Conventional wisdom coming into this season said that the Cardinals were going to resemble the 2004 squad–remarkable depth in the lineup, a very good back of the bullpen, and fair-to-good rest of the staff. There were going to be nights when the pitching staff couldn’t cut it but the offense would cover them. This might not be a 100-plus win team like 2004 but it was going to be good enough to take down the Brewers, who might or might not be as good as the team they had last year.
Nine games isn’t exactly the most definitive sample but the club sure isn’t starting off like 2004, and I say that knowing that legendary squad sat 23-22 before taking off. The Cardinals are 3-6, four games back of a Brewers team that took the holiday weekend series. The team sits sixth in the majors in OPS, so that part tracks, but they are tied for 14th in homers and 19th in doubles, so the power that was expected is taking a little time to manifest. The pitching has been concerning, as they rank 19th in ERA, tied for 13th in strikeouts (which, honestly, was better than I expected), and are 27th in WHIP.
Add in the off-the-field issues between Oli Marmol and Tyler O’Neill and some debatable managerial moves and it can, at times, feel like Jordan Walker is the only bright spot on this squad at the moment.
If you are looking for answers, you’ve come to the wrong place. I wouldn’t have them at the best of times but I’ve felt pretty disconnected from this season. In part that is because it is the end of tax season which means much of my focus has been there, in part because, as I believe I’ve said before, I discontinued my TV streaming package and with it my ability to see the Cardinals earlier in the year. (MLB.tv blacks out the Cardinals as well as the Royals, Rangers, and Astros here in Arkansas.) I don’t think I’ve seen a live moment of a game yet, so it makes me even less qualified to speak on the issues of the day.
However, blogging and podcasting does not require actual knowledge, so here I am. I definitely don’t think it’s time to panic. The conventional wisdom is that balls will fly more when the weather warms up and hopefully that means a lot of these singles (the Cardinals are third in overall hits) will start becoming something more. They are putting the ball in play (27th in strikeouts) and that probably means that more runs are going to eventually follow.
The pitching…well, you’d like to think it couldn’t get worse, right? Until Jordan Montgomery threw seven scoreless on Saturday night, the Cardinals were without a quality start and they’d not even gotten close to it in a lot of different starts. The bullpen has been pretty much as advertised, save the concerning issues around Jordan Hicks. Hicks finally had a scoreless outing yesterday, getting two outs without allowing anything, but even with that has an ERA over 10 and more walks than strikeouts. It seems that his role as key setup man has been (or should have been) usurped by Drew VerHagen, who is showing why the Cardinals were so willing to keep him over the winter even when the 40-man got a little crunched.
There’s a strong possibility that, when June rolls around, these early season struggles are forgotten or just some hazy memory. However, we also have thought every series so far is going to be the turning point but that pivot hasn’t come. A trip to Colorado should provide some relief, although the pitching numbers might not get the same reprieve. A homestand with the Pirates and Diamondbacks should be better, though, and perhaps give some purchase to feet struggling to find solid ground.
Let’s Hero and Goat it for the 16th straight season.
Thursday, March 30 (10-9 loss vs. Toronto)
Hero: Brendan Donovan. Three hits, including a home run, and scored three runs at the top of the lineup.
Goat: Miles Mikolas. The Blue Jays have a strong offense, of course, but you never want to see your Opening Day starter give up 10 hits and five runs in 3.1 innings.
Notes: Adam Wainwright was hurt but still managed to be the Opening Day starter, surprising almost everyone with his rendition of the National Anthem….the back and forth in the late innings was tense and exciting, with the Cards going up 6-5, Toronto immediately tying it, St. Louis going up one, the Blue Jays coming back to take a one run lead, only for the Cardinals to do the same in the bottom of the eighth before Toronto took the lead for good in the top of the ninth….Jordan Hicks gave up two runs in his inning of work as did Ryan Helsley, who blew his first save of the year….three RBI by Nolan Arenado, which wasn’t too surprising, and a home run by Tyler O’Neill in the losing effort.
Saturday, April 1 (4-1 win vs. Toronto)
Hero: Nolan Gorman. 1-2 with two walks plus he drove in two big runs.
Goat: Jordan Hicks. Retired only one batter but allowed three walks and was charged with the only run.
Notes: Every starter but Alec Burleson got a hit but none of them went for extra bases….Jack Flaherty threw five no-hit innings, but he walked seven in the five innings he was in the game, not exactly ideal after his hype video….two hits for Jordan Walker, who shows no signs of adjustment issues, and his first stolen base in the bigs….Willson Contreras sat out this one after being hit in the opener by a Hicks fastball, but thankfully this is the only one he missed….Ryan Helsley came in and bailed Hicks out of trouble without issue.
Sunday, April 2 (9-4 win vs. Toronto)
Hero: Nolan Gorman. Two homers, four RBI. Not sure we need to say much more.
Goat: Tough game to find someone. I guess we’ll go with Tommy Edman, who did have a hit but left five on base.
Notes: Brendan Donovan and Alec Burleson went back-to-back to start the game, which I think should be something that happens much more often for the Cardinals….Burleson finally got a home run off a major league pitcher, having reached a position player for his only other one….two hits for Willson Contreras in his return to the lineup….three hits for Dylan Carlson in what was basically his season debut….give it up for the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton, who threw 2.1 scoreless innings allowing just one hit to finish off the game.
Monday, April 3 (8-4 loss vs. Atlanta)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. 2-4 with a home run and a walk as well.
Goat: Jake Woodford. After such a strong spring, to come out and give up six runs in his first two innings (he finished at 4.1) was less than ideal, especially as it came via three home runs.
Notes: Being down 6-0 after an inning and a half is a good way to ruin any momentum a series win would give you….12 hits for the Cardinals but Goldy’s homer was the only one that went for extra bases. You can die from a thousand paper cuts but it takes a long time….Zack Thompson continues to be a great weapon out of the bullpen and the Patron Pitcher Packy Naughton had a clean inning to end the game….in the middle, though, Jordan Hicks gave up two runs in his two innings of work, continuing his weak start to the season.
Tuesday, April 4 (4-1 loss vs. Atlanta)
Hero: Drew VerHagen. The entire bullpen did their part to keep the game close, but VerHagen went 1.2 innings and allowed just one hit.
Goat: I guess Steven Matz. Four runs in 5.1 isn’t great, though he did strike out seven. Probably could have won with that on a lot of nights.
Notes: The Cardinals had 10 players take an at bat in this game. The Cardinals had 10 hits as everyone in the lineup got precisely one, with only Taylor Motter going for extra bases. Again, not the offense we thought we’d see….then there is the whole Tyler O’Neill thing, which doesn’t need to be rehashed again. Suffice it to say that I’m still not sold that Oli Marmol needed to bring that out of the clubhouse and into the media, at least not in the terms that he did….Andre Pallante and Giovanny Gallegos combined for two scoreless after VerHagen.
Wednesday, April 5 (5-2 loss vs. Atlanta)
Hero: Jordan Walker. The first but assuredly not the last time Mr. Walker will get the Hero. Two hits, including his first major league home run, and the other one was a double so he accounted for two of the four extra-base hits in the game.
Goat: Miles Mikolas. You could write off the first start to Opening Day jitters, but you expect better from Miles than to give up three runs in the first.
Notes: No wonder the Patron Pitcher wound up on the IL, because Packy Naughton was used here as well, covering one frame and allowing a hit….only six hits from the offense, two of them from The Chosen One, but Nolan Gorman and Dylan Carlson both had doubles….tough day for Nolan Arenado, who left four men on base, though he did have a single.
Friday, April 7 (4-0 loss at Milwaukee)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. Two of the team’s five hits as the offense goes from juggernaut to impotent in a week’s span.
Goat: Willson Contreras. While it was cool that he got to play against his brother, he also went 0-3 (with a walk) and left four on base.
Notes: Jack Flaherty’s second start was a little more normal, but he still walked six in five innings, allowing two runs….Jordan Hicks pitched. Jordan Hicks allowed a run. Lather, rinse, repeat….a lot of people expected Tyler O’Neill to return with a chip on his shoulder. If he did it weighed him down, as he went 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on.
Saturday, April 8 (6-0 win at Milwaukee)
Hero: Jordan Montgomery. A lot of gloom and doom around the rotation got dispersed with an incredible outing by Montgomery. Seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. That’s more in line with what we hoped we’d see from him.
Goat: Taylor Motter. With the staff throwing goose eggs and everyone in the lineup getting a hit, you have to get picky. Motter had a single but also struck out once and left three on base.
Notes: Jordan Walker crushed his second big league homer. He might be ready for the big leagues….big day for Nolan Arenado as well, who finally got homer #300 for his career as part of a two-hit day….more days like this would be a lot of fun, that’s all I’m saying.
Sunday, April 9 (6-1 loss at Milwaukee)
Hero: Jordan Walker. He ran his hitting streak to start a career out to nine, which tied a guy named Ted Williams for the longest at 20 or younger. He drove in the only run of the game. He drewa a walk. What else can the guy do?
Goat: Andre Pallante. After such a good start to the season, Pallante tripped up here, allowing three runs and had to be bailed out by Jordan Hicks.
Notes: Not the worst outing by Jake Woodford, but he didn’t make it through five and it’s not going to be tough to move him out of the rotation when Adam Wainwright is healthy….Hicks got two outs without allowing a run, so it was his best outing of the year and you hope something that helps him turn the corner….Ryan Helsley had to pitch because it’d been too long since he had, but still got a scoreless inning even if the game wasn’t on the line….Genesis Cabrera made his debut after being recalled when Packy Naughton hit the IL and had a good start to the season, getting two outs while allowing a hit…Alec Burleson had the only extra-base hit, a double.