Filter:

Former Woodchuck Paul DeJong Catalyzing Redbirds

Former Woodchuck Paul DeJong Catalyzing Redbirds

St. Louis Cardinals shortstop and former Wisconsin Woodchuck Paul DeJong has dealt with injuries and inconsistencies in 2021. But his mid-summer renaissance is turning heads in the Show-Me State and keeping the National League Central club in the thick of the standings as Major League Baseball descends into its second half.

His .205 batting average this season is deceptive. DeJong was placed on the injured list May 14 with a rib fracture, having hit just .177 in the then-young season. But as the baseball world marches head-on into the dog days, the fifth-year veteran is looking fresher than ever before.

In a fragment of the calendar when the baseball appears smaller to hitters’ eyes and the legs feel heavier on baserunners, DeJong is hitting .356 over his last 15 games. In his last seven appearances, he boasts a .455/.478/.909 slash line with three homers in the matching timeframe.

DeJong’s solo home run in the Cardinals’ 2-1 win over the Giants at Busch Stadium Sunday was decisive on an afternoon where fellow former Woodchuck Darin Ruf also homered for San Francisco. The win saw the Cards clinch the three-game series over MLB’s best team by record.

What’s behind DeJong’s surge in production?

“For the most part, it’s been better managing my own expectations, little by little, kind of crawling into what I know I can do out there, as opposed to trying to bite it all off in one piece,” DeJong said to MLB.com on July 17. “… The opportunities are going to be there constantly, so being able to live moment to moment, I think it’s a little easier at this point.”

But for DeJong, it’s about the franchise’s expectations just as much as his own.

“You look at [DeJong], we hope that we can get him to go where we think he’s capable of going,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Friday on MLB.com. “Overall, we have some optimism there. But now you’ve got to do it.”

There’s little suggesting that DeJong’s statistical surge is but a blip on the radar screen. After all, the infield slugger hit 30 homers and was an MLB All-Star in 2019–baseball’s most recent full season.

DeJong will look to continue his hot form as the Cardinals welcome division rival Chicago Cubs to St. Louis for a four-game series commencing Monday night. Both clubs sit identically at 46-47 on the year and seven and a half games back in the wild card race. With 69 contests remaining on the slate, there is time to make a playoff push, but the sense of urgency is elevated. DeJong knows this.

“I think I’m just finally settling into playing baseball every day,” DeJong said through MLB.com. “We got a whole second half ahead of us, so I just see the potential.”

DeJong was born in Orlando, Fla. before growing up and graduating from Antioch Community High School north of Chicago. Enrolling at Illinois State University, he logged a .326 batting average at the Ohio Valley Conference institution. DeJong played for the Woodchucks in 2014 alongside fellow future big leaguer Ka’ai Tom. In 69 games with the Wausau club, DeJong slashed .277/.373/.558 with 20 home runs en route to leading the Chucks to the Northwoods League playoffs.

Selected by St. Louis in the fourth round with the 131st overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, DeJong proceeded through the Cards’ farm system. He was a Double-A All-Star in 2016 before being promoted from Triple-A Memphis in 2017.

Sitting on a career .245 average with 13 home runs in 2021, the Cardinals know much of their fate rides on DeJong’s success.

“I think when Pauly D is at his highest level, it’s hard to just have somebody step in and replace [him],” Mozeliak said per MLB.com.