Bernie Miklasz: Early Season Overreactions To The Cardinals: Truth, Or Trap?

The Cardinals (2-3) have played five games, and time is running out! Well, no. Time is not a factor now. Maybe for an NFL team, which plays 16 real football games each year. Every NFL or college football game causes unnatural levels of euphoria or anguish. The MLB season is an 162-game epic novel of a journey that unfolds slowly.

But I’m going to go into the football mode here.  Just for kicks.

Here are my overreactions to the Cardinals’ first five games, and after discussing each area, I’ll render a decision along these lines: is the overreaction a steaming pile of trash, or does it contain a legitimate element of truth?

I do this little exercise on my radio show during football season, so I’ll transfer the concept to the writing side. I’ll present multiple statements that fit the overreaction category.

And then I’ll make a ruling on each opinion: Is it the “Truth,” or a “Trap?”

1. The Cardinals’ offense is in serious trouble because of a plague of strikeouts.

Trap. Granted, the non-pitcher strikeout rate is 30.8 percent. That’s extreme. That’s also the point; the extreme trends don’t last. The K rate will gradually settle into a more reality-grounded number. But it’s been annoying, I’ll give you that. But new hitting instructor Jeff Albert can keep his job.

2. Kolten Wong’s hot start is a fad, and he can’t be trusted to keep this up.

I’ll have to go ‘trap’ again, with an obvious caveat. No, I’m not saying Wong will finish the season with a home-run rate of cranking out a bomb every six at-bats. And he won’t bat .500, or have a final OPS tally of 1.606. But confidence matters with Wong; he’s easily demoralized and distracted when things go sour. And this positive start should go a long way in shaping a positive season offensively.

3. Left fielder Marcell Ozuna is off to a terrible start, and this isn’t a fluke. The Cardinals are heading into a storm.

Truth. The dude isn’t in shape, he can’t cover enough ground to get to challenging fly balls, and he’s striking out like crazy. This isn’t a good look… and I don’t think it’s a bad-start sort of thing. This team can turn to appealing options such as Jose Martinez or Tyler O’Neill. This can’t go on. This Ozuna foolishness has been going on for a lot longer than five games.

4. The starting rotation stinks; fans and media have erred by overrating its quality.

Trap, at least for the most part. Based on what we saw through the first rotation cycle, Michael Wacha pitched well but not above his ability level; his performance at Milwaukee (6 IP, 1 run) was no outlier. Miles Mikolas will pitch better … Jack Flaherty will pitch better … Dakota Hudson should pitch better … Adam Wainwright … well, I don’t know if he’ll pitch better. Frankly, I think his upside is pretty low. And I do have concerns about the Cardinals’ rotation depth, which isn’t as deep with Carlos Martinez on the injured list (timetable for return unknown) … and Alex Reyes and John Gant in the bullpen … and and Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon down at Memphis, trying to make corrections of the problems that led to abysmal showings in spring training. So some truth can be found in this particular trap.

5. Andrew Miller looks like yet another misguided (read: lousy) free-agent signing by the front office. Brett Cecil v 2.0? 

Trap. Please. Not the Cecil comparisons. There’s nothing wrong with Miller physically. He hasn’t been effective in his early trials, allowing seven of 12 batters faced to reach base, with only one strikeout. He’ll sharpen up. But for those of you who remain skeptical, fair enough. We  can revisit this question in, say, a month.

6. Even if Miller is good, the Cardinals must add another left-handed asset to their bullpen.

Truth. And they may have to think about, in due time, putting Gomber (a lefty) in the rotation. Through five games the LH batters employed by the Brewers and Pirates have lacerated the Cardinals’ RH pitching. Cards’ right-handers have faced 94 left-side hitters so far, allowing a .387 onbase percentage and .608 slugging percentage. The damage includes seven homers, five doubles and 16 walks. According to FanGraphs, St. Louis RHP have a 7.45 ERA vs. LH batters. Those numbers will come down to extent –but this is a problem, and the result of flawed roster construction.

7. Paul Goldschmidt is as marvelous as advertised.

Truth. With four homers on the board, and a walk rate of 16.7 percent, Goldy is batting .300 with a .417 OBP and .900 SLG. Yeah, he’s striking out too much but that’s just early season static. He will not — NOT — have a 37.5 percent strikeout rate for an entire season. Goldschmidt takes great at-bats. And even when he strikes out, I come away thinking this about him: Goldy learned something during that at-bat, picked up some intel about the pitcher and the approach, and he’ll put it to good use later. His defense is outstanding.

8. Dexter Fowler is a flop again. Nothing has changed from 2018.

Trap. But honestly, this could turn into “truth” in short time. We’ll revisit this storyline frequently during the early stage of the season. For now, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt even though Dex is batting .167 and slugging .167 in his first 17 plate appearances. And Fowler’s early .578 OPS is only two points above the wretched .576 OPS from his horrendous 2018 nightmare season. But Fowler is seeing the ball very well. His strike-zone judgment is sharp, and he’s walked 23.5 percent of the time. And a gem is hidden within these poor statistics: Fowler has a .412 onbase percentage, and that’s something to build on. But yeah — make that “hell, yeah” — Fowler needs to start hitting the ball hard on a consistent basis. According to data at Baseball Savant, Fowler’s exit velocity is actually down from 2018, at least so far. Last season Fowler had an average exit velocity of 85.3 mph; this season that average exit velo is 79.8%. That’s (ugh) in the bottom 3 percent of MLB. And this is why my borderline “trap” could rapidly convert to an unpleasant truth after a few more weeks of ball.

9. The bullpen is a liability.

Trap. The group has a 2.66 ERA, the eighth-best in the majors. And while Sunday’s late giveaway of a 4-1 lead at Milwaukee was disappointing, the relievers made up for it by going seven innings and allowing only one run to play a major role in the Cards’ 6-5 comeback victory. But the ‘pen must quit walking so many hitters — while also raising its collective strikeout rate. These two areas are crucial and will be monitored.

10. As a manager, Mike Shildt is no better than Mike Matheny.

Trap. Get that dreck comment out of here.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie