We’re a few hours away from Friday’s Giants-Cardinals game that will restart the season for both teams.
The All-Star break was nice. The Cardinals have 72 games to go on the schedule. If you’re looking for the Cardinals in the NL Central and NL Wild Card standings, you’ll find them somewhere on the lower-level floors.
In wrapping up my review of the first 90 games, I have some takes on individual Cardinals’ position players … and with an eye on the final two-plus months of the regular season:
TYLER O’NEILL: Are we seeing O’Neill evolve as a hitter? It seems that way. Since June 1 he has a .366 OBP fueled by an 11% walk rate. And his strikeout rate over this time is a respectable 25%. This is a dramatic change; during the first two months O’Neill had a .302 OBP, walked only 2.3% of the time, and whiffed his way to a massive 35% strikeout rate. The improvement in O’Neill’s plate discipline is impressive.
There’s a tradeoff: O’Neill’s home-run clout has decreased, with only three homers in 107 at-bats since the end of May. But O’Neill has clubbed 10 doubles over that time to slug .458 since June 1. And that’s kept his slugging percentage at a high level (.546) for the season.
The home runs will likely soar again; that’s inevitable considering that O’Neill is in the 94th percentile for average exit velocity, the 93rd percentile for hard-hit rate, and the 96th percentile for barrel percentage.
Next assignment: lowering his chase rate (33.6%) on pitches out of the strike zone. If O’Neill can do that, watch out. It would make him even more dangerous.
Two other things to like about O’Neill:
➤ This righthanded-hitting slugger is hammering RH pitching for a .291 average, .348 OBP, .577 slug and .925 OPS this season. He’s blasted 14 homers and 12 doubles off RH pitching. This is especially helpful because the Cardinals rank 25th among the 30 teams in OPS vs. RH pitching.
➤ O’Neill is batting .285 and slugging .538 against fastballs, has a .264 average and .573 slug vs. breaking balls, and is hitting .284 with a .471 against offspeed pitches. In past seasons Bro’Neill was tormented by breaking and offspeed pitches.
HARRISON BADER: In his 81 games and 245 plate appearances since the start of last season, Bader has a .441 slugging percentage and is 11 percent above league average offensively. These are positives.
Bader remains vulnerable to righthanded pitching, coming in at 14 percent below league average vs. the RHP this season — only a slight improvement from his showing in 2020.
That said — and this is based on a small sample — Bader has fared better vs. RHP in a couple of areas so far in 2021: (1) a significantly lower strikeout rate at 16 percent; (2) a notably improved performance against sliders and curves thrown by righties; (3) a fine walk rate of 12% over the last three seasons to with his enhanced slugging over the last two years. This is all good stuff.
There are a few other things that caught my attention. Though he’s slugging at a higher level, Bader’s barrel rate and hard-hit rate have decreased this season. And his ground-ball rate (48.4%) is way up from previous years.
Perhaps most concerning of all: RH pitchers are still pounding Bader with four-seam fastballs; he’s batted only .164 against the pitch over the last two seasons.
What does all of this mean?
If Bader stays healthy, the Cardinals believe he will kindle a flickering offense. And they really, really need to be right about this. There are positives. There are encouraging numbers, especially the slugging percentage and the trimming of his strikeout rate.
That’s why Bader, to me, is the most intriguing hitter in the St. Louis lineup right now. There is more to like about his offensive game. And at a time when too many Cardinal hitters have drifted into disappointment, Bader has made advancements. And we should recognize and appreciate that. But can he be consistent? That’s a huge question. I’m inclined to buy in here, but Bader could go either way. And this offense needs him to go up, not down.
YADIER MOLINA: The next time someone tells you there’s no such thing as a “clutch” hitter, point to Molina. Batting with the bases empty this season, he’s .216 and overall is 26 percent below league average offensively. With runners on base, he’s hitting .320 and overall is 26 percent above league average. With runners in scoring position Molina is hitting .322 and overall is 29% above league average.
And this has been going on for a while now. Since the start of the 2016 season Molina has batted .250 with the bases empty, .320 with men on, and .322 with runners in scoring position.
This season, when Molina has a chance to drive in a run he’s delivered at a rate of 40%, which is the best by a Cardinal. And he’s driven in teammates 32 times; that’s second to Nolan Arenado’s 36 count for others driven in. Molina has driven in Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill and Arenado a total of 22 times.
In terms of putting runs on the board, he saved the Cardinals from additional disaster before the All-Star break; they had a .740 winning percentage when the future Hall of Famer knocked in at least one run in a game.
This 39-year-old catcher is … unique.
The Cardinal have always needed his shrewd pitch-calling, his pitcher-counseling leadership, and his weaponized right arm. But this team really needs Molina’s bat; on a percentage basis he’s been their best RBI man so far. They’ll need more of that from him over the final 72 games.
TOMMY EDMAN: The Cardinals have a problem. No hitter in the majors has more plate appearances against RH pitching this season than Tommy Edman. And among hitters that have at least 250 plate appearances vs. RH, Edman ranks 40th among 44 in onbase percentage (.282), 44th in slugging (.323), 44th in OPS (.605), and 44th in wRC+ (park adjusted runs created.) His 69 wRC+ vs. RH is 31 percent below league average.
The switch-hitting Edman does an exceptional job against lefthanded pitching, with a career .318 batting average and .929 OPS. For his career Edman is 47 percent above league average offensively vs. LH in park and league adjusted runs created.
But the Cardinals as a team have only 655 plate appearances against LH pitching this season, the fewest in the majors. Only 19.8 percent of their total PA have come against lefties.
Which means 80.2% of the STL plate appearances this year have been taken against RH pitching.
And that’s a big problem.
When matching up against RH pitching, the Cardinals literally have given the most plate appearances in the majors to the young gentleman who has done the poorest job in the majors against RH pitching.
I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that Kolten Wong has a .273 average, .359 OBP, .417 slug and .777 OPS vs. RH pitching over the last five seasons.
EDMUNDO SOSA: Since we’re on the subject of hitting quality vs. RH pitchers … in 129 plate appearances against RH this season Sosa is batting .270 with a .340 OBP. He does not back a lot of power (.365 slug) when encountering the righties, but at least Sosa gives you competitive at-bats when a righthander is on the mound.
DYLAN CARLSON: In the first two months of the season Carlson hit .269, had a .357 onbase percentage, and slugged .418 for a .774 OPS. He had a double-digit walk rate (11%) and a respectable strikeout rate (22.5%.) But since June 1 Carlson is batting .243 with a much lower OBP (.325), slug (.357) and OPS (.682.)
What’s going on?
— Carlson is 22 and has only 370 big-league plate appearances. Patience.
— He played a ton before the All-Star break and fatigue was probably a factor.
— The switch-hitting Carlson isn’t as strong when facing RH pitchers: .237 average, .332 OBP, .382 slug, .712 OPS. That’s OK, but more recent trends are concerning. Carlson’s difficulty vs. righthanders has intensified; he has a .210 average and .663 OPS against them since June 1.
— RH pitchers are getting Carlson out in a variety of ways. For the season he’s hitting .091 against their four-seam fastballs, .067 against their changeups, and .095 against the curve. And a .222 average vs. their slider. He does well against the sinker (.296 BA, .706 slug.)
— This is hardly a surprise; Carlson is a rookie. But his best success is coming against pitchers with a terrible ERA. In 82 at-bats against pitchers that have a 5.25 ERA or higher, Carlson is hitting .329 with three homers, 13 RBIs and a big .994 OPS. When matched up in 152 at-bats against pitchers that have an ERA of 4.25 or better, Carlson is hitting .228 with a .618 OPS.
Going into the remaining part of the schedule, Carlson has to crank it up and hit closer to his early-season form if possible. This offense won’t take flight if his performance continues to drop. An obvious issue is Carlson’s .309 OBP in his 68 plate appearances as a leadoff man.
GOLDSCHMIDT & ARENADO: It’s become a familiar theme. A familiar plea. If only the Cardinals could get Goldschmidt and Arenado going at the same time ….
Well, that’s been happening.
In April and May, Goldy and Nado combined for a .259 batting average, .317 OBP, .454 slug, and .771 OPS.
But since June 1, they’ve combined for a .288 average, .343 OBP, .482 slug and .825 OPS.
That’s a 28-point rise in combined OPS.
But despite improvement from the Gold-Nado tandem since June 1, the Cardinals offense has gotten worse.
In April-May the Cards ranked 15th among the 30 teams in runs, were 14th in slugging and 16th in OPS.
In June-July the Cards are 29th in runs, 29th in slugging and 28th in OPS.
And though Goldschmidt got off to a slow start, the team OPS in April-May was 43 points higher than it’s been in June-July.
If your offense is sputtering despite getting more impact from Goldy and Arenado over the last two months, you’re looking in the wrong place. They aren’t the reason why the overall team offense is still flopping around.
Sure, Goldy and Arenado are capable of doing more, but I’m sorry to say that too many are missing the point. The struggle to score runs that we’ve been watching over the last six weeks is way, way more about other parts of the lineup.
Bottom line? The Cardinals don’t have enough good hitters.For the Cardinals to barge their way back into postseason, other guys have to step up, hit it up, and stir it up. Or the offense will remain static.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy your weekend!
Check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.