Off To Their Worst Start Since 1973, Nothing Is Going Right For the Cardinals

After skunking up Yankee Stadium and getting swept by the Yankees, the dazed and confused Cardinals flew home in the wee small hours with a 3-9 record. And for the first time since 1973, this proud franchise has started a season by losing its first four series.

The Cardinals have lost their Way, but at least we can say it’s a team effort.

After 12 games the Cardinals rank 29th in ERA (4.98), 26th in runs per game (3.5), 28th in batting average (.212), 25th in onbase percentage (.294), 29th in slugging (.332), 28th in OPS (.626), 30th in bullpen ERA (7.34), 23rd in Base Running Runs, 26th in defensive efficiency and 30th in Defensive Runs Saved with an embarrassing minus 11.

The team is managed — peculiarly — by Mike Matheny who continues to obsessed with playing Matt Adams for no apparent reason.

Through 12 games the Cardinals have a minus-22 run differential.

Other than that the Cards’ 2017 launch has gone splendidly, don’t you think?

Pardon my snark, but I’m sure you’ll agree this has been hard to watch.

Thank goodness for the pleasant distraction being provided by your St. Louis Blues.

The glaringly imperfect Cardinals have drifted into a perfect storm.

Fowler has a .222 OBP through 54 plate appearances.

1. For the most part their best players — and name players — have performed like bad players. 

Dexter Fowler has been on base 12 times in 54 plate appearances (.222 OBP) and struck out in 29.6 percent of his PA. Fowler has stranded 19 runners on base, the team’s second-highest total. Matt Carpenter is warming a bit, and he’s reaching base at a good rate (.362) but he has one extra-base hit and a gasping .306 slugging percentage. Not that any rational person expected Jhonny Peralta to return to his peak power form, he’s batting .120, has struck out 33 percent of the time, and has no extra base hits. After a good start, Yadier Molina is batting .229 and had a rough weekend behind the plate in New York. Aledmys Diaz is hitting for power (.490 slug) but his plate discipline is eroding. So far Diaz has chased pitches out of the strike zone at a rate of 43.5 percent; that’s 15% higher than last season. And his swinging strike rate (13.5%) has virtually doubled from last year.

Adam Wainwright has a 7.24 ERA in three starts. And though Carlos Martinez battled valiantly on a wild-command day at Yankee Stadium, he has a 6.10 ERA in his last two outings. Except for Mike Leake the Cards’ rotation is wavering with a 5.59 ERA in the last seven games. Pricy free-agent reliever Brett Cecil has a 9.00 ERA.

2. Young Cardinals that were supposed to be building blocks aren’t getting it done.  Right fielder Stephen Piscotty is doing fine, propelled by a terrific road trip in which he batted .318 with two homers, eight RBIs and a .636 slug. But left fielder Randal Grichuk and second baseman Kolten Wong are regressing again. In 46 plate appearances, Grichuk is batting .182, has left 22 runners on, and is striking out at a startling clip of 34.7 percent. Wong is is hitting .148 after 31 plate appearances, and has lost playing time to Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia. Adams, who isn’t all that young, is 4 for 23 (.174) with 10 strikeouts, 11 runners left on base, one RBI, and no extra-base hits. Adams has a swing-and-miss rate of just under 34 percent. If these players had developed as hoped (by the organization), the Cardinals would be in much better shape.

3. I’ve asked this before, so let’s put it out there again: have we overrated the talent on this team? That’s quite possible. And by “we” I’m talking about fans, media, and, most of all, GM John Mozeliak and Matheny. Last season Matheny and his staff neglected the inherent defensive flaws; the 2016 Cardinals didn’t often bother with pregame infield to sharpen up. This spring the Cardinals worked hard on defensive drills, and if effort counts for anything, the Cardinals shouldn’t be as horrible as we’ve seen defensively through 12 games. But make no mistake; they are bad … with eight of their nine defensive positions rated on the “minus” side in Defensive Runs Saved. Maybe they aren’t as good as we thought they were. Sometimes it really is about talent.

4. Is it too much to ask the manager to use his best players? With the offense wheezing, why aren’t we seeing Jose Martinez? He’s had 14 plate appearances. He’s been on base eight times. He’s ripped two doubles. He has excellent plate coverage and is tough to strike out. So why isn’t he receiving more opportunities? What’s up with the Adams fixation? Matheny noticed Greg Garcia’s quality at bats and finally put him to use. That’s positive. But the same needs to happen with other players who could spark this offense if given a chance. And that could include some hot early-season bats down at Triple A Memphis including third baseman Patrick Wisdom, outfielders Tommy Pham and Harrison Bader, first baseman Luke Voit, infielder Paul DeJong. No, I’m not suggesting a mass call-up. But if the offense drags on much longer without an uptick, then you have to give other people a shot.

5. The best thing that could happen right now? A string of quality starts. Wainwright is in a sort of starting-pitching limbo; he needs to transition to a modified approach and do the late-career CC Sabathia thing. (Finesse, guile, changing speeds, deception, etc.) But there is no reason why the other four starters — Martinez, Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha — can’t settle in and begin a smooth run of quality starts. Starting pitching means so much in this game. That’s the fastest way to stabilize the early-season trauma.

Lynn gets the ball for Monday’s series opener against the visiting Pirates.

A Pirates team, by the way, that had lost four in a row to sink to 3-6 before going into Wrigley Field to surprisingly sweep the three-game weekend series from the defending World Series champs. All of a sudden the Pirates are 6-6, and things aren’t looking as bleak. The Cardinals need to find a similar spark.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: At What Point Do the Cardinals Need to Change Their Course?