One of my favorite coaches or managers in any sport, ever, was Bill Parcells. He had a way of simplifying the game, of taking the long view, and had sayings that concisely said big, meaningful things. Two of my favorite axioms apply to the Cardinals of the last couple of years; “you are what your record says you are” and “don’t tell me about the labor. Just show me the baby.”
In taking three out of four from Pittsburgh over the weekend, the Cardinals are 32-25, the fifth best record in the National League. They’re 16-15 against teams with winning records, and 16-10 against teams with losing records.
They’re eighth out of fifteen National League teams in runs, tenth in OPS and OBP, ninth in batting average and slugging. Basically, middle of the pack. Their starting pitching is terrific, ranking second in the NL with a 2.94 ERA. Their bullpen, however, is twelfth at 4.40, leaving their overall pitching fourth in the league.
The Cardinals do some things really well. They hit home runs, ranking tied for third in the NL with 69 dingers. And when the Cardinals homer, they generally win. After Marcell Ozuna’s grand slam on Sunday against the Pirates, the club is 29-12 when they hit at least one out of the park. They deliver starting pitching, ranking third in the NL in innings pitched among starters, and they play hard. The Redbirds’ seven walkoff wins lead all of major league baseball.
In this age of polarization, when things seemingly must be either great or terrible, the Cardinals are just…good. Are they as talented as the Cubs or the Nationals? Nope. Are they as bad as Cincinnati, Miami or San Diego? No way. Can they compete with the teams around them in the standings, like the Cubs, Phillies, D-Backs and Pirates? They’ve proven they can compete against those teams.
But, you say, the Cardinals haven’t gotten good offensive production out of Matt Carpenter for most of the season. That’s correct. Carpenter has a good hit tool, and it’s only been on for the last couple of weeks. The offense of Kolten Wong and Dexter Fowler has been MIA for most of the year, they’ve missed Yadier Molina and Ozuna hasn’t been what they expected.
But the Nationals are missing half of their starting lineup and have a better record than the Cards. Catcher Matt Wieters, first baseman Ryan Zimmermann, second baseman Daniel Murphy and outfielder Adam Eaton are all on the DL. Pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Jeremy Hellickson, Joaquin Benoit and Joe Ross are all out at the moment, along with former Cardinal Matt Adams, super sub Howie Kendrick and Wieters’ backup, Johnatan Solano. The Dodgers have dealt with numerous injuries and production drop-offs this season, yet have gone 13-4 in their last seventeen.
Everyone is going to have to deal with injuries (Carlos Martinez, Molina, Paul DeJong), performance drop-offs (Fowler, Wong, Carpenter) or both (Adam Wainwright, Greg Holland, Luke Gregerson, Matt Bowman). To his credit, Mike Matheny hasn’t made any excuses. And he and his team can’t think that. These are the major leagues. Don’t tell me about the labor, just show me the baby.
With just over 100 games left, the top twelve teams in the National League are separated by 8.5 games. The Marlins, Reds and Padres appear to be the only teams that have no chance of making the playoffs. A mediocre team or two will be in the post-season in the National League.
A healthy Cardinals team has a chance to be a playoff team. They can pitch, and the bullpen SHOULD get better if some guys get healthy and return near their career form, and this offensive history of these players is better than their present. There are no great teams in the league, so…at least at this point prior to any teams making trades…St. Louis should be in the hunt in September.
But with 105 games left, they aren’t great, and they aren’t terrible. They’re just pretty good. The Cardinals are a perfect example of what Parcells was talking about. Sure, with names like Fowler, Wong, Holland, Wainwright, Gregerson, Carpenter and Ozuna on the roster, they should have a few more than 32 wins. Their starting pitching has been good enough for the team to be great, but the bullpen and the offense has let them down enough to make one think they shouldn’t be where they are. Mike Matheny isn’t stealing games as a manager; very few guys do in this day and age…but some of his decisions could be thought of as game-costing.
And the end of the day, the Cardinals are what their record says they are. Those guys in the last paragraph? They haven’t played as well as the back of their baseball card says they should. If those players do, the Cards can be above average. But if they don’t, the pace right now is fourth place in the wild card standings and out of the playoffs, and that’s about where they should be.