This isn’t an overreaction piece.
The first week has been loaded with things to overreact to and social media has mostly been insufferable. There is nothing truly positive about the team, right now, for the beat writers, columnists and bloggers to write about.
It’s a barren wasteland of pure awfulness.
Well… Jordan Walker has been awesome.
While it is still very, very early in the season, a reasonable level of concern is justified.
This team has been bad. In nearly every regard.
Imagine you are trying to cook dinner. You’ve got 3 burners going on the stove. Your 2-year old is suddenly convinced that he needs to help you cook, he’s dragging a Paw Patrol chair over to the stove with plans to stand on it. Your 4-year old yells out from the living room that he wants a different show — and is incapable of finding the remote himself. The ground beef is cooking too hot, you rush back in and turn the flame down. The 2-year old is glued to your leg, hopping, arms in the air, pleading, “up, up, up.” The 4-year old yells out “I need my water!” “It’s on the table,” you shout back. A cat rushes between your feet and you nearly trip.
“GUYS, ENOUGH,” you finally yell, in frustration.
The 2-year old cries. The 4-year old cries because the 2-year old is crying.
The pasta boils over.
This is how it feels watching a Cardinals game.
Since the ouster of Mike Matheny, this team has played a cohesive, fundamentally sound style of baseball. Everything was crisp. Guys were in the right spots, making the right throws and decisions on the bases.
Not so much this year. Everything is a mess.
Every do-or-die play in the field ends on an in-between hop that can’t quite be gloved. Balls hit in the corner have you on the edge of your seat, wondering if it will come out clean or bounce away to allow an extra base. Balls that are normally caught are dropping for base hits. Opponents are walking home during an improperly executed rundown. The pitchers get so, so close to finishing the job, then don’t. Runners are going when they shouldn’t and aren’t when they should. The bases get crowded, but the big hit never arrives.
The entire product is disjointed.
Now, I want to believe it is mostly an issue of pressing. The Atlanta series went horribly and they have let it spiral out into the following games.
I also can’t help but wonder how much the dissociated spring training has to do with the lack of cohesive play to start the season.
19 players from the organization participated in the World Baseball Classic — the most in baseball. 13 of those were players on the 40-man roster, 9 of which are now on the active roster and 2 more — Wainwright and Nootbaar — on the IL.
Health permitting, 35 to 42% of the active roster was absent for 2-3 weeks in spring training.
This isn’t another “blame the WBC” angle, but it could certainly be contributing to some of what we’ve seen.
I’ve played in a local band for 10+ years. Being called “tight” is one of the highest compliments you can receive. It means the band is playing together. Synergy. Timing, changes, everything is flowing. The members can anticipate where the others are going, to where even mistakes can be masked by the ability to sense and adjust on the fly, recovering quickly and locking the song back in place.
“Tightness” requires repetitions together. Practice. Experience.
Right now, the Cardinals look a lot like a team that hasn’t played much together, because they haven’t.
The middle infield spent most of the spring apart. Jordan Walker spent 99% of spring training in LF before an 11th hour shift to RF. O’Neill was away with team Canada, suspending the evaluation time for his CF audition — and decreasing the number of reps to get comfortable there. Goldy and Arenado, the anchors of the team, were away for most of spring. As was Nootbaar, who has now been on the IL since Opening Day. You’ve seen a lot of Alec Burleson playing next to an inexperienced CF in O’Neill, playing next to a raw outfielder in Walker. Miles Mikolas barely pitched for the Cardinals in spring — around barely pitching for Team USA. Contreras is a new catcher after a generation with his predecessor.
The starting pitching has put the team behind early. The offense has struggled to erase deficits.
Sprinkle in a little dysfunction with the Marmol/O’Neill saga and it has been quite a year over the last 12 days.
“I think we haven’t found our rhythm defensively and pitching and offensively-wise,” Willson Contreras told reporters.
Now, enough with the anecdotal stuff. I can’t do this whole post without looking at numbers, so here we go.
The bullpen has been a relative bright spot of this team, despite a bad opening day.
They are what a Midwesterner might call “fair to middlin’,” ranking 10th in ERA (3.53), 12th in K% (24.7), 7th lowest in BB% (7.8) and 16th in wOBA (.312). They haven’t been elite, there is room to improve, but they have not been the problem for this team.
The starting pitching on the other hand has been interesting. It’s hard to make a blanket statement that they are horrible, because you can parse it and find positives. They have been generally unwell.
Montgomery has been very good outside of a 3-run inning against the Blue Jays. Jack Flaherty has been effective, but is walking an insane amount of batters. There is no way that continues.
Jake Woodford looks like a fill-in starter, but he was not the reason they lost on Sunday. Steven Matz and Miles Mikolas have not gotten the job done, period.
Still, one quality start in 10 tries underscores how this unit is not doing what they should.
What I find alarming is the performance with 2 outs and the inability to finish innings.
With 2 outs, the Cardinals starters have the 3rd worst opponent average (.318), 4th worst OBP (.409), 7th worst SLG (.500). I won’t keep rattling off numbers, but the rates with 2 outs are higher across the board than with 0 or 1 out. They aren’t good in any situation, frankly, but they are really really struggling to put teams away and stop/prevent the bleeding.
The starters are also allowing a .272 average and .344 OBP with 2 strikes on a hitter — BY FAR the worst marks in baseball, about 20 points higher than 2nd worst Oakland. Only 4 teams have allowed higher than a .220 average with 2 strikes. Only 6 have allowed an OBP higher than .300.
Much has been made of the rotations lack of strikeout punch, and they aren’t a high K% group. But the 39.1% K% with 2 strikes is middling, at 17th in baseball. So it’s more than not striking the guys out. They are simply not making good pitches and letting the batters off the hook.
As frustrating as the starting pitching has been, I might actually be more disappointed in the offense, relative to the expectation I have for it.
This lineup should be elite. They should not get owned by Dylan Dodd in his major league debut. No offense to Dodd, pun intended.
They should not rank 24th in runs scored. And keep in mind, they scored 18 of their runs in 2 games.
The overall numbers don’t look bad — although not elite — but they CANNOT get the big hit.
We often make too much out of being “clutch,” but…uh…this team has not been.
Here’s how the numbers compare overall vs with RISP:
This awful play is as much about the offense failing to capitalize on their opportunities as it is about the starters struggling to finish off batters and innings.
A true team effort, the entire system is in disarray.
Now, the thing about my hectic dinner scene is that eventually the kids settle in and the family sits down to a nice spaghetti dinner. Smiles all around. Soon, we’ll retire to the living room and watch Bluey or Peppa Pig, put on jammies, drink some milk. All will be right with the world.
But sometimes the craziness has to reach a fever pitch before it calms down.
The tension was clearly building for the Cardinals last night in Denver.
Is the pasta is about to boil over?
Thanks for reading.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.