As play resumes following the All-Star break, every peppy NL Central team believes it can win the division.
And why not? This is a blooper of a division … think of a little wind-blown pop to shallow right-center. Multiple fielders are pursuing and converging.
Will anyone chase it down and catch it?
Will it fall in?
Will the fielders collide?
Who will make the grab?
Crash or catch?
The NL Central is up in the air.
If you crave a tight race for first place — with every side having a shot — the NL Central is the only division that qualifies.
Yes, even the Red and Pirates who had a combined 23-13 record in the late rush to the All-Star break.
The Cubs (9-14), Brewers (8-15) and Cardinals (13-15) crawled into the break.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant: “We’re going to need to play better, and I think we, as a team, expect that. We completely underperformed in the first half. We let some games get away from us that we could easily have won. The questions and stories would be different right now, but we didn’t do that and it’s a little disappointing. But there are still a lot of games to be played.”
Brewers infielder Mike Moustakas: “We feel like it’s still our division to win. There’s no reason we wouldn’t feel like that. We know we’re good enough if we pick it up from here.”
Mike Shildt, manager of the 44-44 Cardinals: “We’re better than our record. We all know that. And we’ll prove that in the second half.”
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell: “We look around the division and don’t see anybody as really being any better than us. We haven’t really scratched the surface of what we can do.”
Reds starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani: “I think we’re definitely a contending team, for sure. The standings don’t show what kind of team we are. Everyone in this division is right in the thick of it. Anything can turn quick.”
Let’s go local here.
For the Cardinals to climb to the top, these statistics — these trends, these habits — must change:
1.22: That’s the Cardinals’ average for home runs per game. That’s down 8.27 percent from their average homers per game last season. And that’s a problem considering that the overall MLB home-run rate is up nearly 21 percent in MLB this season.
16: the number of times the Cardinals have scored no more than one run in a game. Only five MLB teams have done that more often; the STL record in those quiet-offense games is 0-16.
25: the number of times the Cardinals have scored six or more runs in a game; that ranks 25th in the majors. The Cards are 21-4 in those games.
.319: That’s the Cards’ current onbase percentage. Unless it increases in the second half, the .319 OBP would be the poorest in a season by the team’s hitters since Bill DeWitt Jr. and partners took over as owners in 1996.
.299: The Cardinals’ onbase percentage at leadoff, 28th in the majors and worst in the National League. Over the previous six seasons (2013 through 2018) the Cards’ .364 leadoff OBP was the best in the majors.
.647: The Cards’ OPS from the leadoff position, 29th in MLB and worst in the NL. Over the previous six seasons (2013-2018) the Cards had the third-best leadoff OBP (.816) in the majors.
Minus 69 percentage points: That’s the decrease in Matt Carpenter’s leadoff OBP this season (.320) compared to his leadoff OBP (.389) from 2013 through 2018.
Minus 196 percentage points: The decrease in Carpenter’s leadoff OPS this season (.688) from his leadoff OPS (.884) from 2013 through ’18.
#113: That’s where Paul Goldschmidt ranks among qualifying MLB hitters with a .426 slugging percentage.
#103: Goldschmidt’s MLB ranking with his OPS of .769.
.401: The Cards’ slugging percentage, which ranks 26th overall and 13th among 15 NL teams.
.377: The team’s slugging percentage over the last 58 games, 29th overall and 14th in the NL.
2: The number of games played by rookie catcher Andrew Knizner. With Yadier Molina (thumb) projected to be sidelined for the remainder of the month (at least?) it would be absolutely nuts to keep Knizner on the bench. At some point this organization has to take a realistic view of Molina’s age and decline and adjust accordingly.
73: The OPS+ for Molina this season. (Note: a 100 OPS+ is considered average.) Molina had a 107 OPS+ from 2009 through 2018.
4.47: The Cardinals’ average runs per game. That’s 22nd overall, and tied for 11th in the NL.
128: total doubles hit by St. Louis this season; only one MLB team has fewer doubles.
.366: Paul DeJong’s poor slugging percentage in 272 plate appearances since April 24.
.689: DeJong’s OPS since April 24.
20 and 26: The Cardinals’ road record.
5 and 16: The Cards’ road record in NL Central games.
5.49: The ERA for Cards’ starting pitchers on the road this season. The fourth-worst road ERA by a major-league rotation. And the second-worst road ERA by an NL rotation.
.499: the slugging percentage allowed by STL starting pitchers on the road; third worst in the majors. The rotation has allowed a .359 OBP on the road; also the third worst in the majors.
15 and 17: the Cards’ overall record against NL Central rivals.
.145: Harrison Bader’s batting average with runners in scoring position.
.187, and .280: Bader’s batting average and slugging percentage against non-fastballs since the start of the 2018 season.
Minus 13: That’s the accounting on Defensive Runs Saved for the Cardinals in right field this season. (Meaning that the awful RF defense has cost the team 13 runs this season.) No NL team has worse defense in right field. The minus-13 DRS in right is primarily the work of Jose Martinez and Dexter Fowler. Other than the mess in right field, the Cardinals were a plus 56 in defensive runs saved.
Minus 2, and minus 9: The minus 2 is J-Mart’s baserunning rating, the second worst among regular Cardinals. The minus 9 is the Martinez tally for defensive runs saved this season; that ranks 34th among MLB right fielders.
104: the OPS+ for Jose Martinez … meaning that he’s only four percent above league average offensively.
.191: That’s the Cardinals batting average .191 on changeups this season, second worst in MLB.
.273: The Cards’ slugging percentage against changeups; worst in MLB.
.104: The Cardinals’ hard-hit average on changeups this season — worst in MLB.
.137: The Cards’ hard-hit average with runners in scoring position this season, worst in MLB.
4.84: The fielding independent ERA (aka FIP) for the St. Louis starting rotation; that ranks 12th in the NL and is the worst among NL Central teams.
2.37: The strikeout-walk ratio for the Cardinals rotation; worst in the NL.
5.05: The FIP for Michael Wacha, which ranks 106th among 107 MLB starting pitchers that have worked a minimum of 70 innings this season.
Minus – 0.2: Wacha’s WAR (wins above replacement) which also ranks 106th among 107 MLB starters.
4.58: The combined ERA for Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas this season. They had a combined 3.04 ERA in 2018.
36: The combined number of home runs allowed by Mikolas and Flaherty this season in 196 innings. Last season they gave up combined 36 homers in 352 innings.
Thanks for reading … and have a great weekend.