Bernie Bits: One Series In, a Bunch of Scribbled Notes on My Cardinals Scorecard

Some notes on My Scorecard from the opening series in New York…

This is just me talking, but I decline to overreact to a 1-2 series. Or any opening series for that matter. But more specifically, as it concerns the Cardinals starting pitching, all is calm and serene inside my head. Yeah, Carlos Martinez was lousy in the first game, yessir Michael Wacha was bad in the second game, and home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor was his usual incomprehensible self in the third game, making Cards’ starter Luke Weaver go back in time and play the old Atari game “Tempest” to locate windows and tunnels to hit the strike zone. I commend Weaver for maintaining his composure and checking the Mets to one run in five innings. Weaver passed the mental-toughness test. He gets the check mark from me…

The Cards had a 5.79 starter ERA in the first excursion of the season… kind of rough, and let me be Captain Obvious and declare that this will have to get better, and there’s plenty of opportunity to do so over the next 159 regular-season games …  perhaps this will introduce some perspective:  In the opening round of baseball on the 2018 schedule, 15 MLB teams came out of it with a starting-pitching ERA of 4.50 or higher, and 20 were at 4.00 or worse. This includes a 6.86 ERA by Cubs starters during their four-game series at Miami…

WAIT  A  MINUTE! Don’t the Cubs have the best rotation in baseball? Supposedly, yes. That’s what the pundit class insists … but in Miami, Kyle Hendricks pitched well and that was about it … Jon Lester, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana combined for a 9.21 ERA in 13.2 innings. Darvish was blasted in his Cubs debut, lasting 4.1 innings, giving up 5 earned runs, walking two and hitting two batters, and coming out of the game because of forearm cramping, or hydration, or whatever.   Even Joe Maddon seemed  a bit confused by the Darvish malady … Jon Lester averaged 90.2 mph with his fastball in his first start, notable because he averaged 91.7 last year, and that was down from the previous year (93.1) … the Cubs went 2-2 against the famished Marlins…

Let us discuss Jordan Hicks … and to think he’s only the Cardinals’ No. 7 rated prospect according to the MLB Pipeline. (System looking pretty good.) In his first two appearances of his big-league career, Hicks is averaging 100.1 miles per hour with his fastball, which puts him atop the early leader board for velocity at Statcast, slightly ahead of Aroldis Chapman … Hicks has thrown the six fastest pitches clocked so far this season, and his fastest pitch came in at a speed (101.6 mph) came in at a speed that only six MLB pitchers reached in 2017 … the efficient Hicks needed only 17 pitches to put away six Mets (facing the minimum) in his two innings of work, and of his 13 fastballs, the “slowest” just kind of floated in there at 98.8 mph … and then the dude gets the final out of the eighth inning Sunday by throwing an 82 off-speed pitch that Wilmer Flores lofted, routinely, to left field. Is this fair? Is this permissible by the rules? …

Oh, yeah. And Dominic Leone is nasty. The Cardinals will have a much deeper bullpen than last year, and they will need it … manager Mike Matheny still likes holding his best relievers in storage for save opportunities that may never happen though, eh? The Mike Maddux Effect needs some time to kick in, right? No, really … right? It WILL kick in, yes? … the Cardinals got through the entire Mets series without losing a single runner on the bases through an unforced error … gonna be some adventures out there on the infield, on the Island of Misfit Toys, and I guess it’s worth it as long as Jose Martinez continues to hit like the most interesting former minor leaguer in the world, and Matt Carpenter hits like Sonny Liston going at Floyd Patterson, and as long as no actual live grenades are used in the filming of this particular baseball documentary.

Right fielder Dexter Fowler went 0 for 13 with strikeouts and a walk as the leadoff man in the Mets series. He’ll get it going soon, but I have to say, it’s been really unusual to see him struggle as the No. 1 hitter since signing a five-year contract to join the Cardinals before the 2017 season… in 241 plate appearances as the leadoff man, Fowler is batting .192 with a .295 onbase percentage and .295 slugging percentage for an OPS of .660. But when Fowler has batted 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th in the STL lineup since the start of last season, a total of 241 plate appearances, he’s crushed it for a .301 average, .398 onbase pct, .536 slugging pct. and .934 OPS. In park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) Fowler has performed 42 percent above league average offensively when hitting 2-3-4-5 for the Cardinals; as their leadoff man his his park-adjusted runs created mark is 25 percent BELOW league average. Huge discrepancy there; I can’t begin to explain it, probably a fluke.

Marcell Ozuna? best thing that happened in the three games at New York? Easy, that would be his three hits and two RBIs in Sunday’s 5-1 win; the Big Bear can decompress … the worst thing about Ozuna in the opening series? Discovering, through Cardinals TV broadcaster Dan McLaughlin, that Ozuna’s right shoulder is bothering him — not as a hitter but when he throws the baseball from left field. And even more puzzling (concerning? somewhat alarming?) was this disclosure: the shoulder irritation has been there since late last summer when Ozuna was finishing his final season in Miami … hope this is minor and will not worsen…

Early season three-game series against the Brewers, Cardinals at Miller Park, starting Monday (soon!) at 1:10 p.m. … Games 4, 5 and 6 are a bag of small potato chips in a long season, but I think this series has added importance. Here’s why: the Cardinals were awful in NL Central play last season, going 34-42 (.447) against the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates and Reds. Within the division only the Pirates had a worse winning percentage (.434) in the NL Central. The Cardinals were 5-14 against the first-place Cubs, and 8-11 vs. the second-place Brewers. The Brewers owned the Cardinals down the stretch, winning eight of the final 11 games between the teams including seven of 10 at Busch Stadium. If the Cardinals have serious postseason ambitions, they can’t go a combined 13-25 against the Cubs and Brewers in 2018. For that matter the Cards must do a helluva lot better than last season’s 10-9 record against the Reds, and it would help their cause to improve on last season’s 11-8 mark vs. the Pirates.

Go ahead, Cardinals. It’s never to too early to declare yourselves and send a little message: 2018 won’t be a replay of 2017 … or not?

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Karraker – 11 Quick Hits from Cards’ First Series…(New and Improved Bullpen Strategy, Huh?)