1) Pitching isn’t the only reason why the Cardinals have fallen behind the Brewers and the Cubs in the NL Central. The Cubs and the Brewers have benefited from increased depth, mostly stemming from low-cost additions before and during spring training.
Since the Cardinals are playing the Cubs this weekend, I’ll focus on Chicago’s cheap but valuable pickups.
— Third baseman Patrick Wisdom, signed for a one-year salary of less than $1 million. In 16 games with the Cubs, Wisdom has eight homers, two doubles, 12 RBI and a 1.371 OPS.
— LH reliever Andrew Chafin, one-year, $2.75 million. Re-signed at a lower cost by the Cubs after they granted him free agency at the end of last season. He has a 1.98 ERA in 27 innings.
— RH reliever Ryan Tepera, re-signed in March after the Cubs after the Cubs cut ties in early December. Cost: One year, $850,000. With a 2.15 ERA in 29 innings he’s a key part of an excellent bullpen. Setup men Chafin, Tepera and Dan Winkler have a combined 1.62 ERA and 28% strikeout rate in 83.1 innings.
— Infielder Matt Duffy, one year, $1 million. He can play shortstop, second or third. He’s batting .278 with a .377 OBP so far.
— Outfielder Jake Marisnick, one year, $2.75 million. Known for playing above-average defense in center, Marisnick has a .603 slug and a .957 OPS this season.
— Infielder Eric Sogard, one year, $1 million. Doesn’t hit for much power, but he’s already provided helpful flexibility to lessen the damage of injuries by playing at every infield position except first base.
— Infielder Sergio Alcantara, two-way contract, less than $1 million. He has a 1.015 OPS in limited duty for the Cubs.
–Starting pitcher Kohl Stewart: one year, $700,000. Has a 3.12 ERA in two fill-in starts. But at least the Cardinals beat him up Friday, chasing him from the proceedings in the top of the fifth.
The players I’ve listed here have given the Cubs terrific combined value (3.8 WAR) at a cost of around $8 million.
And center fielder Joc Pederson — who signed a one-year deal for $7 million — got off to a cold start but has a .840 OPS with 12 extra–base hits and 18 RBIs in his last 30 games.
2) The Cardinals, of course, didn’t add to the big-league roster after trading for third baseman Nolan Arenado on Feb. 1. And there weren’t any notable signings before the ‘Nado trade.
3) I guess the Cardinals can point to the pickups of infielders Jose Rondon and Max Moroff, but I don’t know why’d they brag about that. In 35 appearances combined, the two journeymen have batted .143 with a 42.8 percent strikeout rate.
4) The Brewers made the first in-season trade of any NL Central team, smartly acquiring Tampa Bay shortstop Willy Adames. He’s off to a nice start, batting .308 with an .891 OPS plus three homers, four doubles and 12 RBIS. All of that in only 73 plate appearances for Milwaukee. Low-cost, good-value signings by the Brewers include reliever Brad Boxberger, utility men Daniel Robertson and Jace Peterson, third baseman Travis Shaw, and infielder Pablo Reyes.
The Brewers also re-signed lefty starter Brett Anderson after granting him free agency early in the offseason. He’s been struggling lately but remains in the rotation as the No. 5 starter. Anderson has started 20 games and compiled a 4.57 ERA for the Brewers since the start of last season.
Boxberger has a 2.81 ERA in 26 innings … Shaw has turned cold offensively after a hot start, but he does have eight doubles, six homers and 28 RBIs. And the Brewers like Shaw’s defense at third. He suffered a dislocated left shoulder earlier this week … Luis Urias takes over for Shaw at 3B … Robertson homered to lift the Brewers to a recent win at Arizona … and Peterson has shuttled between Triple A and Milwaukee this season but has two homers, seven RBIs and a .993 OPS in his last nine games with the Brewers.
5) Since we’re looking at outstanding value at low cost in the NL Central, Cincinnati made one of the best moves by signing LH-hitting outfielder Tyler Naquin to a one-year deal for a mere $1.5 million. In 171 plate appearances against RH pitching this season Naquin has nine doubles, 10 homers, 35 RBIs with a .516 slugging percentage. Other notable low-cost signings by Cincinnati include defense-based shortstop and utility infielder Kyle Farmer, infielder Mike Freeman and lefty reliever Sean Doolittle.
6) It’s nice to see Paul DeJong back. It will be interesting to see what this means for Edmundo Sosa, who played exceptional defense at shortstop during DeJong’s time on the IL.
In 298 innings at shortstop this season DeJong has been credited with two defensive runs saved by Fielding Bible.
In 219 innings at shortstop Sosa has five defensive runs saved — or three more than DeJong despite logging 81 fewer innings.
DeJong had a .648 OPS at the time of his rib injury.
In 22 starts at shortstop during DeJong’s absence Sosa posted a .750 OPS, batting .286 with a .390 OBP.
Sosa has 0.7 WAR this season.
DeJong has 0.5 WAR this season.
Sosa has 0.7 WAR but in less playing time than DeJong.
One sure thing about all this: Sosa’s emergence has improved the Cardinals’ depth and given them more flexibility in their deployment of infielders.
With Tommy Edman playing so often in right field, we could even see a Sosa platoon at second base with Matt Carpenter.
Sosa’s time at short will depend on DeJong’s performance going forward.
7) About Matt Carpenter: It’s swell to see Matt Carpenter making a difference with the bat after his lengthy, unforgiving existence in the deep valley where aging hitters often go. Since bottoming out at .073 with a 36% strikeout rate on April 28, Carpenter has steadily raised his performance at the plate.
Going into the Cubs series, Carpenter had a .391 OBP, .474 slug and .865 OPS in 69 plate appearances since his low point. That includes a .500 slugging percentage with two homers and 12 RBIs vs. RH pitching.
Carpenter drove in Tyler with an RBI single in the second inning Friday at Wrigley Field.
8) Speaking of Tyler O’Neill: before the Cardinals set up at Wrigley Field, the strongman had bashed seven of the team’s 15 homers since May 27.
9) If the Cardinals can get a series win at Wrigley, it should lead to a more positive direction in the coming weeks. After their business in Chicago the Cardinals have a long stretch of schedule with games against Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Colorado.
Every team on that list had a losing record as of Friday morning. Collectively the six teams are 71 games under .500. Before the series in Chicago the Cards were 9-15 against teams with a winning record and 23-15 vs. losing clubs.
10) At Double A Springfield, No. 1 Cardinal prospect Nolan Gorman was batting .309 with a .384 OBP and .463 slugging pct through Thursday. And Gorman is improving, hitting .364 with a .407 OBP and .545 slug over his last 13 games.
Gorman is only 21 and playing at the Double A level for the first time. Overall the young power source four doubles, five homers and 16 RBIs.
Two more quickie notes on Gorman:
+ As you probably know, Gorman bats left-handed And he’s crushing RHP at Double A. In 105 plate appearances vs. RH through Thursday Gorman is batting .359 with a .438 OBP and .565 slug. All of his nine extra-base hits and RBIs have come against RHP.
+ Gorman has struck out only 18 percent of the time when facing RH pitching. Another positive sign is his 12% walk rate vs. RH. But Gorman has struck out 12 times in 33 PA against lefty pitching (36.3%.) He’s batting only .161 vs. lefties.
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