With a start like this, it’d be easy to brush under the rug any concerning statistics on Cardinals’ stat sheet. That’s a dangerous game to play, though.
With the Cardinals having played nearly the first 20% of their season in record setting fashion, if they play just over .500 for the last four and a half months of the season, they’ll likely win the division.
Indeed, if the Cardinals go 70-61 in their final 131 games, they’d win 92 games. In every year since 2003, 92 wins has been enough to make the playoffs in the National League, so the Cardinals have a great chance if they can accomplish that, and they’re eminently capable.
There are red flags, though.
Obviously, the loss of Adam Wainwright presents a difficult challenge. Wainwright has averaged about 6 2/3 innings per start over the last three seasons, and seven innings per start in the last two. Losing that sort of reliability and accountability is tough for pretty much every team outside of Los Angeles and D.C. to deal with, and probably will be for the Cardinals.
In fact, since Wainwright went down with his season-ending Achilles tendon injury, Cardinal starters have pitched beyond six innings just four times in fifteen games. Prior to his getting hurt, starters had taken the Cardinals beyond the sixth inning nine times in fifteen games. The fifteen games since Wainwright went down have placed undue stress on the bullpen.
Compounding that problem is the loss of setup man Jordan Walden for 6-10 weeks with a muscle strain near his right shoulder, and the need to use pitchers like Carlos Villanueva and Kevin Siegrist differently than they had planned.
If the Cardinals don’t start getting more innings out of their starters, in particular Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn, the relievers will be too taxed to remain effective well into the summer.
There are other issues besides pitching.
The weekend illness suffered by Matt Carpenter hurt, but he was playing great before that and should be fine upon his return. Across the diamond, though, Matt Adams has only three homers and fifteen RBI in 98 plate appearances. In May, he’s 4-for-25 with no homers and one RBI. The Cardinals need to get better production out of their nominal cleanup hitter.
Adams’ well-chronicled struggles against lefthanded pitching have continued. He’s just 2-for-16 against lefthanders, and it’s getting to the point where one has to believe he just isn’t going to hit them.
Mark Reynolds has been a nice pickup, but he doesn’t appear to be a right-handed platoon match for Adams. Reynolds is just 2-for-20 against lefties, with a homer and five RBI in twenty at-bats and 24 plate appearances. Thirty-one games into the season, the lack of production from a traditional power position like first base must be considered a concern.
Also concerning is Yadier Molina, of whom Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said to reporters this weekend “I think he lost some weight, trying to get in better shape. The fact that (teams) had run eleven times and stolen seven is a number that you’ve never read behind his name before, ever. … We do believe we have a better window of opportunity than we’ve had in the past.”
Everyone in baseball sees that.
Molina is perhaps the best thrower among catchers in the game’s history. The Pirates did get thrown out once trying to steal, so Yadi has thrown out five-of-twelve, but with all of the speed in baseball, it’s a concern that he isn’t perceived as being as effective as he used to be.
Finally, the Cardinals acquired Jason Heyward to be a middle of the lineup power presence when St. Louis sent Shelby Miller to Atlanta last November. For Heyward to have just two home runs and eight RBI, and to be on pace for ten homers and 40 runs batted in won’t cut it.
Heyward’s .683 OPS is 26th among National League outfielders, trailing the likes of Nori Aoki, Curtis Granderson, Nick Markakis and Michael Cuddyer. For a player people feared would play so well that he’d command a $22 million-plus per year contract, he’s playing more like a guy who’ll get a one year deal in the $4 million-$7 million range.
Hopefully, Heyward will regain the form that made him a 27 homer guy three seasons ago.
There’s a lot more to like about the Cardinals than there is to dislike, but we can’t ignore the disturbing trends that have popped up in May.
This team is capable of reversing those trends, but if they don’t, it’s going to be difficult to forge a record that will get them into the post-season for the fifth year in a row.