The Cardinals have been the definition of average, of mediocrity, just past the 2016 season’s quarter pole. They’ve played like a .500 team. Their record is 23-21.
Among those 23 wins are three and four-game winning streaks against the miserable Braves, Brewers and Angels. Among the 21 losses are three and four game losing streaks to Pittsburgh and spread over Arizona and Washington.
Outside of those 14 games, the Cards haven’t won or lost more than two in a row at any point.
We’ve talked a lot about the struggles the Cardinals have endured against good pitching. Indeed, they have scored 43 runs in thirteen games against the top fifteen teams in ERA for a 3.3 per game average.
In 31 games against teams in the BOTTOM fifteen this year in ERA, the Cardinals have crossed the plate 200 times, an average of 6.45 per game.
The raw offensive numbers so far have been outstanding. The Redbirds lead the National League in runs and OPS, and have matched last year’s total of games scoring ten or more runs with nine.
However, eight of those games have been against teams in the bottom half in ERA.
We’ve had 50 cent drinks because the Cardinals scored six or more nineteen times this season. The only time they scored more than six against a top half of the league pitching staff was when they tallied ten against Philadelphia on May 2.
Of course, when you have a great offense and are 23-21, not hitting against top teams can’t be the only culprit. The Cardinal rotation, which led the National League with an ERA of 2.99 last season, has stumbled to a 4.24 ERA this season.
The best way to describe the entire staff is average. They’re ninth in ERA in the National League, seventh in homers allowed, tenth in strikeouts, seventh in walks and hits per nine innings, and sixth in OPS against.
Last season, which was admittedly historic for the Cardinals pitching staff, saw the club allow two runs or fewer in 80 of their 162 games. That was the most since the 1972 Orioles had 83, and the Cardinals went 68-12 in those games. This year, they’ve had twelve such games in 44 tries, on pace for 44. They’re 10-2 in those dozen games. That being said, it’s not reasonable to expect this 2016 pitching staff to duplicate what they did last year.
Defense obviously has been an issue too. 39 errors leads the National League, five more than second place Cincinnati. Last year the Cardinals allowed 28 unearned runs in 162 games. In 2016, they’ve played 44 games and allowed 14…on pace for 51 unearned runs. That is not a recipe for winning pennants.
We should note so far the Cardinals have a different shortstop, different first basemen, and different primary left and right fielders. Last year Jhonny Peralta was an All Star, Jason Heyward was their best all-around player, Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk were hurt, and John Lackey was the number one starter.
This year, Aledmys Diaz has been a revelation offensively but has left something to be desired in the field. Stephen Piscotty has been a solid replacement for Heyward, but production from left and center field has been better, if not as consistent. And Adam Wainwright hasn’t done what Lackey did last year.
The solutions to fix the mediocrity are actually pretty simple. Better production against good pitching will help, but scoring 3.3 per game against good teams will keep you in the game if the rest of your club does its job.
We’re almost to Memorial Day, which to me is the time for starting pitching to kick in.
If a group is going to provide six or seven innings a night and give the team a chance to win, they should be conditioned and prepared to start doing that on a consistent basis by the end of May. Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, Carlos Martinez and Mike Leake have done it before. It’s time for them to start rolling.
Peralta’s return and defensive improvement at second base…whether it be from Kolten Wong, Diaz or Matt Carpenter…will boost the defense. Of the 39 errors, twenty have been committed by shortstops (15) and second basemen (5). Third basemen have made eight errors, too. Peralta had eight errors last year.
His return in a couple of weeks should tighten up the defense significantly, regardless of where he plays. Mike Matheny’s priority should be to put his best defensive club on the field and worry about the offense later. There are enough bats in any lineup to score enough runs.
Are the Cardinals going to catch Chicago to win the division? Probably not. Can they emerge from the gaggle of teams that includes the non-division winners among Washington, San Francisco, the Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Marlins, Rockies and Dodgers, and claim a wild card? Sure they can. But we’re into the second quarter of the season. If this team is ever going to achieve consistency and get on a roll, it needs to do so soon.