Puttering and Sputtering

Since we last got together in this space, the Cardinals have played five games.  They’ve won three, they’ve lost two.  What they haven’t done, really?

Hit.

The Cardinals have a .222/.267/.329 batting line over that span and that includes the 15 single attack (back in my day, that was just called an album but the music industry has changed) against the Diamondbacks on Thursday night.  Take that out and it’s an anemic .163/.214/.301 over the last four games.  Sure, one of those games was started by Madison Bumgartner, but it’s not like he’s at the zenith of his career.  He’s still very good, but you can hit him.  The Cards have in the past.  So why not now?

Taking the larger view, since they scored 10 runs against the Brewers six games into the season, they are clipping along at a .220/.292/.301 mark.  After 22 games, they are better off than they were in 2021, but not by a significant margin.  Batting average is up 14 points but it’s still .234.  OPS is actually down 19 points because they had 28 homers at this point last year compared to 17 this year.  If it wasn’t for Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman, this team could be flailing around with the Cubs and Pirates instead of being just a game and a half off of Milwaukee’s mark.

What’s the solution?  If I knew I wouldn’t be writing it here, I’d be trying to get in touch with Oli Marmol.  The simple answer, of course, is to promote Nolan Gorman, who has almost as many home runs in Memphis as the entire major league team does.  There’s no doubt that Gorman has been on a tear, but many have noted that he also has 30 strikeouts in 78 at bats, a ratio that is only likely to increase when he reaches the big leagues.  Gorman might have a good week or so, but eventually the league will figure him out and he’ll have to adjust.  I’m sure that he will be able to, but if you are looking for him to solve the offensive problems, that’s a concern.  It’s also not exactly fair to bring the guy up and put all the pressure of saving the offense on him.  I’m sure the Cardinals would rather bring him up when things are going well so that he can ease into his production without feeling like the weight of the world is on him.  We saw him in spring training struggle when he had the pressure of a potential roster spot on him.  How would he do with the entire team on his back?

I think it’s also fair to look at the Cardinals’ current opponent as a potential illustration.  The Royals obviously have different expectations for their team, but when Bobby Witt Jr. was added to their roster, people expected big things.  Just read the Playing Pepper, for example.  Yet almost 80 at bats into his career, he still doesn’t have a home run and he has a .562 OPS.  There’s little doubt that he won’t eventually make adjustments and get established in the league, but the point is these things don’t happen automatically.  Adding Gorman or even Juan Yepez is no guarantee that things would just start firing on all cylinders.

However, we’re reaching Star Wars Day (may the Force be with you tomorrow) and it’s getting to be where you can more fairly assess these players.  Tyler O’Neill doesn’t look a thing like the player we saw last year.  Maybe the contract/arbitration hanging over him is a factor, I don’t know.  Last year, he hit .241 in April but had five homers.  This year, the only circuit clout he’s got came on Opening Day, which doesn’t seem like that long ago but actually kinda is.  It looks like his launch angle is the lowest he’s had in his career.  If he can get that up, perhaps a few more balls wind up in the gaps or over the wall, especially as the weather warms up.  I think if you are expressing concern, he’s on the list but he’s not at the top of it.

Dylan Carlson is another troubling spot.  When you look at his sliders on his Baseball Savant page, there’s a lot of blue and not the lighter shades, either.  He’s in the bottom one percent of the league in barrels (he doesn’t have one this year), xwOBA, and xSLG, while very low in hard hit percentage and average exit velocity as well.  Currently, his OPS+ is 46.  He’s not striking out a lot, which might be one positive thing, but if he’s just going to hit weak grounders or soft fly balls, I’m not sure the low strikeouts is all that important.  He’s young and talented, so it’s probably going to come around, but I’d put him above TON on the “People I’m Worried About” list.

Of course, when you talk offensive woes, Paul DeJong is one of the first to be mentioned.  After a really solid and exciting spring, there was some hope that this was a new DeJong.  After his first 18 games last year, he was hitting .188/.307/.422 with 24 strikeouts in 64 at bats (37.5% K rate).  This year, after 18 games he’s at .138/.231/.241 with 20 strikeouts in 58 at bats (34.5% K rate).  So….at least the K rate is down a bit?  A point in his favor is that he’s not struck out in his last three games after having only two such starts like that beforehand.  Still, when you put this with everything we’ve seen since May of 2019, it’s really hard to be optimistic about a turnaround.  The only saving grace for him is that Edmundo Sosa hasn’t caught fire either, which allows him more time to hopefully find something.

Now, granted, offense is down around the league.  The Cardinals’ team OPS of .663 sits 17th, right around the middle of the pack.  However, when you see Arizona come into Busch–another team with offensive issues–and see them hit seven homers in four games while the Cards go until the last couple of innings of the last game with just one, you know not everything can be blamed on the baseball.

The Cards get two more with Kansas City, this time over on the other side of the state, before heading to California to play the Giants in a ballpark that’s known to favor pitchers.  We’ll see if they can get the bats primed before that short West Coast jaunt!

RECAP

Thursday (8-3 win vs. Arizona)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  You could go with Dakota Hudson here with his six scoreless innings, but Goldy provided the offense needed to get the win.  Three hits, three RBI, and a run scored to boot.

Goat: Dylan Carlson.  15 singles on the night and Carlson still goes 0-4 with two strikeouts.

Notes: A strong outing for Hudson, allowing just one hit, though three walks isn’t awesome….Aaron Brooks probably sealed his fate with this one, allowing two runs in the eighth and another in the ninth, coming an out short of the three-inning save because he brought the tying run to the on-deck circle in what was at one point an 8-0 game….multiple Cardinals with multiple hits, which was good to see if not exactly a sign of things to come…..shoutout to Tommy Edman for two hits and two RBI.

Friday (6-2 loss vs. Arizona)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  Man, feels like this is the answer every day as of late.  Goldy broke the homerless drought and, except for a well-timed Arizona balk, was the only scoring.

Goat: Adam Wainwright.  Struggling in Cincinnati is one thing, but scuffling against a weak-hitting Arizona team at home is something else.  Five walks, four hits, three runs in six innings is technically a quality start, but I don’t think Waino would agree that it was a good one.

Notes: Another tough outing for T.J. McFarland, who got charged with two runs in a third of an inning.  Granted, they scored with Andre Pallente on the mound, but it’s still not ideal.  So far this year, exit velocity against McFarland is the highest he’s had in his career, his walk rate is also the highest (and about double what it was last year), and his xERA is currently 6.14.  A whopping 77.8% hard hit rate doesn’t inspire confidence either.  There was a lot of risk bringing back the bullpen guys that came out of nowhere last year, but the Cards guessed wrong on which one to bring back as Luis Garcia is doing a great job out in San Diego.  Given he had more strikeout in his game, that’s not all that surprising….you know it’s not your night when even Kodi Whitley gets touched up a bit, allowing a run on three hits….the five hits in this one for the St. Louis hitters would seem luxurious in less than 24 hours.

Saturday (2-0 loss vs. Arizona)

Hero: Miles Mikolas.  He gave up the two home runs in the eighth that wound up being the difference in the game, but before that he threw seven scoreless and his manager took the heat, saying he should have gone to the bullpen.  (Oli Marmol also said that one of the reasons he stuck with Mikolas was that he was looking at extra innings because it didn’t feel like his team was ever going to score, which is telling and also accurate.)  Mikolas had seven strikeouts and, after his first uneven outing against the Brewers, has turned into basically the ace of the staff.

Goat: I mean, you can probably go with any hitter not named Harrison Bader or Yadier Molina, who each had 50% of the hits in this one.  I’ll go with Dylan Carlson again because he actually had at bats with runners on, but he couldn’t make anything happen.

Notes: Bader and Edmundo Sosa both had steals in this game, which means that there were as many stolen bases as hits for the Cardinals.  I can’t imagine that’s happened too often, at least not since the ’80s….Nolan Arenado had possibly the fastest suspension appeal I’ve ever seen.  The fight was Sunday, the punishment handed down I believe Monday, the appeal heard by Saturday.  Arenado also got a game taken off of it and served it in this one, which was also his bobblehead day.  (EDIT: I remembered it as a day game, so I assumed Sunday, but of course it was Wednesday, which makes for an even quicker turnaround with the punishment Thursday and the appeal Saturday.)  As for the punishments, I can see Arenado getting a game or two and the fact that Genesis Cabrera was suspended for taking down Big Boy Pete Alonso is more palatable than him getting it for hitting J.D. Davis (which, again, he was hit on the back foot, not exactly where you aim for).  I still think Yoan Lopez should have been suspended for instigating the whole thing and given that he got a suspension (which he’ll have to serve if he ever gets promoted from AAA) for his actions later in the week, you wonder if MLB wishes they could have that to do over again.

Sunday (7-5 win vs. Arizona)

Hero: Harrison Bader.  His two-run homer in the seventh gave the Cardinals back the lead in a game that saw a little firing of offense, at least in that inning.

Goat: I hate to keep picking on him, but Dylan Carlson went 0-4, the only hitless starter in this one.

Notes: I could have given Ryan Helsley the Hero tag, I think, given that he locked down the game with two scoreless innings comprised of six batters, four of whom struck out.  It would not be surprising at all if Helsley surpasses Giovanny Gallegos in the pecking order by mid-season….Nolan Arenado capped the scoring with a home run.  That marked the first time the team had put up two or more home runs since April 15 against Milwaukee.  In the first six games to that point, they’d done it three times….not the best outing for Jordan Hicks but there’s going to be some ups and downs.  The only two hits were home runs and hopefully next time out we’ll be able to see him get into the fifth, at least….Genesis Cabrera was touched for another home run in this one.  Cabrera’s given up three homers in 9.2 innings, which ties his career high set it 2021 (70 IP) and 2020 (22.1 IP).  Other than the homers he’s only given up three hits (though he has walked four) so if he can keep it in the yard, he can be OK.  It’s concerning how much the ball is flying on him when offense is an issue and the weather hasn’t warmed up, though.

Monday (1-0 win vs. Kansas City)

Hero: Steven Matz.  He made his one run, coming in the first, stand up with six scoreless and efficient innings.  No walks and only four hits will play pretty much every time.

Goat: Again, there are options but we’ll use the leadoff man tiebreaker to go with Harrison Bader, who went 0-4, left two men on, and somehow grounded into a double play, which hardly ever happens with his speed.

Notes: Paul Goldschmidt was the offense again, as his solo home run was the only scoring and he had a single as well to muster half the team’s hits….the bullpen of Kodi Whitley, Nick Wittgren, and Giovanny Gallegos did fine work, with only a hit allowed by Gallegos marring the landscape….the other two hits came from Dylan Carlson, who needed it, and Brendan Donovan, who continues to grow….the Cards cut down their roster here with one expected move (the demotion of the new Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton) and one fairly unexpected one, DFAing Aaron Brooks.  Not that he didn’t deserve it (and it’s another data point for why you should never make decisions based on spring numbers) but it meant the Cards could lose someone when they could have sent someone (more productive) down.  Brooks well might clear waivers and wind up in Memphis.  If so, hopefully he finds that spring form and gets back to the bigs.

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers2414.632 -
Cardinals2017.5413.5
Pirates1621.4327.5
Cubs1521.4178.0
Reds1026.27813.0

Last updated: 05/19/2022

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