At the All-Star break the Cardinals are resting with a .489 winning percentage that ranks 20th in the majors and tied for 9th in the NL.
This is a time for resting, yes. That’s why it’s called the All-Star break. But I think the word “restless” is a more appropriate fit. This is an uneasy time for the Redbirds. If they called for an Uber and asked to be taken up the big hill to first place in the NL Central, no driver would bother to pick them up.
The Cardinals have plenty of things to deal with, many reasons for anxiety, and only 72 games to repair everything.
I’ll try to be more hopeful in an upcoming essay, written before the Giants and Cardinals open a three-game series Friday at Busch Stadium.
For now, this is my Worry List in advance of the final two-plus months of baseball.
1) Any help on the way? Or do the Cards play on with a flawed roster? There are three ways to look at this: (A) this team has too many corrections to make, and there’s no miracle trade to provide a cure-all, so don’t waste assets on a lost cause. Just ride it out, hope that Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas get back from the IL in time to make a difference. The second option is (B) live dangerously, take a bold gamble, part with a hot prospect, fire up the clubhouse, motivate a sour fan base, and hush the yapping critics that make fun of your extreme caution, the replay of extensive excuses, and history of doing nothing to make in-season upgrades. And finally (C) make a move or two that won’t get any church bells ringing — but could boost your pitching staff. The old incremental-improvement approach. If I had to make a bet, I’d put my $5 on the third possibility.
2) Speaking of Flaherty and Mikolas: Why should we assume that they’ll each make a successful return from the IL to make the rotation healthier? How can the rotation get healthier if they can’t stay healthy and endure setbacks in the injury-rehab process? I’m not predicting the worst. I just see no reason to go full cheerleader here and proclaim 100 percent certainty of a Flaherty-Mikolas return. And if the front-office strategy is to count on stability and quality from two starters that are still healing, that’s a shaky premise for saving the season.
3) Now batting leadoff … well, who? That’s right. This is still a problem. Before the season we fretted over the possibility of Tommy Edman flunking the job audition, only to happily dismiss the concern in the early weeks of the season. But Edman fizzled after a blazing start, and right-handed pitchers have dominated him. In his last 54 games Edman has a .233 average and .262 onbase percentage with a .607 OPS. Over the same time, his numbers against RHP include a .209 average, .235 OBP and .496 OPS. My goodness…
But you say: wait a minute, son. That’s why Mike Shildt moved Dylan Carlson into the leadoff spot, right? Well, yes. But in 68 plate appearances as the No. 1 hitter this season, Carlson has a .309 OBP and .653 OPS. And while it’s a small sample, we expected more OBP impact than that.
Here’s the unfortunate fact: since the beginning of June, St. Louis leadoff hitters have combined for a .242 average, .280 OBP and .626 OPS. Using park and league adjusted runs created, Cards leadoff hitters are 26 percent below league average offensively since the end of May.
How do you expect to spark the offense and set up oodles of RBI opportunities for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado when your leadoff men are doing such a poor job of getting on base. The Cardinals can stay with Carlson at No. 1 for a while, or do something different by putting Goldy at the top of the lineup.
4) Will the last line of defense hold firm? I’m referring to primary setup relievers Genesis Cabrera and Giovanny Gallegos and closer Alex Reyes. They’ve pretty much been money in protecting leads all season. But they worked hard as the first half rolled on, the result of too many other relievers flopping around.
Shildt has immense trust in Cabby and Gio and Alex. And that’s perfectly understandable. But in his last four appearances Gallegos has a 10.38 ERA, allowing two homers and a .643 slug. Cabrera has a 16.62 ERA in his last six appearances, with seven hits, seven walks and a hit batter in 4.1 innings. Reyes has a 4.32 ERA in his last 8.1 innings covering seven appearances. His strikeout rate was a much lower 22.8 percent over that time.
This all could be just a little slump, an inevitable downturn phase — with everything getting back to normal soon. If so, that’s great. But we’ve seen our share of tired relievers in our town, so please excuse me for being twitchy about this.
5) Is Yadier Molina slipping behind the plate? Of course we respect him, admire him, revere him, honor him, and love to watch him compete. But he’s 39, and he endured considerable physical pain during the first half, with injuries slowing him down. Given that he’s caught about a million games — probably a slight exaggeration — it’s not exactly a rip job to take note of how the wear and tear can affect him.
According to the catching metrics at Baseball Prospectus, and using only the 34 catchers that have received a minimum of 5,000 pitches this season, Molina ranks 27th in Fielding Runs Above Average (minus 2.4), 27th in pitch blocking, and 26th in pitch framing.
I’m sure y’all have other things that you’re worried about, but I just wanted to hold my list to five.
Thanks for reading!
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.