While there are lots of things to complain about with the Cardinals, I’ve heard and read some that don’t seem to jibe with what the facts appear to show. Here are some complaints I hear, and what I see…
-The offense can’t score: Despite the dismal showing Sunday in Pittsburgh, in which Pirates’ rookie Nick Kingham retired the first twenty Cardinals, the offense has generally performed well enough to be a winning team. They’ve scored more than three runs in twenty games, and are 14-6 in those games. The Cardinals have played 27 games at this point. Scoring more than three in twenty of 27 is a strong statement. Additionally, the Cards are tied for sixth in the National League with 126 runs, which equates to 4.66 per game. The Cubs are third in runs scored with 130, so being within four at this stage is fine. To this point, despite numerous individuals that are off to horrendous starts, run scoring isn’t a major issue, and because historically effective players like Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler haven’t done much yet, it can get better.
-The bullpen is overworked: Is the Cardinal bullpen great? Not by a long shot. They are seventh in the league in bullpen ERA, and they’ve struggled mightily of late. However, the Nationals and Cubs who arguably have the two best rotations in the National League…are the only two teams that have fewer innings pitched from their bullpen. We have a laser focus on the Cardinals and see starters coming out in the fifth inning or even earlier, but relative to the NL, the Cardinals aren’t overworking their bullpen. Can the team sustain getting ten outs from their bullpen every night? Probably not. But at this point, if the Cardinals are in trouble so is the rest of the league.
-The starters don’t give enough innings: This one, of course, dovetails with the overworked bullpen thought. The kids aren’t providing enough quantity yet, but that’s not always going to be the case. Carlos Martinez has delivered at least six innings in each start since the opener. Michael Wacha has given an average of 5 2/3 in his last four, including six-plus in his last two. Miles Mikolas has gone seven in each of his last three starts, and his minimum came in his opener when he went 5 2/3 in his first start. As you might expect from young starters, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty have combined for eight starts, and five of those are five innings or less. Weaver has given the Cards six or more twice. And that inconsistency is to be expected. The problem has been Adam Wainwright’s injury. When he’s in the rotation, it’s reasonable to expect Waino to give the team six innings. If Martinez, Wacha, Mikolas and Wainwright are consistently delivering six inning starts, they can get by with Weaver only giving five. And Martinez, Wacha and Mikolas are pretty close to doing that. When Wainwright is back, they should be fine. The problem at the moment is two young starters that are forcing the bullpen to get twelve or more outs.
-Matt Bowman is overworked: Bowman has pitched in twelve games so far, including five appearances in the last sixteen days. He has pitched in back to back games two times in the first month of the season. It’s not as if the Cardinals are using him like the Dodgers used Mike Marshall in 1974. Because he pitched in 75 games last year…third in the league, our perception is that Bowman pitches all the time. This year, Cardinals Tyler Lyons, Bud Norris and Dominic Leone have pitched in more games than Bowman, and Jordan Hicks, Norris and Leone have all thrown more innings than Bowman. Bowman’s main problem was the opener in New York, in which he gave up three runs in a third of an inning. Since then, he’s allowed runs in three of his eleven appearances (a total of four runs) with a 3.27 ERA. He’s inherited ten runners, and stranded eight of them. That’s a pretty good percentage. If Bowman can be what he’s been in April, the Cardinals would be fine with it.
This team is limited in several areas. When Matt Carpenter plays third and Jose Martinez first, there are inherent defensive issues that…because of physical constraints…will prevent the club from being great. Paul DeJong is second in the league in strikeouts, and it would appear that he’s going to continue to pile up whiffs.
On the plus side, Tommy Pham has backed up his breakout season with another great start, Mikolas has been a revelation, Hicks has shown flashes of brilliance, and Marcell Ozuna hasn’t heated up yet. So a Cardinal team that finds itself in the mix in the National League Central a month in has a chance to stay in the mix for quite a while.
More: Analysts On Why Tommy Pham Is a ‘Legitimate Star’ Showing Little Regression