At the All-Star break, the Cardinals are 44-44, two games out of first in the National League Central and two games behind the second-place team in the NL Wildcard race.
Many times, you can look at a team with a .500 record and have reason to believe things are going to get better. While it’s reasonable to expect that Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter will get better in the second half of the season, this team looks, well, mediocre.
The Cardinals have the fourth best ERA in the league, but have scored the fourth fewest runs. Their starting pitching has been OK. Their 4.48 ERA is better than the league average of 4.71, and their quality start percentage of 43% is a smidge better than the league average of 41%. The bullpen is the same. Fourth in the league at 4.48. Their save percentage of 73% is above the league average of 67%. The Cards 120 home runs allowed is right at the league average of 117.
Having average pitching would be OK if the offense was even close to average, but it’s not. The Cardinals score a quarter of a run less per game than the league average, but half a run per game less than the Cubs. In a sport dominated by home runs, only Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Miami have fewer home runs than the Cardinals 107. Milwaukee leads the league with 152 and the Cubs have 139. The Cards’ team OPS is .723, with only the Reds, Giants and Marlins lower at the All-Star Break.
Mike Shildt is correct to point out that his team’s baserunning is better than it was when he took over last season. They do lead the league in stolen bases. They do hit and run. But just one team, the Mets, has fewer sacrifice flies than St. Louis. And with runners in scoring position, they’re 12th in batting average and 14th in OPS. With runners on base, the Cardinals are slugging .411, second to last in the National League. When they’re getting runners into scoring position with that baserunning, they aren’t finding a way to get the run home. The Cardinal offense has scored two or fewer runs an astounding 25 times in 88 games (28% of the time), and are 3-22 in those games. When they score three or more, the Cards are 41-22.
Those numbers, after 88 games, don’t give me a ton of confidence heading into the last 74. The Cubs have some injury issues to work through in their starting rotation, but they have the league’s third best run differential at plus-55. Even with some things that plagued them in the first half, they have the third best ERA and the fourth most runs per game. The Cubs biggest first half problem was the back end of the bullpen, but the signing of Craig Kimbrel should solve that.
Milwaukee’s starting pitching has, predictably, struggled. Their bullpen has been solid, registering the fifth best ERA in the first half. We know the Brewers are going to hit. If they go out and use some of their organizational depth to get a starting pitcher, they’ll stay in the hunt until the end of the season.
The scary team I see is the Reds. They have the second best ERA and the second best starters and bullpen ERAs in the league. New manager David Bell hired Derek Johnson away from the Brewers to be his pitching coach, and Johnson has done a terrific job. They’re only averaging 4.17 runs per game, which is thirteenth, but they have guys that can hit. They lost second baseman Scooter Gennett for most of the first half, and he just returned a week ago. The outfield experiments with Matt Kemp and Scott Schebler didn’t work, so they moved top prospect Nick Senzel to center field, and he’s started hitting. The Reds won 10-of-16 heading into the break, and only trail the Cardinals by 2.5 games and the frontrunning Cubs by 4.5. And the Pirates are between the Cards and the Reds.
Based on what we’ve seen from their offense so far, the Cardinals look like a second division team. That can change; getting Carpenter and Goldschmidt hot could change everything. However, with the pitching injuries the Cards suffered in the first half, losing closer Jordan Hicks for the season and both Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha for stretches of the first half, you have to think the Redbird roster is worn thin. How much do the pitchers have left?
44-44 is…meh. And that’s what I’m guessing the second half will be like for the 2019 Cardinals, too.