looked like a throwback to that previous road trip. Pham bounced back to wreak havoc on Jon Lester; Sierra returned to the starting lineup to lend a hand, too, as the Cardinals beat the Cubs 5-3 Saturday at Busch Stadium.
The streaking duo has proven to be a real handful for the opposition.
“I think both of them have that component of speed that will disrupt a team,” Mike Matheny said. “You see different defensive plays. You see, sometimes, different pitches to the guys that are in the box when they’re on base. That sort of stuff, it subtly makes a big difference. We just gotta keep them aggressive and get them on base.”
To get them on base, the skipper has to get–and keep–Pham and Sierra in the daily lineup. At least until such time that the cool-down commences.
St. Louis is 7-1 when Pham plays, and 5-0 when Sierra does. How comical do those hot takes on outfield depth from a week and a half ago look now?
That sample size, of course, is far from reliable, but the recent trend is clear: when these two play, the Cardinals win. When Sierra sat and Pham struggled Friday, they didn’t.
The infusion of two relatively inexperienced outfielders has brought a new, exciting flavor to what the St. Louis offense can be.
Sierra hadn’t appeared beyond High-A as recently as two weeks ago; the book is still very much out on him. But in the view of his manager, Sierra’s raw talent is there, as is the demeanor necessary for growth.
“He’s unflappable, I really do think so,” Matheny said. “He’s got a simple approach and a simple concept of what he wants to do. You see how aggressively he’s going after balls; I think that’s great how he plays defensively. He’s always looking for that base on the bases–nice to have a player like that. He’s got a whole lot more in there–whether its power, grinding out at-bats. He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s conscientious and he wants to learn.”
Much of that learning will come for Sierra in the minor leagues–he’s not going to stay in St. Louis forever. Stephen Piscotty and Jhonny Peralta are progressing in their returns from the disabled list, so despite his production, Sierra’s stay could be short-lived.
To a greater extent, Pham has the ability to decide whether he can become a more permanent fixture on the roster and in the lineup. After an unceremonious conclusion to his 2016 campaign carried over into missing the Opening Day roster in favor of Jose Martinez, Pham is just trying to keep his head down and produce when called upon.
“Opportunities tend to create themselves,” Pham said. “That’s kind of how this industry works. I’m just trying to make sure I’m ready.”
An injury to Martinez allowed him to slide a crowbar into the window of opportunity. With his batting line of .387/.486/.806 in 37 plate appearances for St. Louis this season, Pham has a chance to pry that window wide open for good–something that has previously evaded him in his up-and-down career.
“When I get a good pitch to hit, I’m trying not to miss it,” Pham said. “I felt like last year at the end of the season, I got in trouble because I was chasing more and I wasn’t doing a good job hitting the fastball. This year, I’m doing a better job handling the heater, and that’s helping.”
Tommy and Mags, each at a different stage of a potentially budding playing career. Can either (or both) keep up over the long haul that which has carried the Cardinals for a brief stint?
Perhaps not. But for as long as their contributions continue to influence the win column for their team in the standings, they should have every opportunity to prove otherwise.