Here’s a Tuesday afternoon serving of Bird Bytes. Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I like writing them.
1. The Cardinals get to try their luck against two of the best teams in baseball this week. Three at Arizona, which is 49-28 for the third-best winning percentage (.636) in MLB. After that quick trip, the Cardinals return home for a three-game set against Washington, currently fifth in the majors with a .592 winning percentage.
The Cardinals enter the AZ series with a 13-25 record against teams that have a winning record this season. That ugly winning percentage (.342), which ranks 25th in MLB, is even worse than the Cards’ 23-32 record (.418) against winning teams in 2016. The Cardinals have a minus 33 run differential in head-to-head matchups against winning reams this year.
2. Scouting the enemy, Part I: The Diamondbacks have a 29-10 record (.744) at home this season. Only the LA Dodgers have done as well as Arizona at home this season … The D-backs have won or split 13 of their last 14 series, and have won six series in a row going into their appointment with the Cardinals … the D-backs have won 15 of their last 18 games … they are 14-2 at home since May 15 … their overall record through 77 games represents the best start in franchise history … they’re 16-7 in one-run games… their 27 comeback wins are the most in MLB … they have four walkoff wins … at their home base, Chase Field, Arizona hitters are averaging 6.8 runs per game, have a .360 OBP, and are slugging .507.
3. Scouting the enemy, Part II: Though Chase Field is the second-best park in the majors for hitters, Arizona’s pitchers have limited opponents to 3.82 runs per game, which is very special for this offense-crazy venue. In most years the Diamondbacks allow many more runs at home compared to their pitching performance on the road, but that isn’t the case this year. Arizona’s pitchers give up an average of 3.76 runs on the road. So there’s basically no difference in the AZ pitchers’ home-road splits … the Arizona rotation has the No. 1 ERA in the majors right now, at 3.45 … Arizona also has the best WAR among MLB rotations, 9.7 (Baseball Reference version of WAR.) … AZ relievers are No. 3 in the majors in Win Probability Added … with a strong shutdown bullpen, the Diamondbacks 34-2 when taking a lead into the 6th inning, 37-2 when leading into the 7th inning, 37-2 when carrying a lead into the 8th, and 41-2 when protecting a lead into the 9th.
4. One significant difference between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks: From the 7th inning on, Arizona has outscored opponents 121-93, or a plus 28 in run differential. The Cardinals, however, have been outscored 131-96 from the 7th on, for a minus 35 run differential.
5. Another substantial difference between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks: Base Running. Arizona is the best base-running team in MLB this season, with a top-ranked +18.8 in the base-running metric used by FanGraphs. The D-backs also have MLB’s highest percentage of advancing an extra base at 52 percent. (The Cardinals are at 40 percent.) As I’ve pointed out many times, the Cardinals have lost more runners on the bases via unforced error, 63, than any team in baseball. Arizona has lost 40 runners. If we don’t include caught-stealing numbers and go with these three categories — runners thrown out trying to advance, runners doubled off base on fly balls, and runners picked off base — Arizona has lost 21 runners. The Cardinals have lost 45.
6. In a related note, the Diamondbacks’ first-base coach and base-running coach is Dave McKay, the longtime Tony La Russa aide de camp who spent 16 seasons in St. Louis assisting TLR. The astute McKay is an excellent teacher of base-running skills. His coaching makes a difference.
7. In another related note, TLR was a guest on my Tuesday radio show, and when I asked him what he made of the Cardinals (re: fundamentals), La Russa said there was no doubt in his mind that the team missed having Jose Oquendo in place as coach.
8. Tommy Pham is a +3 in Defensive Runs Saved in center field this season. Dexter Fowler is a minus 8 DRS in center field this season. According to the Fielding Bible, Pham is a +2 on deep fly balls. Fowler is a minus 2 on deep flies.
9. You’ll have to forgive me for declining to lose control, go into a fit of terror, break into night sweats and lose my ability to breathe because the Cardinals took a pass on a trade for Miami shortstop Adeiny Hechavarrua, who was dealt to Tampa Bay. But if this was some sort of cataclysm for you, then take a couple of aspirin and get some rest.
10. Scouting the enemy, Part IV: Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is the NL’s best player this season. Why do I say this? He has the most WAR (4.0) of any NL position player … his park-adjusted runs created, (wRC+ 166) is 66 percent above league average and ranked No. 1 among NL players … he’s slugging .606 … he has a superb walk rate of 15.5 percent and (by today’s standards) a low strikeout rate of 18.4 percent … according to the Base Running Runs metric at Baseball Prospectus, Goldschmidt is the ninth-best runner in the majors; his BRR of 4.0 is equal to that of the Reds’ Billy Hamilton. And what about defense? Goldschmidt is a +6 in Defensive Runs Saved, which ranks second among MLB first basemen. La Russa, who is a D-backs’ consultant, paid Goldschmidt the ultimate TLR compliment when he told me that Goldschmidt has many Albert Pujols-like attributes. … Goldschmidt is batting .332 with a .447 OBP and .606 slug this season … He has 19 doubles, a triple, 18 homers, 65 RBIs and has swiped 13 bases in 17 attempts (76.4 percent) … one final note … check out Goldschmidt’s batting line at Chase Field this season: .378 average, .500 OBP, .689 slug.
11. A very nice job by Cardinals’ starting pitcher Michael Wacha in the 8-2 win over the Reds on Monday. But during his burning-out phases during the previous three seasons, Wacha put together relatively brief stretches of good pitching. His challenge is consistency. His challenge is proving that he can endure over a long season. And while Wacha’s outing vs. Cincinnati was encouraging, it won’t mean much if he fails to repeat that performance many times over.
12. The Cardinals’ offense, while ranked only 22nd in MLB in runs per game, are 12th in the majors in runs per road game this season, averaging 4.66 per contest. And their road home-run rate of 1.46 per game ranks 7th. So Cards’ batters should like swinging at Chase Field. But on the flip side … Cardinals’ pitchers are giving up 3.85 runs at home this season, which ranks 4th in run prevention at home. But on the road Cards pitchers have been punished for 5.23 runs per game, which ranks 22nd.
13. As always, please pardon my typos.
Thanks for reading …