In a 2006 column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, New York Times best-selling author Regina Brett celebrated turning 50 by putting together a list of 50 lessons she had learned over her life.
At No. 40, Brett wrote: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”
That quote took on some meaning for Cardinal fans after St. Louis swept the beleaguered Pirates over the weekend.
For over two months we’ve complained about the Cards’ starting pitching, their defense, and the team’s inability to gain traction in the standings. All three gripes are legitimate (especially when sizing up this team’s odds of winning the NL Central), but the Pirates just provided some perspective on the Cards’ current status.
Perhaps things aren’t as doom and gloom as some have deemed.
Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington said he’s optimistic Gerrit Cole (triceps) will only miss one turn in the starting rotation after he was injured Friday night in the series-opener with the Cardinals.
That’s good news on the surface, but who knows if Cole will suffer any lingering issues from the injury.
Even if Cole only misses one start, the bigger problem for the Pirates is that the rest of the rotation is a mess. Francisco Liriano currently owns a 4.92 ERA and a 5.51 FIP, while Jon Niese has a 4.60 ERA and 5.18 FIP. Things are even worse for Jeff Locke, who sports a 5.38 ERA and a 5.24 FIP, and Juan Nicasio’s numbers (5.34 ERA, 4.38 FIP) aren’t much better.
Granted, the Pirates boast two young pitchers in Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, who rank among the top 50 prospects in all of baseball. If they had to, the Pirates have the talent in the minor leagues to make up for some of the current shortcomings in the starting rotation.
That said, is it realistic for a big league club to ask not one, but two prospects to carry a team in a playoff race?
The biggest blow the Pirates suffered over the weekend was the injury to catcher Francisco Cervelli, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a broken left hand. He had surgery to repair the injury and is expected to be sidelined for 4-6 weeks. Chris Stewart will handle the bulk of the work behind the plate with Cervelli sidelined, but he’s currently dealing with a nagging foot injury and his career wRC+ is 69. (The league average for wRC+ is 100, which tells you how much offensive value Stewart brings to the table.)
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are playing their best baseball of the season.
They’re seven games above .500 for the first time all year and own a +74 run differential, which is the fourth highest in MLB. They’re still 8.5 games back of the Cubs in the NL Central, but as of Monday night they’re a half game up on the Mets and two games ahead of the Dodgers for the top wild card spot in the National League.
Most importantly, their starting pitching is finally showing signs of consistency and their defense has gradually improved over the past couple of weeks. The offense, which has been the strength of this club since the start of the season, continues to rake as well.
All five starters in the Cards’ rotation still have average to slightly above average fielding independent pitching numbers, so there’s a long ways to go. But at least this rotation, and team, is starting to find some traction.
Cards fans expect their team to compete for divisions, pennants and World Series titles. To merely be better than the Pirates isn’t something to gloat about in St. Louis.
Yet, considering what happened at the start of the season in Pittsburgh and all we’ve complained about over the first two-and-a-half months into the season, surely we’ll take the Cards’ current “problems” given the current outlook for the Pirates.