Let’s stop the clock for the two-week warning: the Cardinals have only 14 games left on their regular-season schedule.
There’s a lot to sort out during the final two weeks. The Cardinals have more issues than I would have expected for a team that has won 87 games overall and has the second-best record (37-17) in the majors since the All-Star break.
Here’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on:
1. Will Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado crank it up and get back to being the team’s most imposing and consistent hitters? This is a big deal. The offense is easily tamed when the National League’s two-best position players (based on WAR) are parched at the plate. So far in September Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina collectively have more homers (7) and RBI (22) than Goldschmidt and Arenado, who have combined for just 3 homers and 16 RBI.
2. Will the Cardinals find clarity in their increasingly fuzzy outfield picture? This month Cards outfielders, when deployed as outfielders, have a .206 batting average, .292 OBP, .341 slug and .633 OPS. And they’ve hit five homers and driven home 16 runs in 193 combined plate appearances. The problems include the inconsistent Tyler O’Neill going on the IL again, Dylan Carlson batting .207 with a .627 OPS against right-handed pitchers, Lars Nootbaar’s .079 batting average since Sept. 3, Alec Burleson batting .150 with no power, and Corey Dickerson cooling down.
The Cardinals have promoted Juan Yepez from Triple A Memphis and hope he can boost the lineup’s slugging capacity. Before his callup Yepez was slugging .431 with only two homers in 63 September plate appearances at Memphis – though he did bat .359 with a 1.035 OPS in his last five games. How much will the Cardinals expose Yepez defensively? In his first stay with the Cardinals the right-handed swinging Yepez had a reverse platoon split working for him, with a .798 OPS vs. RH pitchers, and a .580 OPS against lefties. Ten of his 11 homers and nine of his 10 doubles were struck against RHP.
3. The countdown to 700 continues for Albert Pujols. He’s two lightning strikes away from reaching another incredible career achievement. He has 14 games to go, and is unlikely to play in all of them. After striking for No. 698 against the Reds on Friday night, Pujols went 0 for 8 with two walks in the final three games of the series. He’s 3 for 21 (.143) in his last seven games – six of which were starts. It would be sensational to see Albert wallop No. 700 at Busch Stadium during the final home series of the regular season – vs. Pittsburgh from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 – but I’m thinking he’ll hit two homers during the eight-game road trip that begins tonight at San Diego.
4. Where does Jack Flaherty fit into the postseason rotation? That’s a tough one. He’ll have two or three starts to make his case to claim a spot, but I must be honest here: there are some problems. After returning from the IL, Jack has a 4.80 ERA and 5.38 FIP in three starts and 15 innings. His strikeout rate (15.5%) is poor. His walk rate (10%) is too high. He’s hit three batters. He’s allowed 18 hits – and seven have gone for extra bases. He’s yielded 1.2 homers per nine innings. Opponents are batting .300 against Flaherty with a .400 onbase percentage and .500 slug. At present time, does Flaherty give the Cardinals a better chance of winning a game than Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery?
5. How much help can Steven Matz provide as a reliever? Matz looms as a more important bullpen piece than I would have imagined. Two significant injuries (shoulder, knee) limited Matz to 10 starts this season, and the Cardinals have repurposed the lefty to a relief role for the duration of 2022. If Matz is sharp and comfortable and confident as a reliever, he could emerge as a legitimate asset.
The Cardinals haven’t been strong with their left-handed relief this season. T.J. McFarland was a bust, Genesis Cabrera imploded, Packy Naughton has lost effectiveness, and rookie Zack Thompson was set back by arm fatigue. And after turning in outstanding work for a time since the Cardinals acquired him from the Phillies, lefty JoJo Romero has a 10.13 ERA in his last four appearances covering 2.2 innings. In facing 15 batters in his last four appearances Romero has been roughed up for five hits, two walks, two homers and a double.
Matz was sharp in his first (and only) inning of relief since rejoining the Cardinals – retiring the Reds in order in Saturday’s 11th inning to position his team for a 1-0 win. Now we’ll discover if Matz is capable of coming through repeatedly. To be determined.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.