This season didn’t get off to the best of starts for Kolten Wong—and that’s putting it kindly. While there was nothing notably wrong with his defense, he had a legitimate disappearing act going on at the plate for the first few weeks of the season.
If you’ve ever seen what he can do when he’s going right, it’s frustrating to see Wong struggle. He has the ability to drop your jaw with what he’s capable of doing on a baseball field. And it often seems he’s a momentum player—when he produces one highlight, it’s probable that another is on the way.
When Wong really turns it on, and starts stacking one eye-popping piece of baseball after the next, it’s easy to recall the hype. It’s easy to remember why the Cardinals gave him a contract extension before they had to back in 2016.
Flashing a dose of his superlative range on a pop fly to short right field in the sixth inning on Saturday, Wong began to recapture that swagger. Since then, he’s bottled it up and continued taking frequent swigs from it for the past three games—he's trending up.
“To see him getting that positive, some of that confidence that we’re talking about even with an Ozuna or anybody else,” Matheny said. “It’s amazing how you get a little bit under your sail, how you take off.”
After Wednesday, it’s safe to say Wong’s sails are at full mast.
In the Cardinals' 9-1 win over the Mets, Wong legged out two infield hits and came around to score on both, as his journeys around the bases characterized the small ball style upon which the Cardinals built their lead. Wong’s effort was emblematic of the team’s, as St. Louis pummeled New York into submission with well-timed walks, sacrifices and savvy base running.
Wong's work Wednesday—even better in the field than at the dish—extended his red hot streak to a third straight game. Across those three games, Wong has reached base six times, scoring fives runs and recording so many web gems he’d need his own personal Top 10 segment to highlight them all.
“Oh my gosh, he’s a game changer back there,” Wednesday’s starter Michael Wacha said of Wong. “He turns double plays whenever you’re only expecting to get one out. I thought for sure it was a line drive up the middle on (Wilmer) Flores, but sure enough, I look back, Wong’s right there picking it. That’s an out where I thought it was a hit, so it’s a game changer. Keeps me in there longer and takes the pressure off the pitcher, for sure.”
As he’s said in the past, it’s the ability to impact the game in the field that empowers Wong to do his thing with a bat in his hands, too.
“For me, defense is always the lead,” Wong said. “If I’m playing good defense, my offense is always going to follow, so I try to do everything I can to help these pitchers and offensively I do whatever I can to help the team.”
Even including this recent burst of success, Wong’s numbers for the young season sag below his career norms; his .196/.308/.286 batting line doesn’t scream impact player. Fortunately for Wong, he doesn't occupy himself with the numbers.
Although momentum clearly tends to multiply for the 27-year-old second baseman, the perception that he relies on extra boosts of confidence more so than the average player isn’t something Wong completely buys. It’s as though fully embracing the narrative would be akin to labeling himself a streaky player. As a veteran of this league, Wong sees himself as more than that.
Beyond emotions, Wong can now lean on past experiences to guide him out of slumps, and thus, create his own confidence.
“Here and there,” Wong said when asked whether he agrees that confidence plays a larger role for his game than it does for the typical big leaguer. “For me, I feed off the fact that I’ve been doing this for a while. I’m not going to panic when it comes down to starting off slow or whatnot. I’ve been here. I’ve gone through the grind, I’ve gone through all that. It’s a matter of me keeping that confidence and knowing how good a player I am.”
Wong knows how good he is. If he keeps up his recent play, he'll make sure the rest of us don't forget.